Cake rolls come in lots of flavors and have equally as many fillings—but there’s just something about that classic fall pumpkin cake roll that says it’s time for the Holidays to begin. Depending on where you live, you might find one of these sweet filled-cake treats in your grocery store bakery, but don’t be fooled! They just aren’t the same. If you want to make your own, it’s fairly easy as long as you know the secrets.
So what’s in a pumpkin cake roll, anyway?
Simply put, a cake roll is a thin pumpkin cake that you shape and then fill with a cream cheese-style frosting. The cake is baked, then turned out onto a dish towel sprinkled with powdered sugar then rolled up, with the towel and all, to cool. Once it’s cool, you unroll it, fill it with cream cheese and re-roll it. Sounds easy enough—but cake rolls of any kind have been known to trigger the emotional collapse of more than one baker. So let’s troubleshoot the issue so you can be successful and confident in all of your holiday baking.
The problem: Your cake won’t turn out onto your towel.
The solution: You didn’t prepare your pan properly. That means greasing your pan well with vegetable shortening and flour. When your cake comes out of the oven, let it sit just one minute, then loosen the edges with a knife and turn it (flip it) immediately out onto your towel.
The problem: Your cake cracked when you rolled it.
The solution: A cracked cake occurs (more than likely) because you baked it too long. This cake is thin. Usually no more than ½” thick and baking it even one or two minutes longer than recommended can dry your cake more than necessary—causing it to crack when you roll it. Bake it just until it’s no longer wet in the center (use a toothpick to check) but don’t let it be totally dry. If you touch the center, it will be soft but not batter. That takes between 13 and 15 minutes.
The problem: The cream cheese frosting is tearing your cake.
Your frosting is too cold. If you made your frosting ahead and chilled it, there’s a good chance it’s too cold and hard to spread. Allow your cream cheese mixture to come to room temperature if you can or at the very least, give it 15 minutes to warm before you try to spread it. Give it a good stir to loosen it up before you work with it, too.
The problem: The frosting oozed out the ends.
Your cake was still too warm. Even if it feels “cool enough” it needs to be totally room temperature before you start spreading anything in it. That could take three hours or more, so be patient.
Now, you’re ready. And above all, remember: Baking for the ones you love should be fun and enjoyable. Try to take any flops with a positive mindset. Even if you crack your cake, just roll it up anyway. If it’s crooked, just smile and eat it. It’s all going to taste the same going down so your holiday will be just as sweet.
Pumpkin Spice Cake Roll
For the cake:
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
For the filling:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 10x15 jellyroll pan and set aside. Open a clean kitchen towel on your counter and use a sifter to cover it evenly with powdered sugar and leave it there until it’s time to turn the cake out.
Place a sifter over the bowl and add the flour, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice to it. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet. Stir until just mixed and no pockets of flour remain.
Transfer the batter to your pan and tilt the pan to make sure the batter reaches all of the corners. Bake 13-15 minutes until just set.
While the cake bakes, make the frosting:
In a bowl mix the powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Chill until it’s time to fill the roll.
When the cake is done, allow to sit one minute in the pan, and loosen the edges with a knife. Turn it quickly out onto your towel. Just flip it right over. Then, starting at the short end of your towel, roll it up with the towel and all and let it sit until it’s totally cool all the way through—that could be 3 or 4 hours.
30 minutes before you want to fill your cake, take the frosting out of the refrigerator.
When the cake is cool, unroll it gently and spread the filling inside, covering it all evenly. Then re-roll it without the towel and wrap it in plastic wrap. Chill 1-2 hours or as needed. Slice to serve.