don’t think i’ve ever eaten a jelly roll, unless ho-hos count. the preacher eater said there isn’t a good jelly roll out there, only the dry ghost of cake that was once – if fleetingly – moist enough to curl over and over itself and its preternaturally stiff whipped cream or meager thread of red jelly.
more tantalizing images from a rosier side of the culinary imagination beckon: pretty pink cake twirling around fluffy white filling, decked out in shredded coconut or bûche de noël, feast-worthy chocolate cake, fit for downtown’s biggest department store window Christmas display or with no more decoration than fork tines through rich chocolate icing and a few meringue mushrooms. Maybe bûche in December. This initial experiment is more restrained.
beginning with a problem (specter of dry cake), turn to the wunderkinds of “America’s test kitchen,” the editors of Cooks’ Illustrated magazine. In the book Baking Illustrated, their jelly roll experiments focus on the trick of rolling the cake, which is sponge for manipulability and génoise, particularly, in their recipe. Now, the génoise, they tell us earlier, is a dry cake by nature; in fact, runs the risk of “squat, dry and flavorless.” Their fear for overall texture was soggy not dry. Génoise is standard for European layer cakes and petite fours contra more typically American butter or chiffon cakes. Could be the cake was dry so folks soaked it or folks wanted to soak it so they made a dry cake, but it takes a liking to a sprinkle of booze. Here we use St. Germain.
be not daunted by the French terminology or impressive methodology! The cake is dreamy to make up and eat. Heat your oven to 350°. Cut parchment paper to fit an 18 by 12-inch baking sheet, rimmed. Grease with butter and dust with flour.
melt half a stick of butter in a small sauce pan, scrape in the seeds from a vanilla pod and set aside. In a larger saucepan, put about an inch and a half of water on to simmer.
sift one cup of flour and ½ teaspoon of salt onto a sheet of parchment paper.
beat together 6 eggs and one cup of sugar in a giant glass bowl. Half a dozen eggs made cracking right into the bowl seem downright reckless; cracking them into a small bowl made fishing out the inevitable bit of shell in the second to last egg less maddening. kitchen school marms of old would preach this practice to ensure that a bad egg didn’t spoil the lot as well.
set the bowl over the sauce pan, the bottom of the bowl above the surface of the simmering water. Beat the eggs with a whisk continuously until warm to the touch (Cooks say 110° on an instant read thermometer).
beat the eggs with an electric mixer or persistent wrist until “pale, cream-colored, voluminous, and form a thick ribbon of tiny billowy bubbles that falls from the whisk and rests on top of the batter for several seconds when the whisk is held about 4 inches above…” By electric hand held mixer, about 9 minutes.
remove about a cup of batter to a small bowl. Whisk in the melted butter at a slow drizzle.
sprinkle the flour into the big bowl of batter and beat in at the lowest speed. likewise beat in the bit of buttered batter.
immediately pour the batter onto the prepared pan; the illustrated cooks caution to hold the bowl close to the pan so as not to loose all that delicate volume. Spread to the corners with a spatula. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan yet still springy.
while the cake bakes, generously dust a large kitchen towel with confectioners’ sugar. When the cake is ready, flip it right onto the towel. Roll it like a little sleeping bag.
work apricot jam in a bowl with a spoon until warm and spreadable. The Cooks call for ¾ a cup; I used the whole jar of Bonne Marman. Grated nutmeg into it and a little blood orange zest.
before the cake is entirely cool, unroll it. Brush with St. Germaine liquor (not a Cooks recommended move). Let that sink in. Spread with jam. Reroll cake over jelly then wrap the towel around the outside snugly to let it all settle into itself.
unwrap the dear thing when ready to serve. We frosted it with blood orange icing. It could have gone naked with whipped cream.