Why You Need To Act Fast When Shaping Cake Rolls

If your cake decorating skills aren't top-notch, there's one sure-fire way to make a cake look fancy even when it's bare naked: Smear it with some kind of filling and roll it up into a log. The cake roll hall of fame, if such a thing were to exist, would include famous names like jelly roll, Swiss roll, and bûche de noël (aka the easier-to-type Yule log). There are even snack cake versions such as Little Debbie Swiss Rolls or Hostess HoHos.

Even though roll cakes aren't difficult to decorate, they are kind of tricky to bake — or, rather, to shape. The secret to getting them to roll instead of break is to tip the cake out of the pan as soon as it comes out of the oven, since only then will it be sufficiently soft and pliable to shape. Roll it up around a powdered, sugar-dusted dishtowel (clean, of course), which we'll admit sounds anything but delicious.

The cloth "filling," though, serves an important purpose, as it's helping the cake to "remember" the rolled-up shape. When the cake has cooled all of the way down, you'll unroll it, remove the towel, spread it with filling, and then roll it right back up again. Even though the cake is no longer warm and soft, it should be able to assume the position with ease this second time around.

What you can do if you mess up your cake roll

Even if you take all of the necessary precautions — or mean to take them, at least — accidents do happen, and it may be that your cake will tear or crumble anyway when the time comes to roll it up. In that case, what can you do? Well, as long as your cake is still relatively flat, you can slice it into even-sized rectangles and stick these together with the cake filling to create "cakewiches." Unless anyone knew you were planning to make a rolled cake, they'll probably just think you're being especially clever with this trompe l'oeil dessert that looks like an ice cream sandwich but isn't one.

Of course, even if your attempt at a cake roll goes all kinds of wrong and you're left with broken chunks of cake with filling clinging to them, there's still no need to waste this not-so-doomed dessert. Toss the chunks in a pretty serving bowl, add some fruit if you've got it (frozen works fine), then cover the whole thing up, first with a pudding layer and then with a whipped cream topping. Voilà! You now have trifle, which is arguably an even more impressive meal-ender than the one you'd originally planned.