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Upon Request


While we were driving back from Tahoe the other afternoon, our thoughts turned to lunch — it was the time of day, after all, and that mountain air does inspire hunger. Alas, there was a dearth of decent options along route 80 headed south; there were the requisite Burger Kings and Taco Bells, of course, and even a Cattleman’s steak house, but for two die-hard (sort of, anyway) vegetarians who like their vegetables, none of these quick-stops were appealing. Though we were much better off than the poor Donner Party, in whose faltering footsteps we walked at the Donner Memorial (situated in a pretty spot along the lake belying the misfortunes experienced there), and while it’s true we may not have been starving, exactly, we were still pretty ravenous.

As the miles sped by — and our appetites grew — the conversation veered from the ridiculous (“I’d like roast chicken, with green beans and lots of mashed potatoes” — never mind that the speaker hadn’t consumed chicken in at least a decade) to the mundane (“A veggie burger, with cheddar cheese” à la Tryst) to the desperate (“A burrito! Toast! Anything!”). Then out of the blue, a hesitant suggestion: “I’d really like one of those rolled cakes with jam;” you know, a jelly roll. Not as fancy as the bouche de Noels, which I labored over mightily for my high school French class around the holidays, but somewhat similar in terms of the whole rolling a sponge cake/sweet interior layer/cutting slices that look a little like pinwheels thing, I was shocked by this revelation. I’d had no idea my companion harbored such cake-y dreams.

I am, really, a selfish baker. Oh, I love to bake, and I’ll bestow the efforts of my labors on willing (or unwitting?) friends, family, and office-mates. However, I rarely ask anyone what he or she’d like particularly. All too often I fall back on my staples: vegan chocolate cake and cupcakes, apple pie, chocolate chip cookies. I could churn these out in quick succession, it seems, but perhaps they’re growing a bit — ahem — stale. And as spring lingers just over the horizon line, I think it’s time to try something different, to dip a toe into the new season, to think ahead to all the months of longer light — and opportunities to make baked goods.


So I quickly googled “jelly roll cake” and came up with one published by the Food Network’s online site. Just some eggs, cake flour, sugar, and vanilla, it seemed easy enough to throw together on a Tuesday night, even after running six miles (so you know it wasn’t too difficult to make). I chose organic blackberry jam for its filling, and made sure to pick up some cream to whip alongside. From bowl to oven to cooling yo assebmly the whole thing took about 30 minutes.

And it was fine — perhaps a little too eggy for my taste, and not as lush as my beloved jam-and-butter cake (probably because the recipe doesn’t call for butter) — though I don’t know if I’ll make it again. I’ll post the recipe here for those who might want to experiment a little, but if I make another jelly roll attempt, I think I’ll have to forgo the Internet for, say, the Joy of Cooking or the Fannie Farmer cookbook, my staples for simple baked-goods recipes. I’m a bit disappointed, honestly, because I was finally granted a request, and I so wanted it to be perfect.

Next time?

On my agenda for this purportedly rainy weekend: a long run, a yoga class, a tea visit with a friend, some baking, a little reading, a little stretching out on the couch. And on my shopping list: cream cheese, eggs, sugar, cauliflower, a fresh, chewy loaf of bread, radishes, and a pint of Guinness. Make of that what you will.


“Old South Jelly Roll Cake,” from the Food Network by way of Paula Deen

4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup cake flour, sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting, sifted
1 cup jam or jelly, stirred well
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a small bowl beat egg whites until stiff but not dry and set aside. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks until light. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla, and mix well. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the sifted flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture. Fold in the egg whites into the egg mixture and pour the batter into a 15 by 10 by 1-inch jelly roll pan lined with waxed paper. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cake is golden.

Loosen edges of cake, invert cake onto a towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Gently peel wax paper off cake. Trim 1/4-inch of hard crust off each long side of the jelly roll cake. Begin with the narrow side and roll the cake and towel up together. Cool cake on rack, seam side down, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Once cake has cooled, gently unroll and spread cake with jam or jelly and re-roll. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and served with gently whipped cream alongside.


  1. Nicole, this looks juicy and fresh. When spring comes rolling in, I want tons of fruity desserts, in addition to the chocolatey treats I adore :) Jelly roll cakes are tasty and yet I have never made one. Time to rectify that!

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