Welcome back to the Monthly Baking Challenge!
Last month we had a lot of fun with cupcake and cake decorating– I hope you feel more confident with your piping skills now! With Mother’s Day this month and spring in the air (dear allergies, thank you for the reminder spring is here) I figured we all need something fresh, light, airy, and PINK. Let me introduce you to this wonderful vanilla sponge cake filled with homemade strawberry cream cheese frosting. May’s Baking Challenge recipe = the strawberries ‘n’ cream cake roll!
I chose a cake roll for this month’s baking challenge because it’s something we’ve only gently explored before. And I want you to feel challenged, yet confident. We’ve actually never touched on sponge cake in the past 5 and 1/2 years, so it’s a wonderful match for a challenge. Today I’m going to walk you through step-by-step photos and careful explanations so you feel ready to tackle this unique beauty. Intimidated by cake rolls or does sponge cake freak you out? This is your time to be fearless, empowered, and assured. I got you covered today!
What is Sponge Cake?
It’s similar to angel food cake in that it relies mostly on egg whites for volume. The texture is relative as well– light, airy, and moist. Unlike angel food cake, however, sponge cake includes egg yolks for a little richness and flavor. They’re still worlds lighter than, say, a yellow cake and pound cake because they contain no oil or butter. That’s right– there is no oil or butter in this cake recipe.
Typical sponge cakes don’t use any chemical leavener, but I prefer a little baking powder for extra lift. Additionally, a little buttermilk for moisture and cake flour to keep things extra soft. I’d steer clear of all-purpose flour which will only weigh it down.
Accuracy is Imperative
The eggs are the most important part of the recipe. Make sure you’re using large eggs (not medium, not extra large) and that the eggs are room temperature. Compared to cold eggs, warmer eggs hold more air and create more volume when whipped. And, like the perm you rocked in the 90s, volume is EVERYTHING. ?
You’ll separate the egg whites and yolks. You’ll use both, but at different stages in the mixing process. See that picture above? That’s after whipping 4 egg whites with a little sugar. Stiff peaks are key. At that point, remove the egg whites from the bowl and set aside. No need to wipe the bowl clean or anything. Then it’s the yolks’ turn. Whip those with a little sugar too, a well as vanilla and buttermilk. I use both vanilla extract and vanilla bean, but you can use just all extract– or even vanilla bean paste. See the recipe note below.
Fold the egg whites back in, then add a sifted mix of cake flour + baking powder + salt. If you don’t have a sifter, now’s the time to pick one up. Sifting flour makes all the difference. If a recipe calls for sifted flour and you skip that step altogether, your baked good will inevitably be heavier and more dense than intended. It’s a must-have tool in any baker’s kitchen!
See the photo on the left below? That’s the batter. It’s creamy and light like whipped cream and that’s because we handled it with care. Do not overmix this batter!
See the photo on the right below? We’re spreading the batter into a lined 10×15 inch jelly roll pan— the ONLY size that works for this recipe. I can usually help with pan substitutions, but not today. You need a 10×15 inch pan. Good news: the really good ones are relatively inexpensive.
The cake roll only takes about 15 minutes in the oven.
Immediately after baking, invert onto a thin kitchen towel sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. The sugar is used to help prevent the towel from sticking. Peel off the parchment, then roll up in the towel.
What the heck is the point of the towel? To prevent the cake from sticking to itself. And to make rolling the warm cake 100x easier!
But why are we rolling the cake when it’s warm? Rolling the cake up when it’s warm– before adding the strawberry cream filling– is so that it cools in the rolled up shape. That means no cracks, rips, or tears when you go to roll it up again with the filling inside. Does that make sense?
The cream filling is a strawberry cream cheese frosting. It’s sweet and tangy with strong strawberry flavor (natural flavor!) and glides on oh-so-easily. Just like my strawberry buttercream, we’ll use freeze-dried strawberries for the cream filling. Grind them up and add with the confectioners’ sugar. Freeze-dried strawberry powder offers the MOST strawberry flavor without altering the filling’s texture. It’s nearly impossible to replicate this with fresh strawberries. I chose a cream cheese based strawberry filling because it’s a little lighter than the buttercream and pairs perfectly with the sponge cake’s texture.
Also: it’s a wonderfully thick layer of filling. If you’re a cream filling person (aren’t we all?), this recipe is for you!
If you’re not into today’s recipe, here is the alternate May Baking Challenge:
After you made the baking challenge recipe or alternative, share your photos throughout this month using #sallysbakingchallenge on Instagram or email me, tweet me, or upload a photo of your recipe to my Facebook page.
I’m excited to see your cake roll masterpieces this month. Remember, have fun and don’t stress. Use my text and step-by-step photos for guidance. We’ll have a tutorial video for you soon, too!
- 1 cup (110g) cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature and divided
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar, divided
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) buttermilk1
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean2
- 1 cup (120g) confectioners’ sugar
Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 cup (10-12g) freeze-dried strawberries
- one 8-ounce block full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 and 1/2 cups (300g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- salt, to taste
- Read the instructions through before beginning. Make sure you are prepared for step 7 immediately when that cake comes out!
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray a 10×15 inch baking pan with nonstick spray or grease with butter, so the parchment paper sticks. Then line it with parchment paper so the cake seamlessly releases in step 5. Spray or grease the parchment paper too. We want an extremely nonstick surface for this cake roll.
- Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
- Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar together on high speed for 4-5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Transfer to another bowl. Using the same mixing bowl you jut had the egg whites in (no need to clean it), add the egg yolks, remaining sugar, buttermilk, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean. Beat together on high speed for 3-4 minutes or until light in color.
- Add half of the whipped egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Beat on low speed for 10 seconds. Repeat with remaining egg whites and beat on low for 10 seconds. Finally, add the flour mixture and beat on low until the batter is completely combined. Do not overmix.
- Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Give the pan a shake to make sure the batter is level and reaches the corners. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cake springs back when you poke it with a finger.
- As the cake bakes, lay a thin kitchen towel flat on the counter. Sprinkle with 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar. Once the cake comes out of the oven, immediately invert it onto the towel. Peel off the parchment paper then, starting with the narrow end, begin rolling the cake up with the towel. Do this slowly and gently. The cake will be warm as it just came out of the oven.
- Allow the cake to cool completely rolled up in the towel. I stick mine in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to speed it up.
- Remove the cake roll from the refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for a few minutes to warm up as you prepare the frosting.
- Using a blender or food processor, process the freeze-dried strawberries into a powdery crumb. You should have around 1/2 cup. Set aside. In a large bowl using a hand-held or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese for 1 minute on high speed until completely smooth and creamy. Beat in the butter until combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar, strawberry powder, and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until combined and creamy. Taste, then add a pinch of salt if needed.
- Gently and slowly unroll the cake. Flatten it out and spread frosting evenly on top, leaving about a 1/2 inch border around the cake. Gently and slowly roll the cake back up, without the towel this time. Make sure you’re rolling it tightly. Some frosting may spill out the sides, that’s ok! Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes before slicing and serving. Dust with more confectioners’ sugar and garnish with some sliced strawberries, if desired.
Make ahead tip: You can prepare the cake through step 7 and chill the rolled up cake/towel in the refrigerator for up to 1 day before continuing with step 8. Prepared cake roll, with frosting, freezes well for up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before slicing and serving.
- I strongly suggest buttermilk. You can use a DIY soured milk if you do not have buttermilk on hand. Simply combine 1/4 teaspoon white vinegar with enough milk to yield 2 Tablespoons. Mix together, then use in the recipe.
- If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans and have a jar of vanilla bean paste, use 1/4 teaspoon in its place. If you have neither, just skip it. 2 teaspoons of *pure* vanilla extract is just fine.
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