December 31

Roll Cakes: A Delicious History

Desserts have been a favorite treat for finishing your meal or starting your day for a day. At least, that’s a productive way to look at it – the feeling of earning your treat or an extra morning boost.

Ever wonder where some of these desserts came from? Like roll cakes, or cake rolls, and their variations like jelly roll cake or swiss roll cake? Ever ponder where the different flavors started, like chocolate cake roll or strawberry roll? It’s fun trivia to think over while enjoying the sweet little cake.

Here at the Old European, we only serve traditional European food, but roll cakes are pretty interesting because no one is quite sure where they come from.

Roll cakes, also sometimes referred to as cake rolls or swiss rolls, are a sponge cake-like dessert that is rolled with fillings and it’s often served with whipped cream. They are sometimes known as Swiss roll cakes. Although, that title doesn’t extend to the other sweets that fall under the category of roll cake, oddly enough. 

While there is some debate over the origin of the roll cake or swiss roll cake and their cousins, all anyone can agree on is that they originated somewhere in Europe. Well, almost everyone.

You might be thinking to yourself: “Who cares?! They’re delicious!” True, but it’s good to know whether you’re eating authentic and traditional European roll cakes from a place claiming to only serve authentic and traditional European food. 

So, let’s go over what we know about roll cakes.


Well, they’re a daunting task to whip up. That’s for sure what they are. Baking is, in general, a difficult cooking path, and kudos to those who pull it off deliciously. It’s important to note and thank those who take the time to sweeten our day.

Roll cakes go by many names and can be filled with an array of sweet fillings from fruit spreads to flavored whipped cream. You’ll most commonly find them filled with jelly, frosting, or other creams made with heavy whipping cream, but just because a dessert has a jelly filling doesn’t mean it’s a kind of roll cake.

After all, a donut is not a Swiss roll. 

Roll cakes are a kind of sponge cake made of egg yolks, flour, and sugar, and baked in a shallow sheet pan. You’ll traditionally find a thin layer of buttercream or jam, and sometimes chocolate filling in them, but depending on where you’re eating these little indulgences, you may also find them filled with fruits like fresh strawberries or pineapple, whipped cream, or more unique flavors like coffee. Yup, you guessed it, a coffee cake is technically a Swiss roll. 

They are also typically topped with whipped cream, powdered sugar, and sometimes even tastier options like chocolate ganache.

Different fillings were born out of different regions and changing tastes, but they’re still of European origin no matter what they’re filled with. So, then, which province or country created these desserts that sweep plates across the globe?


The short and most honest answer is that no one is entirely sure. The first known use of the roll cake or jelly roll was in 1852 when a recipe for a sponge cake with jelly smear was published in upstate New York.

Called “To Make Jelly Cake,” the recipe describes a modern “jelly roll” and reads: “Bake quick and while hot spread with jelly. Roll carefully, and wrap it in a cloth. When cold, cut in slices for the table.”

In the United States, the terminology has changed over time. Jelly Cake, Roll Jelly Cake, Swiss Roll, Jelly Roll, and Rolled Jelly Cake were all names given to this dish from 1852 until 1877. (1876). It wasn’t long before the moniker “Jelly Roll” caught on.

Similar recipes have been found all over Europe, and while the fillings changed, so did the names always did. Funny how food is like an oral tradition.

One thing is for sure when it comes to the Swiss roll, it didn’t originate in Switzerland. Recipes in old English predate the roll cake or Swiss roll compared to their northern neighbor.

Some food scholars have suggested Australia, Germany, Hungry, or France. It may be disappointing to know that it may never be discovered who came up with the delicious dessert, but thanks to whoever did. 

Whoever created the now globally famous roll cake, it wasn’t till it became popular in Northern America that it began being known as the jelly roll. No one is entirely sure when or how it became known as the Swiss role, except for maybe the swirls of filling when you cut into the cake. It is certainly a mystery to ponder while having a sweet snack, like a cinnamon roll. Yup, a cinnamon roll is a sweet cake, a.k.a roll cake, a.k.a Swiss roll. 


While cinnamon rolls fall under a roll cake, what about hotcakes and french toast? That’s where the delicious divide comes in, except for the origin part. 

“French” Toast?

Let’s start with french toast and how it isn’t actually French at all. Little known fact, but the french toast was originally called Pan Dulcis, and the earliest recorded recipe comes from the 5th century A.D. in the Roman Empire.

How did it become known as french toast?

The best guess is that Americans began calling it due to French immigrants, who called it “pain perdue” or “lost bread.”

Hot Cakes

When you see hotcakes, you usually think of pancakes, as they’re generally interchangeable. It needs to be pointed out, though, that hot cakes are an umbrella term that can refer to many kinds of, well…hotcakes.

This matters in case you’re ever surprised at a restaurant and find a dish only reminiscent of pancakes, like our hot buckwheat cakes for example.

Now, where does this popular breakfast sweet come from?

There is a bit of a debate, but we know that the earliest record of a pancake or hotcake recipe comes from the 1st century C.E. and hails from Rome. There is also evidence of hotcake recipes in Greece at the same time. Now, you could qualify hotcakes as Mediterranean food, but that would be splitting hairs as they both are on the European continent. 


Some may say it isn’t important to know where the food came from, but if we’re going to serve authentic and traditional European food, then we have to ensure we’re serving what we’re selling. It isn’t known who originally came up with the idea for the soft and sweet dessert, but it is a sure bet it came from one of the European cultures before spreading around the globe. 

So, thanks to whomever and thanks to wherever the roll cake – or cake roll, whatever you want to call it – was created. Every sweet tooth owes you a large debt of gratitude, and the Old European does as well.

Without this dessert making the world rounds and no matter who calls it what or fills it with what, it’s a great dish that we’re proud to make and serve. 

So, let’s discuss the classic swiss roll cake recipe:

No. of cake – 1

Preparation time – 30 minutes

Cook time – 15 minutes

Total time – 1 hour 45 minutes

  • Cooking spray for greasing
  • Four big eggs
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 16 grams sea salt, kosher (from the Middle East)
  • Half a teaspoon of Baking Powder
  • One-fourth of a teaspoon of baking soda
  • Melted unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of sifted all-purpose flour.
  • Buttercream frosting, vanilla whipped cream filling, or jam
  • Dusting sugar, finely ground.
  • Tea towel
  • Prepared sheet pan
  • Mixing bowl
  • Cooling rack
  • Plastic wrap
  • Measuring tools

Roll Cake Recipe:

  • Turn the oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and let it preheat.
  • Prepare a jelly roll pan or rimmed baking sheet measuring 9 inches by 14 inches by lining it with parchment paper and lightly greasing it with cooking spray.
  • Eggs, granulated sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda (can add cocoa powder for a different flavor) are mixed in the bowl of an electric stand mixer equipped with a whisk attachment.
  • Whisk on low speed until the ingredients are thoroughly combined, taking around two to three minutes.
  • Continue whisking while gradually raising the speed until the egg mixture is light and fluffy and has about doubled in volume and stiff peaks form, which should take about ten minutes.
  • After adding the vanilla extract and the melted butter, the speed of the whisk should be lowered to medium.
  • Mix in some flour. Stop using the mixer once the flour has been completely integrated into the mixture.
  • Complete the process of integrating the flour into the batter by folding it with a rubber spatula.
  • Spread batter evenly into the dish that has been prepared.
  • Make the batter into an even layer by using an offset spatula to smooth it out.
  • Bake for approximately 10–12 minutes, or until the cake has a light golden brown color.
  • After removing the cake from the oven, immediately wrap it in aluminum foil securely.
  • Allow the cake to rest in the prepared pan, covered, for one hour or until it reaches a temperature just slightly above room temperature.
  • Take off the foil, then use a knife to separate the sides of the cake from each other.
  • Spread the heavy cream filling over the cake in a uniform layer using an offset spatula, reserving a half-inch border at the cake’s short ends.
  • Lift the cake using the parchment paper, and then gently roll the cake.
  • Place the rolled cake in a serving dish and sprinkle it with powdered sugar before serving.
  • Serve the heavy cream cake rolls or jelly rolls as soon as possible.

Here are 4 Tips for Making a Swiss Roll cake delicious recipes:

  • Creating the distinctive swirl characteristic of a Swiss roll requires a certain level of skill.
  • Prepare the baking dish so that the cake won’t adhere to it. Because of the vast surface area that a jelly roll pan possesses, there is a possibility that the cake will become adhered to the middle of the pan. Before putting the batter into the pan, you should first line it with parchment paper and then oil it with butter or cooking spray to prevent this from happening.
  • Take special care to chill the cake. There are two different ways that a Swiss roll can be cooled, and neither of them includes using a wire rack. In order to use the kitchen towel method:
    1. Turn the baking pan upside down to release the freshly made cake.
    2. Roll it up in a clean tea towel while the cake is still warm.
    3. After cooling, unroll the cake very carefully and then equally distribute the filling across the surface before rolling it back up.

    The alternative approach entails softening the cake by heating it low and slow. Immediately after removing the cake from the oven, cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil. This will prevent moisture from escaping from the pan and produce a more malleable cake due to the gentle steaming. After that, you’ll be able to assemble the cake right in the pan.

  • Use all-purpose flour. A good cake batter is a foundation for a cake that is crack-free. For the lightest and fluffiest sponge cake, some recipes call for cake flour, low in gluten. However, using all-purpose cake flour instead will produce a more sturdy cake and less likely to crack when it is rolled.
  • Pick a filler that has the appropriate level of thickness. Jam is a traditional filler, but it must be of the appropriate type to be used. If it’s not thick enough, the jam will run all over the cake. The jam won’t spread evenly if it’s too thick or has chunks in it. The fillings made of buttercream and whipped cream are somewhat simpler to deal with, but you will need to handle the cake with extreme caution when putting it together.Enjoy the roll cake and cheers to its maker!

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