Food & Drink

Roulade: an autumn dessert that can roll right through Christmas

Gingerbread roulade is an autumnal variation on a traditional Christmas treat, the yule log.
Gingerbread roulade is an autumnal variation on a traditional Christmas treat, the yule log. MCT

MINNEAPOLIS — Roulade comes from the French word rouler, meaning "to roll." Typically, it's a thin sponge cake spread with a filling, then rolled into a cylinder and sliced. The classic Christmas dessert called bûche de noël, or yule log, is a roulade, usually sponge cake filled with chocolate buttercream, and frosted to resemble tree bark.

This recipe, for a gingerbread roulade, is a nice change of pace for the holiday dessert.

A whipped cream filling is the easiest to make, and it can be customized with a variety of flavorings. But to get the distinctive spiral effect, the cake needs to be a contrasting shade. We've chosen to make a rich russet gingerbread, rolled with whipped cream that's flavored with maple extract and pumpkin pie spices. Candied pecans add crunch.

Tips for making a cake roll

There are a couple of key techniques to making a successful roulade.

The first is using the stroke for mixing that is known as folding. This helps you combine a dense mixture with an airy mixture without deflating the lighter mixture, as stirring would do, which would result in a less-tender cake. The idea is to work quickly yet gently, using a spatula to cut down through the mixture, move across the bottom of the bowl and then come up, folding the mixture from the bottom over the surface of the batter. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat the motion until everything is evenly combined.

The second technique is inverting the baked cake onto a tea towel that's well dusted with powdered sugar, also called confectioners sugar. Peel off the parchment or waxed paper liner, then roll up the cake, towel and all, so the cake "learns" its curve while cooling. The powdered sugar keeps the cake from sticking when it's time to unroll and fill the cake.

As for flavoring the whipped cream, there are several options, depending on the quantity of flavoring you have.

For 1 cup of whipping cream, you can beat in ¼ cup real maple syrup. Or, if using artificial flavorings, use 1 teaspoon maple extract, or ¼ teaspoon maple oil.

You can add more to taste, but go slowly, particularly with the oil, which comes in small bottles that hold about a teaspoon. Oils are good options if you want to buy just enough flavoring for one recipe.

Unroll, fill, roll up

When it's time to fill the cake, gently unroll it, spread with whipped cream, sprinkle with nuts and roll it back up. The whole process, from mixing to filling, takes about 40 minutes. A roulade benefits from several hours in the refrigerator, even overnight. That's another plus: no last-minute preparation.


Gingerbread roulade with maple whipped cream and candied pecans

4 eggs, separated, at room temperature

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons molasses, preferably dark

Powdered sugar

Candied pecans (recipe below)

Maple whipped cream (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and move rack to center.

Cut a piece of parchment paper or waxed paper to fit the bottom of a 10- by 15-inch rimmed jelly roll pan and spray with cooking spray.

Beat together egg whites and cream of tartar, slowly at first, then gradually increasing the speed to high until whites hold stiff peaks when the beater is lifted. Set aside.

In small bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking powder and salt.

Beat together egg yolks and brown sugar until thick and light in color, about 3 minutes. Stir in butter and molasses, then flour mixture.

Stir one-third of the beaten egg whites into egg yolk mixture to lighten. Fold in remaining egg whites, using a gentle stroke that brings batter up from the bottom of the bowl and folds it over the surface. Repeat, turning the bowl, until no streaks remain. Gently spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until cake springs back lightly when touched.

While the cake is baking, sprinkle powdered sugar over a tea towel. When the cake is done, run a knife around the edge to make sure it's loose, then quickly invert it onto the towel. Peel off the paper. Then, starting from the short side, roll cake and towel. Place seam side down on a wire rack until cool.

Meanwhile, make whipped cream (see recipe).

Carefully unroll the cake and spread with whipped cream. Sprinkle with the candied pecans, then roll up the cake to form a cylinder. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for several hours, or overnight, to set. Garnish with additional powdered sugar, if desired, and pecans. Slice with a serrated knife.

Serves 8 to 10.

You can use pre-made candied pecans, and chop them finely, or you can make your own.

Candied pecans

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ teaspoons salt

In saucepan, stir together pecans and syrup over medium heat. Sprinkle with salt and continue stirring for about 2 minutes. Coat a plate with cooking spray and spread pecans on it to cool.

Makes 1 cup.

Maple whipped cream

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon maple extract or ¼ teaspoon maple oil

¼ cup powdered sugar

Beat heavy cream with maple syrup and powdered sugar until it holds stiff peaks. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

Makes about 3 cups.