Jelly Roll

A cake with 19th century roots and 18th century technology.

Jelly roll cake

Jelly roll cake by ewige, on Flickr

Until the mid-1700s, cakes that were leavened at all were leavened with yeast, making them light, but leaving them with that distinct flavor that connects all yeast-based food.

But around the middle of that century, bakers started leavening cakes with just eggs, giving them lighter flavors. That opened the door for sponge cakes, genoise, and chiffon cakes, any of which can form the basis of a jelly roll or roulade. (Which isn’t to say they’re interchangeable–the order in which they’re written is organized from lowest to highest fat content.)

Technically, since what we’ve got here uses other leavening, this is just… cake. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends were cake, before I devoured them.

Here’s a version from the January 22, 1909 edition of the Farmington (New Mexico) Enterprise under the name “Emergency Dessert:”

Emergency Dessert.

An easy and quick dessert that can be made in the event of “unexpected company” while the guests are eating the substantial part of the meal is this: one-half cup sugar, one-half cup flour, two eggs, one teaspoon baking powder, one tablespoon water, added the last thing before putting into oven. Bake in square tin about five minutes. Then spread generously with currant jelly and roll. Keep rolled in a napkin until served. Sufficient for four.


By June 18 of that year, the Enterprise published a version nearly identical to the one on the card, except it substituted baking soda and cream of tartar for baking powder:

Jelly Roll Cake — Beat three eggs, yolks and whites together, for one or two minutes. Add a cupful of sugar and beat for a few minutes more. Then put in one cupful of flour with a teaspoonful of cream of tartar mixed in it. Dissolve half a teaspoonful of soda in as little hot water as possible and stir thoroughly. Flavor and beat well for a few minutes. Bake in rather wide shallow tin. Turn the sheet upon a towel, while warm spread with jelly, roll up the cake, roll in sugar, then roll in the towel again till it cools, which will help to keep it in shape. Cut in slices when cold.


For more on the mechanics of jelly rolls and roulades, see the recipe for Yesterdish’s chocolate roulade cake.

From the box of A.D. from Lutz, Florida, by way of Pennsylvania in the 1940s, and originating in Ohio in the 1920s.

Jelly Roll

1 scant cup sugar
3 egg yolks and whites, beaten separately
pinch of salt
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. cold water

Bake in slow oven. Cut off edge. Spread with jelly and roll while hot.

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