great British blog off

Great British Blog Off: Walnut-Coffee Sponge Roll

Today, I embarked on a journey I have long awaited and feared. 

Today, I made my first cake roll. 

As you may have noticed, I took last week off from baking. Originally I planned only to take weeks off between sections. Then, I got the opportunity to volunteer at (and attend) a local virtual writing conference. Rather than squeeze in the bake and make it feel like an unpleasant chore, I opted to wait on Week 12, instead. 

Somehow, one week off felt like months. 

I’d love to say I raced back in eagerly, but I’m in the midst of an occipital neuralgia pain flare so my level of enthusiasm in general is a little bit muted. 

It doesn’t help matters that Azula smacked the already affected side of my head with her bone, adding a bruise to my already painful head. 

Still, I try not to let pain flares get too much in my way, especially when they go on for several days like this one has. I took some ibuprofen to help dull the pain, and got on with it. Grumpily. 

This Week’s Recipe: Walnut-Coffee Sponge Roll

The Prep

Not too much to report in the way of prep this week. This is a fairly simple recipe as far as components go, and we already had most of the required ingredients. 

My biggest puzzlement was whether I could find walnut halves and pieces together in one pack or if I’d be smashing them up. Turns out, Market District has an offering labeled “walnut halves and pieces,” so they were ready for me. 

I got the shopping done early, since our puppy decided to wake me up around 5am today instead of the usual weekend hour of 7. After realizing I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, I got up to let her out, made my coffee, and got moving much earlier than a typical Sunday. 

My ingredients acquired, I had to psych myself up to actually roll a cake. 

The Bake

Upon re-reading the recipe, I realized the walnut roll is basically comprised of walnuts and eggs. No flour. No butter. Just… walnuts, sugar, eggs, and baking powder. 

To say I felt dubious about these ingredients transforming into a respectable cake is probably an understatement. 

Also less than comforting is the recipe’s assurance that “if you’ve made a Swiss roll before, you’ll find this more sophisticated version surprisingly easy” (The Great British Bake Off: Perfect Cakes & Bakes to Make at Home). Having never made a Swiss roll, how exactly could I expect to find a more sophisticated version? 

After toasting up the walnuts and leaving them to cool, I turned once again to eggs. If I never read the words “ribbon stage” again, I’d be pretty satisfied, at this point. 

New this week, instructions asked that I whip the egg whites and yolks in separately bowls. It’s like alchemy, what happens to eggs when you whip them long enough. Egg whites become firm white foam, the yolks go glossy white and thick. They seem to transform into something else entirely. 

And I seem not to be getting them all the way there, if my sad flat cakes are any indication of egg-readiness. 

Or perhaps I did not fold the egg whites in to the yolk mixture with enough gentleness, pressing out the hard won volume? Try as I might to gently fold together the ingredients, the mixture seemed determined to become soupy. 

I spread it into the pan and put it in the oven, not entirely confident it would become anything resembling cake during its 10-minute stay in the heat. 

To my surprise, it did become rather cake like. Upon pulling it out, I had to immediately flip it onto a piece of dusted parchment paper. No matter how many times I flip a cake out of a pan, it is a nerve wracking experience. 

At this point, I thought the hard part had passed, at least until the actual rolling of the thing. 

But, to my surprise and utter horror, as I tried to pull off the lining parchment paper, the bottom of the cake stuck to it. Like… the entire bottom layer of cake, no matter how slowly and carefully I tried to pull the paper free. 

I have shouted the virtues of lining a pan with parchment paper from the rooftops, so needless to say this has never happened before. The cookbook seemed to suggest immediate removal, since you have to roll the cake while it’s warm, but now I wonder whether I should have rolled this parchment paper up with the cake, too? That doesn’t seem right, and yet. 

My cake now missing an entire layer of itself, I proceeded to the main event–rolling the cake. Apparently the way to make swiss roll is that you roll the cake up with a piece of parchment paper while it’s still warm and leave it that way to cool. I don’t know why, but this was a surprise to me. I’m not sure what I expected, exactly, but it wasn’t that. 

It felt okay as I rolled it up, though the cut I’d been instructed to make became a full on split, as did one or two other areas of cake. 

I left my sad small roll in its parchment paper casing and proceeded to the brown butter coffee filling. This comprises butter, sugar, heavy cream, and coffee. 

The first step was to melt butter in a pan and let it bubble until brown. The instructions in the recipe were unclear as to whether I should stir, not stir, or swirl the butter, so I opted for some occasional swirling to keep the bubbling somewhat consistent.

At no point did the recipe specify I should combine the boiled water and coffee granules, though I suppose that should have been obvious. So, there was some quick shuffling to boil water, make instant coffee, and combine together the butter and powdered sugar all at once, somehow. 

When I combined the hot butter and sugar, it turned into a bunch of tiny butter balls. This, naturally, made me fear I had ruined the filling. But as I pressed on and added the heavy cream, then the coffee, it smoothed out nicely to a thick, smooth filling per the recipe.

Here, my friends, is where it all went wrong. Or, more wrong?

I should have realized my sad, flat cake couldn’t compete with the full amount of filling as written. But it was hard to tell from the pictures just how small and sad my cake was, and it didn’t seem like that much filling as I spread it over the cake. 

It became apparent that it was too much filling as I tried to re-roll the cake around it, and it began to split… and split… and split again. 

Nevertheless, I shaped it into something like a roll, and piped the remaining filling in little whirls on top. At this point it became apparent how small my cake was, since 8 walnuts would not fit on these whirls as the finishing touch.  

I piped some more filling to cover up the obvious cracks on the top, and the little cake roll looked tolerably okay. 

Until we sliced into it, and the cake-to-filling ratio became apparent. 

Readers, it was not ideal. While the filling came out delicious, the cake became a mere whisper alongside that coffee-sugary-sweetness. In hindsight, I should probably have spread the filling thinner since half my cake came away with the paper. 

I wrote recently that any cake that comes out edible is a success for me. I struggled to maintain that outlook this week, feeling defeated by my first roll. Still, it is edible, and even pretty good as long as you don’t mind things a little bit overly sweet. 

Since the last couple weeks haven’t gone entirely to plan, I’m hoping that next week’s bake brings me a a nice success to help shake off the less-than-ideal results. 

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