Spring is finally in the air in Montreal. Albeit, a very rain-soaked kind of spring, but that’s how the world gets clean… and my kitchen window is open and the air is sweetening and getting richer by the day. It’s the kind of season where a trip to the corner market garners old friends in young guises – sweet radishes, robust green onions, the first berries, and carrots that actually taste like carrots again! And I get excited about produce and want to celebrate, and challenge myself to make something with an non-traditional twist… or ok a roll and a twist.
A sponge roll seems so perfect for April. It’s carrot cake, but it’s floaty and dreamy and light. A layer of carrot jam with toasted almonds is topped with orange cream and the whole thing is rolled up and decorated with crisp candied carrots. Just right for a few people to devour in seconds, stopping briefly to admire the geometry and to perhaps have a few sips of tea.
Given my love for all things asian, it’s probably zero surprise that I went for a recipe from Japanese pastry chef Keiko Ishida. I have a fondness for sponge roll cakes you can pick up at asian bakeries – always soft and perfectly portable and in attractive flavours like matcha tea, red bean, or strawberry. As an added bonus, this style of recipe is MUCH MUCH EASIER TO MAKE than the regular European style sponge roll. And there are reasons.
- The batter begins with a cooked flour and butter roux that makes the finished cake miraculously softer, fluffier, and last longer. By first cooking the starch molecules, a gel is formed that allows for the absorption and retention of moisture, which ensures that your sponge roll is ultra-pliable and will never crack. A flour and water version known as a tangzhong roux (or yukone) is used widely in asian baking, which is why the buns and cakes are so ultra moelleux (as we say here in Quebec). For more on the science of that, and some diagrams, visit Janine at Un Pastiche, or Stella Parks at Serious Eats.
- There’s a ton of eggs in here. It’s an eggy cake. Eggs are pretty flexible. *nods*
- The specific size of the pan keeps it thin and malleable. You don’t necessarily need an 11″ square baking pan though. You can block out an 11″ area on a larger pan with tin foil and heatproof trays à la MacGyver.
- Lastly, the cake is covered with plastic as soon as it leaves the oven, which traps the escaping steam and injects it right back into the cake as it cools, keeping the whole thing hydrated and ready for your sculptural intentions.
The finished cake is well behaved, and most importantly, delicious. The flavours can be changed to suit your fancy, as well – I only chose carrot on a whim, but you can make a vanilla sponge by using whole milk instead of carrot juice. Replace some flour with matcha powder or cocoa for a different result. Jo the Tart Queen (from whom I found this recipe) has made quite a few variations worth checking out.
As for the filling, a batch of Carrot and Almond Jam is the perfect jam to spread inside, but if you don’t want to make that, orange marmalade scattered with sliced toasted almonds would do nicely.
Carrot Soufflé Swiss Roll
Recipe adapted from Okashi by Keiko Ishida
Makes 1 soufflé swiss roll
- 1 whole egg (50 grams)
- 3 egg yolks (60 grams)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (35 grams) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup (60 grams) all purpose flour, sifted twice
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) carrot juice
- 3 egg whites (90 grams)
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) caster sugar
Candied Carrot Curls:
- 2 long, beautiful carrots
- 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (175 grams) sugar
- 3/4 cup (175 grams) water
- oil, for the baking sheet
- 1/3 cup (115 grams) Carrot and Almond Jam OR
- 1/3 cup (115 grams) orange marmalade + a handful of toasted almond slices
- 1 cup + 1/3 cup (320 grams) heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
- zest of 1 orange
For candied carrots:
Find two long, beautiful carrots, peel them, and cut off the tips. Peel long strips from them until you can’t peel anymore. Select the most beautiful.
In a small saucepan dissolve the sugar in the water to make a syrup. Tuck the carrot strips into the syrup and simmer until they turn fully translucent, about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200℉. Prepare a baking sheet with very lightly oiled parchment paper.
Drain the carrots and cool slightly, then lay them flat and not overlapping on the baking sheet. Bake them until dry but still flexible, about 25-30 minutes. Working quickly and with one piece at a time, curl them (oiled side in) around a cylinder (I used a bottle of cooking spray) to make circles. You can use the handle of a wooden spoon to make curls.
Finished curls can be stored in an airtight container for 2 days.
For the cake:
Prepare an 11×11 inch square baking pan by lining the bottom with a square of parchment. Do not grease the sides of the pan. If you don’t have an 11×11 inch pan, fashion one out of a larger pan using aluminum foil and heatproof trays to block out a square.
Preheat oven to 350℉.
In small bowl, whisk together the one egg, egg yolks, and vanilla.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix together the butter and flour with a wooden spoon or spatula. Cook the paste until it comes away from the sides of the pot and forms a dough of sorts. Put it into a large mixing bowl and gradually whisk in the egg yolk mixture. Whisk in the carrot juice.
In a very clean metal or glass bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and whip to stiff peaks.
Add 1/4 of the meringue to the batter and whisk to lighten it. Fold in the remaining meringue in three additions and stop when everything is just mixed and there are no white streaks.
Lightly pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until edges are slightly browned and the cake bounces back when pressed with a finger, about 10 minutes.
Set the cake on a rack and cover with plastic wrap. Let it cool completely like this, then unwrap when ready to use.
For the the orange cream:
In a small bowl, rub the orange zest together with the sugar with your fingertips until aromatic.
In a large bowl (chilled if possible), whip the cream to soft peaks while gradually adding the sugar.
Spread the jam in a thin even layer over the cake, then spread half of the orange cream on top of that. (Reserve remaining cream to decorate the cake). Starting at the end closest to you, roll the cake carefully and tightly, then pipe with cream and serve with candied carrots. Cake (without candied carrots) can be covered and refrigerated for one day, but is best the day it’s made.