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Classic Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling

Sliced pumpkin roll

Tender, sweet and creamy, this pumpkin roll has a delicate light-as-air texture, a soft, creamy, not-too-sweet filling, and the added bonus of crunchy toasted walnuts. And despite its appearance, it’s a snap to make! Don’t let the fact that it’s a rolled cake fool you, I’ll show you just how easy it is to make one. You’ll have it made in no time and be declared “Queen of the Kitchen!”

A pumpkin roll, explained

Let’s get one thing straight – cake rolls look kind of scary. Now lets get something else straight. They’re not.

They’re really quite simple.

Cake rolls, called jelly rolls “back in the day,” are nothing more than a thin, spongy cake wrapped around a filling. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, jelly rolls were filled with, gee, jelly. Nowadays, cake rolls are filled with cream cheese fillings, others with whipped cream fillings. They’re baked in a special pan that most people already have on hand (or used to), spread with their fillings and rolled up and sliced. That’s it. At Christmas, the classic version is called a Buche de Noel, or Yule Log (yes, I’ll be making and sharing one this year – with a surprise bonus!).

Toasted nuts, hand chopped
Always toast the nuts first for better flavor and crunch

The nice thing about cake rolls is that once they’re filled and rolled, they’re done. Other than a dusting of powdered sugar, and maybe a garnish of a few pieces of fruit, if desired, they don’t require anything other than a plate and a fork. Well, except for the Buche de Noel, but that’s a special occasion. Traditional cake rolls are easy peasy and low maintenance.

Thickly beaten egg and sugar mixture
The delicate texture depends on the air whipped into the eggs and sugar mixture

Basic steps to making a pumpkin roll

  1. You’ll need what’s called a jelly roll pan. This is the ONLY size pan that will work for this type of cake. That’s because you’ll be working with a thin cake that needs to be rolled up. Can you imagine rolling up a birthday cake? Pumpkin roll, and all cake rolls, must be made in a jelly roll pan. You might even have one on hand already. We called them “cookie sheets” when I was a kid. (Though they’re not really.) This is the 10x15x1-inch sheet pan that I use.
  2. Another extremely helpful (though not as critical) tool, is a heavy duty mixer. I depend on my KitchenAid stand mixer for whipping jobs like this. The delicate, spongy batter depends on the air beaten into the eggs, and the only way to get it is with several minutes of high-speed whipping, a total of about 10 minutes. I let the mixer do the whipping while I finish the rest of the prep work.
  3. This cake bakes quickly. Because it’s so thin, it only takes about 15 minutes to bake at a slightly higher than average temperature. So stay close and keep an eye on it. Better yet, set the timer, because when it’s done, it’s DONE. And because it’s so thin, the toothpick trick won’t work. You’ll know it’s done because the cake will spring back when lightly touched in the middle, and the sides have begun to barely pull away from the pan.
  4. While the cake is baking, you’ll prepare a kitchen towel. What? Yes, you’ll lay a thin, smooth kitchen towel out on the counter and sprinkle it with a decent layer of powdered sugar. Think tea towel here, not a thick terry towel. You want the smoothest towel you’ve got. Flour sack towels are ideal. I use the towel that I use for rolling out pie crust. It’s a real workhorse, that towel.
  5. When the cake comes out of the oven, you’ll immediately flip it over onto the towel. Sugar will go everywhere. Be prepared. And a few nuts too, if you’ve sprinkled them on the batter, because there are always those rebels that don’t stick. (If you hate nuts, then you’ll eliminate that part of the mess.) Immediately start gently pulling the parchment paper off the cake in strips. Don’t try to pull the whole thing off at once, you’ll tear the cake. Go at it sneakily from this side and that. Fool the cake into giving that paper up. It wants to hold onto it, but you’ll win out if you’re gentle.
  6. And then you’ll immediately roll the towel up from the short end. Very gently. All that powdered sugar will keep the cake from sticking to the towel. You’ll let that cake sit there in its little towel robe until it’s fully cooled. You can stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours, but I usually just let it sit on the counter in its lumpy glory.
  7. When the cake has fully cooled, you will carefully and gently unroll it and spread the frosting on it, leaving about 1 inch around the edges. I’d show you a couple of photos of the unrolling part and frosting spread on it, but Mr. Right came into the kitchen and talked to me, and Ms.-Can’t-Walk-and-Chew-Gum-at-the-Same-Time forgot to snap those particular photos. But you can do this.
  8. Roll it back up, cover it, then refrigerate it for about an hour. If a little of the filling oozes out of the ends, that’s ok, you’ll clean them up with the first slice.
  9. Dust with a little powdered sugar, slice and enjoy. Voila, you are the Queen (or King) of the Kitchen!

By the way, you can slice this cake however you want, but all the fancy schmancy chefs on tv slice on the diagonal. Which is how I do it too. But the choice is yours. It’s your pumpkin roll! Be proud!

Top of baked pumpkin roll cake layer
After baking

Why roll the cake when it’s warm?

You might be tempted to let the cake cool a little bit, but don’t. The warmer this cake is, the more flexible it is, and you want it to be “rollable.” That, and the parchment will come off a whole lot easier. It won’t come off of cold cake. Trust me.

Cake is flipped out of the pan onto the tea towel
Flipped out of the pan onto the towel while it’s HOT.
Removing the parchment from the baked cake
Easy does it in pieces
Getting ready to roll the cake up in a tea towel
Getting ready to rock and ROLL, baby
The warm cake cooling in its towel "robe"
Cooling in its little towel “robe”

Chilling the cake before slicing ensures a neater cut, plus the filling tastes better.

Now let’s make a pumpkin roll!

Sliced pumpkin roll

Classic Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling

Delicate tender cake surrounds a sweet creamy filling – it's easy and delicious and perfect for the holidays!
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 10 slices

Equipment

  • heavy duty mixer

Ingredients
  

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional) toast them first in 325° oven for 6 minutes

Filling

  • 6 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375° F (190 degrees C).
  • In mixing bowl of high speed mixer, beat eggs on high for 5 minutes. Gradually add white sugar in 1/4 C. increments until thick and lemon-colored.
  • On low speed, add pumpkin and lemon juice.
  • While eggs are beating, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in separate bowl. Fold into the pumpkin mixture.
  • Line 15x10x1 pan with parchment paper. Spread batter into pan; sprinkle with walnuts.
  • Bake for 15 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Check after 12 minutes.
  • Immediately turn out onto a tea towel dusted with confectioners sugar. Peel paper off and roll cake up in the towel from the short end. Cool on a cooling rack.
  • While cake is cooling, mix frosting.
  • When cake is completely cooled, gently unroll. Spread filling over cake to within 1 inch of edges. Roll up again. Cover and chill until serving. Dust with additonal confectioners sugar if desired. Slice and serve.

Filling

  • Beat cream cheese and softened butter until smooth and creamy.
  • Add confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat on high speed until fluffy.
  • Spread on cooled cake and follow remaining instructions.°

Notes

  1. If using nuts, toast them at 325° for 6 minutes before chopping. This brings out their flavor and gives them additional crunch.
  2. There is no need to grease the pan if using parchment. If you don’t have parchment, then grease the pan with shortening, spread wax paper in pan, and grease and flour the wax paper. But parchment is the far better choice.
Keyword jelly roll, pumpkin roll, cake roll

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Sliced pumpkin roll
Tender, sweet and creamy – heaven in each bite

Now it’s your turn

Now that you know how simple a pumpkin roll really is, why don’t you try your hand at one and share it with us over on the Facebook page! We’d love to know how it turned out!

Happy baking!


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