I teach a baking class at the local community college. The class is an introduction to baking, so I’ve taught the basics: biscuits, scones, shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate, brownies (chewy and cakey), pies, quiches, and now I’m getting ready to teach a short unit on cakes. So I decided to include a Swiss Roll– a rich chocolate sponge cake, rolled around a light vanilla cream.
To try it out, I made the roll last week. Gilding the lily, I decided to enrobe it in a shiny chocolate ganache. As I was applying the final layers of ganache, I stepped back to look at my handiwork, and that’s when I realized– I had made a giant Ho Ho.
And I couldn’t have been any happier!
I was not a Hostess kid, but I do remember snacking on the odd Ho Ho from time to time. I would bite off all of the “chocolate ganache” and then attempt to unfurl the cake and cream. Unsuccessfully. The cake was dry and flavorless and the cream was not scented with pure vanilla, it was just sweet. The unfurling always turned out to be more of a breaking.
But let me tell you, that home baked, with a buoyant chocolate sponge and a delicious, light buttercream, this giant was sublime. I understand why this combination got so popular. And I didn’t even want to unfurl it.
The chocolate sponge is adapted from a recipe by the brilliant Flo Braker. Her book, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking is spot on. She is meticulous, and although this book is a baking book, her recipes are not too sweet. This sponge is not quite a genoise, it is enriched with egg yolks, making the cake moist and pliable without having to brush it with a simple syrup.
While a Swiss Roll is typically made with sweetened whipped cream, I opted for buttercream instead. It has a staying power that a wet whipped cream does not. And I’m the teacher– I get to do that now. The ganache is rich with bitersweet chocolate, with a bit of corn syrup added to improve the shine. Ganache is great. It can hide a multitude of sins, like cracks in the cake, pours on easily, and hardens to a lustrous sheen.
The cake was divine. Every student oohed and aahed over their rolls. It reminded each person of their childhood– but tasted even better!
Chocolate Swiss Roll/ Giant Ho Ho
Chocolate Spongecake Sheet
from The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker
1/2 cup (50 grams) unsifted cocoa powder
2 tablespoons (25 grams) unsifted cake flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Position rack in the lower third of oven, and preheat to 425 degrees.
Lightly grease a jellyroll pan (12 by 15 inches), line with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on the shorter sides, and spray with cooking spray. Set aside. Sift the cocoa powder, and the flour together.
In the bowl of a stand mixer crack 2 full eggs, and 2 yolks. Reserve the 2 egg white in another bowl. Begin to whisk the egg yolk mixture, slowly adding the 1/2 cup of sugar. The mixture will become light and thick. This will take about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla, and beat again to mix. In the separate bowl, with a hand mixer, if you have one, beat the egg whites, slowly adding the additional 2 tablespoons of sugar, until medium peaks are formed. Set aside.
Fold half of the egg white mixture into the yolk mixture. Sprinkle half of the cocoa powder mixture into the egg mixture and fold completely. Repeat steps another time with the egg white and the cocoa powder mixture until all is thoroughly combined.
Quickly pour into the prepared jellyroll pan, spreading evenly. The cake will continue to spread when it is baked, so it’s not important that the batter be completely covering the pan. Bake 7 to 8 minutes. It is better to underbake then to overbake, which will make the cake difficult to roll.
Immediately remove the foil, which will still have the cake attached. Place it on a work surface, and put a clean kitchen or tea towel over it. Quickly begin to roll the cake with the towel in the center, pulling off the foil as you go, making a cylinder. Roll completely and leave to cool to room temperature, in this rolled position, with the towel still in place.
Vanilla Cream Filling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup whole milk
3-4 cups (give or take) powdered sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I used vanilla bean paste)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the milk and 2 cups of powdered sugar, and continue to beat until well combined. Add additional sugar in increments, tasting for sweetness. When frosting is sweet enough for your taste, add vanilla and continue to beat until no graininess is detected. Scoop into a smaller bowl, and set aside.
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
pinch of kosher salt
In a small saucepan, place all of the ingredients. Warm over low heat, just until chocolate is melted. Stir to combine, and set aside.
Assembling the roll:
Unroll the cake, and remove the towel. Spread the cream filling (it is easiest is the filling is kept at room temperature), evenly on the inside of the cake. (You may have some cream left over.) The cake will have a bend in it from the rolling/cooling process. This will make it easier to roll completely filled. Gently roll the cake. Turn it over, so the seam is underneath. Trim the ends, so the cake is squared off, and even. If possible, refrigerate for one-half hour to firm-up the roll.
Place roll on a rack, over a cookie sheet. Pour on the ganache, if necessary, paint ganache on to cover cake completely. Let ganache firm up either in the refrigerator or at room temperature. This will take about 1 hour.