'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Monday, 27 May 2013

Swiss roll

'The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.'

Oscar Wilde

In food as in life, simplicity ought to be the ultimate goal of our endeavours. I'm reminded, however, of Oscar Wilde's timeless aphorism - simple things are only simple superficially. In cooking, for instance, the simplest dishes require the most painstaking precision since every tiny step is going to have profound repercussions for the finished dish.

Take the humble Swiss roll, for instance. The cake we associate with childhood. At its most basic, it's just a sponge sheet rolled up with a whipped cream filling.  With only two ingredients, it's more prone to failure than a fancy dressed up layer cake. The sponge sheet has to be feathery light, moist but not gummy, and God forbid if it cracks when you roll it! No matter how many times I make it, there's always a sense of trepidation every time I make a new one.

Swiss rolls have become really popular in the past few years in Japan and Hong Kong, and you see fancy renditions involving coloured sponges and you-name-it flavours and fillings. The ones you get from good bakeries are actually very pricey, and although I'm tempted by the look of the fancy Swiss rolls every time, I could never bring myself to actually buy one!

The Swiss roll is one of the pastries where I think the original flavour is best. I get tempted by all the exciting flavours - purple potatoes, charcoal, etc. - but there's something very tempting about the pure flavours of eggs and cream. I've experimented with all sorts of sponges for the body of the roll - génoise and chiffon mainly. While chiffon sheets are wondrously soft and moist, it lacks the evenness of texture that I crave. On the other hand, génoises can easily be dry. This can be remedied by adding melted butter to the egg foam, but it's quite a finicky process and it can deflate the batter if you're not adept at it. Some American recipes suggest adding water to the egg foam to make it moist, but I find that it makes the finished sponge rather coarse in texture.

Here's my secret ingredient: whipped cream! Not only is it a dream to fold in, it also adds a creamy flavour to the sponge that complements beautifully with the cream filling. I first got the idea of using whipped cream for a génoise from Flo Braker's brown sugar génoise recipe, but I don't think she used it as a sponge sheet. Once I tried incorporating whipped cream into my génoise, there's no looking back.

Check out my cocoa Swiss roll on more pictures of rolling a cake!

Swiss roll (aka. cake roll, roll cake)

Since it's baked as a thin sheet, the batter needs less flour than a stand-alone génoise. You can substitute up to half of the flour with cornflour which makes an even finer texture. Use the best eggs and cream you can lay your hands on, of course.

Sponge batter
4 large eggs (200g)
40g (1/4 cup minus 2 tsp) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8g SP cake emulsifier (optional)
80g (3/4 cup) sifted plain or cake flour (sifted before measuring if using cup measurement)
80g (1/3 cup) double/whipping cream

Whipped cream filling
225g (1 cup) double/whipping cream
15g (1 tbsp) granulated or icing sugar

Bits of fruits (optional) - I like to use a small tin of Dole pineapple tidbits. It brightens the cake quite remarkably!

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 180C/350F.
Line the bottom of a 12" by 17" (30 by 40 cm) half sheet pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.

1. Whip the cream to a stiff peak. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water, heat the eggs, sugar, salt and SP cake emulsifier (if using) until warm, stirring with a clean whisk constantly to prevent curdling. Remove from bowl from the pan.

3. If you're using a Kitchen Aid, use the whisk beater and beat the mixture on medium-high speed for about 6-7 minutes until thick and fluffy and triple in volume. Reduce the mixing speed towards the end to 'tighten' the air bubbles. When done, the batter should look like softly whipped cream, but don't overbeat it and make it too stiff. If you are using a hand beater, it will take at least 10 minutes.

4. Now sift a third of the flour over the egg foam. Use a wire whisk to blend in the flour gently but swiftly, using circular motions.

5. Repeat the process twice more, sifting a third of the flour over the egg foam each time and fold in using a wire whisk.

6. When all of the flour is almost blended in, fold in the whipped cream into the egg foam gently but swiftly. Be sure to reach the bottom of the bowl.

7. Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan, and use an offset spatula to make an even layer. Tap the pan lightly against the counter top to even out the batter. Bake in the oven for 9 minutes - the cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan. Do not overbake.

8. Remove the cake from the oven. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on top of the baked cake, and invert it upside down. Remove the pan and the parchment paper on top.

 9. Remove the top parchment paper gently.

10. Time to pre-roll the cake. Roll the cake with the parchment paper from the short end - the paper will fill the gap and prevent the cake from sticking. Let the cake rest in that position for 10 minutes. This will help prevent cracking when you roll it later.

11. In a roomy bowl, beat the cream for the filling to an almost stiff peak with the sugar.

12. Unroll the cake, and lift up each side of the sponge gently from the parchment paper to check that it didn't stick. Apply the whipped cream onto the cake, leaving a small gap along the edge of the long sides. I like to have a thicker layer of filling on the side nearer me and gradually less as it runs to the opposite side. Scatter bits of fruits on top of the cream if using.

13. Using the parchment paper to help you, roll up the cake from the short end with the thicker layer of filling. When the cake is rolled up, wrap it tightly with the parchment paper. Hold the log tightly between your thumb and the other four fingers to tighten the roll. It's ok if a little filling oozes out at the ends. Wrap up the roll tightly with the parchment paper and crumple up the sides so that the cake doesn't dry out. Place the rolled log in the fridge with the 'end' of the cake facing down. Chill for at least 2 hours for the filling to firm up, preferably overnight.

14. The sponge sheet would have absorbed some of the moisture from the filling and the cream would have firmed up. Cut a slice from each end to reveal the beautiful spiral pattern. Cut into slices to serve. They go away more quickly than you think.

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