Best of the best: how to make the ultimate summer swiss roll

No shortcuts. No cheat ingredients. Our best of the best series takes the view that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. We choose a classic dish, delve into the processes and analyse why it tastes so good, then we give you our ultimate recipe. This time: Pollyanna Coupland rolls out a childhood teatime favourite, the swiss roll…

Best of the best: how to make the ultimate summer swiss roll

Fashions tend to come around again every 20 years or so. It’s often the dishes we think of as retro or nostalgic that are in vogue – especially in the world of desserts. That’s fine by me, as it means more opportunities to eat the greatest cake-based pudding known to mankind. If you’re being fancy you might call it a roulade, but I call it a swiss roll.

I’m not referring to the dense, preservative-stuffed, plastic-wrapped logs sold in supermarkets. I’m talking about a light-as-air sponge wrapped around rich, silky cream and studded with summer berries. Swiss roll is my go-to summer dessert  – and here’s how I make mine the best ever…

Spectacular sponge

It’s easy to dismiss sponge cake as something basic, but the simple set of ingredients (eggs, sugar, fat, flour) can produce very different results depending on ratios and method. Of course, a great sponge is key for a knockout swiss roll.

At one end of the sponge spectrum there’s the classic victoria, which has whole eggs beaten in to create something fluffy but structurally secure. At the other there’s angel food cake, which uses whites (no yolks) for an incredibly light and airy result. In between, you have genoise (whole eggs are well whipped to help the cake rise) and chiffon, which has oil instead of butter, egg yolks and whipped egg whites.

Swiss roll sponge is somewhere in the middle between chiffon and genoise. It has to be pliable enough to roll up, but substantial enough not to deflate and turn soggy when cream is added. Whipping the eggs (as with a genoise) creates just the right mixture of airiness, flexibility and strength while using oil (like a chiffon) helps later in the process. A swiss roll needs to set in the fridge once it’s filled – butter-based cakes go crumbly quickly once chilled, as the butter in the sponge solidifies. I also always add flaked almonds to my swiss roll sponge, as they look pretty, add a subtle crunch and – of course – taste wonderful.

Summer swiss roll
Swiss roll is elevated from tea-time treat to dinner party dessert


Fabulous fillings

I tend to stick with a traditional filling of berries and cream, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. My cream includes mascarpone for added richness, a little tang and more body. For the berries, I use whatever’s looking good and in season – but a mixture is always an excellent idea (perfectly ripe cherries are wonderful, so I often add those). A compote is better than jam as it’s less about the sugar and more about the fruit.

Finally, a drizzle of dark chocolate sets off the sweet fruit and cream perfectly, adding yet another dimension to this simple dessert.

Tips for swiss roll perfection

  • Don’t skip the sift. We’re all guilty of not bothering with this step, thinking any lumps will get beaten out during the mixing process. This cake really does need sifted ingredients, however, as to keep in all the air that’s whipped into the eggs, mixing must be minimal.
  • Whip well. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature and whipped in a spotless glass or stainless steel bowl. Any grease can stop them from whipping properly and plastic bowls are more likely to harbour it (even if you can’t see it).
  • Fold gently. You want to keep all those air bubbles, so use a wide metal spoon or silicone spatula, put it in the side of the bowl, gently bring it towards you, rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Use a short, gentle chopping motion rather than a full stir, and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Roll and cool. Loosely roll up your sponge as soon as it’s cooked, then leave it to cool. This makes it so much easier to re-roll the filled sponge.
  • Give it a rest. Once filled, some resting time in the fridge really firms up the cream in a swiss roll, making it easier to slice and allowing the compote to sink into the sponge a little.

Now you’re ready to make the ultimate summer swiss roll! Here’s Pollyanna’s perfect recipe.

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