The Pumpkin Roll—not to be confused with The Pumpkin Roll—is a type of Swiss roll cake baked and shared during the holiday season. The sponge is flecked with pumpkin pie spice and the buttercream, beefed up with tangy cream cheese. In tracing the recipe’s history, I learned that the pumpkin roll was largely popularized by the canned pumpkin purée brand, Libby’s, which inspired this recipe.
The challenge: to develop a cake that’s tough enough to roll, but not tough. Because fat creates tenderness, there is no oil in this cake (!); but fear not, the pumpkin pureé provides moisture and the eggs, just enough richness. There’s both baking powder and baking soda in here to provide maximum-lift at minimum-height (poured and spread, the cake ends up being roughly ¼-inch tall). I played around with a few ratios of butter to cream cheese for the cream cheese filling, and liked 1:2 best. The recipe below yields a creamy, tangy, not-too-sweet frosting (thanks to salt, cider vinegar, and ground ginger) that plays politely with the spiced cake. That all said, I’ve also come to realize that many people have many strong feelings about pumpkin rolls. So, do feel free to inverse the ratios (5 ounces butter: 2 1/2 ounces cream cheese) if you want a more buttercream-y frosting.
If you can’t be bothered to buy a jelly-roll pan, you can try this: Draw a 10”x15” rectangle onto a sheet of parchment, then line your pan with said parchment drawing-side-down. When baking, spread the batter within the drawn rectangle. And if you happen to have pumpkin pie spice around, feel free to swap in an equal quantity instead of the called-for spices in the cake. —Coral Lee
(96 grams) all-purpose flour
(107 grams) light brown sugar
(100 grams) granulated sugar
(151 grams) pumpkin puree
Cream cheese frosting
(142 grams) full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
(71 grams, 2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatureams) full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
7 1/2 tablespoons
(59 grams) confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment, leaving 2 inches of overhang on the 2 long sides, and grease with cooking spray.
Sift the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, and cloves into a large mixing bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs, sugars, and pumpkin on medium speed until smooth and slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low to incorporate the dry ingredients.
Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with an offset spatula. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cake bounces back when pressed with a finger. Allow the cake to cool slightly in the pan, about 5 minutes.
Lay out a large tea towel and wire rack. Using the parchment paper, gently lift cake out of the pan, and transfer to the towel parchment-side down. (If your towel is much larger than the cake, fold the two long sides of the towel to the middle of the cake before rolling.) Starting with the narrow end, roll up cake and towel together. Transfer rolled cake to the wire rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the filling: In a stand mixer or by hand, combine all of the ingredients and beat until smooth and fluffy.
Carefully unroll the cooled cake, and evenly spread out the filling, leaving a ¼-inch border. Gently re-roll the cake, using the parchment to help with tension and unpeeling as you go.
Refrigerate the rolled cake for at least 1 hour to set, and dust with powdered sugar just before serving in thick slices.