Grandma's Chocolate Swiss Roll

July  6, 2020
5 Ratings
Photo by Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Serves 10-15
Author Notes

My grandma loved us through food. As kids, we'd stay at her place every other weekend, and she'd make us all the food we could dream of: steak for breakfast, matzo ball soup on holidays, and chocolate Swiss roll for no reason at all.

The chocolate Swiss roll had three layers: a chocolate buttercream on the outside, a chocolate sponge cake on the inside, and vanilla buttercream in the center. At every Jewish holiday, I’d make a beeline for it before dinner. My mother would try holding me back, but my grandmother always managed to sneak me a sliver of the cake.

I never learned how to make those Swiss roll until the very end of my grandma's life. The recipe is actually simpler than the steps suggest. You make a standard buttercream recipe and divide it in half, making one side chocolate with cocoa powder, and the other side vanilla with vanilla bean. The harder part is rolling the cake without tearing it. I follow my grandmother’s method, using a clean dish towel and a ton of confectioner's sugar to roll the cake while it’s piping hot—it’s not fully done until you’re covered in sugar from head to toe. The messes, my grandmother would say, were a sign of great food to come.
Kim Haines

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: How My Grandma’s Swiss Roll Helped Me Cope With Losing Her. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • For the cake:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • confectioners’ sugar for sifting
  • For the vanilla buttercream:
  • 12 tablespoons (or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • For the chocolate buttercream:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • For decoration:
  • milk or dark chocolate shavings (optional)
  • edible gold leaf (optional)
  1. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a jelly roll sheet pan (10 x 15-inch) with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper—leave enough for an overhang to help get the cake out after baking—and spray with cooking spray again. Set aside.

  2. In a medium size bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

  3. Place eggs in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and mix on high speed until eggs are thick and a light yellow in color.

  4. Slowly add in sugar and whip for 4-5 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and creates volume in the egg mixture. Then, add the water and vanilla extract on low speed.

  5. Slowly add the flour mixture and continue to mix until combined. Do not over-beat.
 Pour mixture into pan, making sure to cover every inch of the pan. Tap the pan against the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.

  6. Bake cake for 13-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
 While the cake is baking, sift a good amount of confectioners’ sugar onto a clean dish towel, covering every inch of the towel evenly.

  7. When the cake is finished baking, remove from the oven and use a paring knife to cut along the side of the edges. While the cake is still hot, flip the pan over onto the clean dish towel with the confectioners’ sugar. Carefully remove the parchment paper and roll the cake with a dish towel from one short end to the other short end. Allow to cool for 45 minutes or until cooled completely. 

  8. For the vanilla buttercream: Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer on low speed and mix until combined. 

  9. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase speed to high and mix for 5 minutes, or until the buttercream is fluffy and white in color. Transfer 1 cup of buttercream to a pastry bag with a large star tip. Set aside.

  10. For the chocolate buttercream: Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer on low speed and mix until combined.

  11. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase speed to high and mix for 5 minutes, or until the buttercream is fluffy. Set Aside.

  12. For the assembly: Unroll cooled cake and place vanilla buttercream on the inside of the cake, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. The vanilla buttercream should measure ½-inch in height. 

  13. Carefully remove the dish towel, and roll the cake. 
Place the cake, seam side down, onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

  14. Place the cake in the refrigerator and allow it to set for 20 minutes.

  15. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and cover the outside with the chocolate buttercream using an offset spatula (the back of a spoon or a butter knife are good substitutes). Covering the bottom of the cake with the chocolate buttercream is entirely optional.
  16. Use the spatula to create designs on cake. Transfer to the refrigerator and allow to set for 20 minutes.

  17. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and begin to decorate the top of the cake with the pastry bag with the star tip filled with the reserved vanilla buttercream. Pipe 4 rows of dollops on the top center of the cake going lengthwise down the cake.

  18. Using a vegetable peeler or a grater, shred milk or dark chocolate over the vanilla buttercream dollops.
 Gold leaf is optional.
  19. Refrigerate until ready to serve and then allow to sit at room temperature for an hour before consuming. 
It’s best eaten the day it’s made.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Hanna Brolander
    Hanna Brolander
  • Catherine
  • Kim Haines
    Kim Haines
  • Jen Cheski
    Jen Cheski
  • Stefania
Kim Haines

Recipe by: Kim Haines

A professional Baker and Macaron artist, Kim Started Crème Macarons, an online bakery, in 2015, where she designs custom macarons for all events in NYC, Chicago, and Philadelphia. She will be releasing 'Macaronomics', a web series for YouTube this summer on how to make macarons for the beginner. @crememacarons

25 Reviews

Squincherella September 4, 2022
Chocolate buttercream was absolutely delicious!!!
Vanilla buttercream was much, much to sweet.
Measured and added the ingredients to the cake batter EXACTLY as instructed. I did not mix up my salt and sugar. I did not add a tbsp of salt instead of a tsp. I did not add a rounded tsp of salt, just a regular flat one. Cake batter tasted normal and, well, like cake batter. Baked version, HOLY SALT!!!!! I am not sensitive to salt at all, I typically have to over salt my food. I definitely didn’t use salted butter either. I don’t understand what happened. It was so salty I had to throw it .
Gina December 23, 2021
Hello Kim,
Did you know your Grandma’s recipe is exactly the Betty Crocker 1972 Cookbook recipe for a Chocolate Roll?

Your grandma put her own spin on the frosting though. Hold your memories dear though, as she made it with love.
Kim H. December 23, 2021
Hi Gina!

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, I truly appreciate every single one of you. The memories with my grandmother will luckily last a lifetime. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to ask her since she has passed. But the sponge cake recipe is pretty universal, sharing the same ingredients. She was pretty savvy and never needed a recipe and was great with coming up with her own recipes.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday and keep baking! Thank you for love! You made my day!

hillstredd November 21, 2021
This recipe worked for me. I cut back the sugar in all parts as per suggestions and used a ganache instead of the chocolate buttercream. I also used a 13x18 and just shortened the bake time. Rolled fine & wasn’t too dry. I’m related to a lot of chocophiles & it was a hit! Thanks Kim & grandma ❤️
Kim H. December 23, 2021
Awesome! I love to hear that. Thank you for sharing your experience and thank you for taking the time to read and bake. Sending love your way!
someone May 20, 2021
Hands down the worst recipe I have ever tried. Without butter, the cocoa does not combine with the cake, and the cake is crumbly. Does not roll. And seriously? Buttercream inside a swiss roll? Save the heart attack and use whipped cream. Trying to figure out how to salvage the sickeningly-sweet mess I'm now stuck with.
Kim H. May 20, 2021
Hi there! So classically, Swiss rolls always have buttercream on the inside, because the sponge cake will absorb the whipped cream, it’s just not stable enough. It sounds like you ran into some trouble, because the cake is supposed to be very moist. Also, heavy whipping cream is much more heavy and satiating than butter. Please let me know if I can help you any further on your journey. Happy baking!
Hanna B. December 24, 2020
The buttercream is WAY too sweet. Start with one less cup (yes, seriously) and work up from there.
Kim H. December 24, 2020
Hi Hanna!
Merry Christmas! The sugar measurements is definitely adjustable to compensate for people’s personal tastes. I come from a family that like sweet things so it works for our crazy palettes! Cheers.
nicole K. November 26, 2020
Cake was really salty?
Kim H. November 26, 2020
Hi Nicole!

Shouldn’t be salty at all with 1 tsp of salt. If you have a really sensitive palette try omitting the salt. Most of the time people say this cake is really sweet. Maybe you mixed up the sugar measurement with the salt measurement? Happens to me sometimes.
Squincherella September 4, 2022
I just made this as well. I followed the recipe exactly. I did not mix up my salt and my sugar. The batter really tasted good and like a normal batter. After it was baked though, WHEWWWWW SALT!!!!! I had to throw it, it was so bad. I don’t know what went wrong, I measured everything out exactly, and I know for a fact I only added I tsp salt. I also do not have a sensitive palette to salt, I typically have to over salt my food to taste it.
Catherine July 13, 2020
In the recipe header, it states that one buttercream is made, divided in half, then flavored with vanilla and chocolate. Why does the recipe have you make two separate buttercreams instead?
Kim H. July 13, 2020
Hi Catherine!

Correct. For people that are more experienced, you can divide the buttercream in half and flavor appropriately. For those that need a more detailed directional recipe, that is what the exact measurements are there for. I also wanted to make sure that there was a limited amount of waste (with the buttercream) if not any at all. Hope this helps!
PJplunkett July 12, 2020
Instead of 3 extra-large eggs, would using 4 large eggs be acceptable?
Kim H. July 13, 2020
Hi PJ!

I can't answer that, because I have not tried the recipe using 4 large eggs. A large egg is about 56 grams, where as an XL egg is about 64 grams, so adding an additional Large egg is an extra 32 grams to the recipe (give or take). So, that may mess with the leavening process. Baking is a science, so my best advice is try it out, and see what happens if that's all you have! Trial and error, right?
Jen C. July 19, 2020
I used 4 lg. eggs rather than 3 extra large. I weighed them and they were 195 g. vs. the 192 g. that 3 average sized eggs (as stated below) would come out to be. It worked perfectly.
Kim H. July 19, 2020
Awesome! I'm glad it worked out. How did you like the chocolate Swiss roll?
Jen C. July 19, 2020
It was delicious! I did cut the sugar to about half in the vanilla buttercream and used it all for the inside (less sugar - less volume), and opted to make a chocolate ganache for the outside instead of the chocolate buttercream. The cake was absolutely perfect and we enjoyed it very much!
Kim H. July 19, 2020
Glad to hear you liked it, and glad to hear that you made this your own. My grandmother would be proud!
Jen C. July 19, 2020
Thank you!
I loved your story about your grandmother, btw. Reminds me a lot of my own. I miss her very much. Thank you for sharing your grandmother’s recipe.
Stefania July 19, 2020
I wish I did the same, the cake was great but way too sweet for me, I will make the same change next time!
Leigh July 7, 2020
What happens if large eggs are used instead of extra-large eggs?
Kim H. July 7, 2020
Hey Leigh!

I tried both Large and Extra Large eggs when working with this recipe and I found that the extra large eggs made for a smoother, more stable, and fluffier (most importantly) sponge cake. Although, large eggs will work for this recipe, the leavening process wasn't as transformational. Hope this helps!
Leigh July 8, 2020
Thank you. I will definitely use the extra-large eggs.