There’s carrot cake, and then there’s carrot cake. I am very particular about my carrot cake. (Actually, I am very particular about every baked good and dessert, but all the more so with carrot cake.) I don’t want nuts and raisins in my carrot cake — just how I feel. That’s why I have been obsessed and in love with the carrot graham layer cake from Smitten Kitchen. I have been making that cake for years; it is divine. It is also the inspiration for this Carrot Cake Roll recipe.
One of my friends is bizarrely obsessed with roll cakes and has been pushing me to create a cake roll recipe. I finally gave in to the peer pressure. There are tons of Swiss cake roll recipes with chocolate cake bases or vanilla cake bases. Those cakes are traditionally made with a sponge cake because they roll up pretty easily. If you look around the inter webs for a carrot cake roll, you’ll see that most of those recipes are not sponge based. I have made some of those cakes, and they are pretty good. However, I found that the cake has a better consistency, is more traditional, and keeps better if it is made as a sponge cake.
Having gotten down the technical aspect of how I wanted this Carrot Cake Roll to feel and look, I wanted — no, needed — to bring in the taste of the graham crackers like Smitten Kitchen’s amazing carrot graham layer cake. After several trial runs, I got it to a flavor I love.
Most carrot cakes scream for cream cheese frosting. This one is no exception. However, I took it a step further with brown sugar cream cheese frosting to complement the graham cracker flavor in the cake. Each bite is a pure symphony.
Side Note on Weighing vs. Measuring Ingredients
Before we get into it, let’s have a conversation I have had in many other of my blog posts. When I talk about — heaven forbid — measuring ingredients, it is because you should not be measuring ingredients! You will get a more precise result, and more importantly, the result intended by the recipe’s author, if you weigh your ingredients. (If five people each measure 1 cup of flour, I guaranty you that all five cups will weigh different amounts. Those differences have extraordinary effects on the final product.) This is so important that I have dedicated a post to it. Check out Weighing vs. Measuring. If you are in the market for a scale, I give recommendations in that post. You can get one for under $20. It will be the smartest kitchen investment you make. Ok, on with the show…
How to Make a Carrot Cake Roll
A cake roll is always impressive and a crowd pleaser. But that does not mean it is difficult to make. With this cake recipe, you can have all the bowls and anything else used cleaned up by the time the cake comes out of the oven. So, no need to stress about clean up! And if you are new to beating and folding in egg whites, be sure to check out the video below. Now, let’s dive into this Carrot Cake Roll.
1. Prep the baking pan
Use a 10-inch by 15-inch jelly roll pan.* Cut a piece of parchment paper that lines the bottom of the pan but has at least a 1-inch overhang riding up the 10-inch side of the pan. Coat the pan with non-stick cooking spray, place the parchment over it, and lightly spray the top of the parchment with more non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Prep all ingredients
This is actually the first step of any recipe, but it is very important for this one. (In culinary school, this is called mis en place, which is French for “putting in place”. As Americans who butcher foreign languages, we use mise en place as a verb. “I am mise en place-ing all my ingredients before I start making the cake batter.”)
I recommend this mise en place order:
- In a small bowl, weigh (or, heaven forbid, measure) out the dry ingredients. Set aside.
- Weigh (or, heaven forbid, measure) out the sugar into a small bowl.
- Shred the carrots. You probably need 4-6 medium sized carrots, but that depends on their size. You can use a grater and shred them by hand. I prefer running them through the food processor — takes less than one minute. Weigh (or, heaven forbid, measure) the carrots after you shred them. Set aside.
- Separate the eggs. Put the whites in the bowl (make sure it’s clean and dry!) of an electric mixer and the yolks into a medium or large mixing bowl. Pour half (you can eyeball it) the sugar into the yolks. Set aside.
- Keep the sour cream, vanilla and molasses handy.
3. Whisk the egg whites with half the sugar
As mentioned above, the mixing bowl for the whites should be thoroughly clean and dry. Any food particles, leftover detergent or water could prevent the whites from beating into the stiff, meringue-like fluffiness we are looking for. Turn the mixer to a medium-low speed. As the whites start to foam a little, increase the speed to medium-high. Let it go for at least several minutes. Once the mixture appears mostly white, slowly start adding the reserved half of the sugar in small increments. (You can eyeball half the sugar, as the amount does not need to be precise.) Add some of the sugar and allow it to whisk into the whites. Give it 20-30 seconds and slowly add a little more of the sugar. Keep repeating until all the sugar is mixed in. Once all the sugar (half the total amount of the recipe) is in the egg whites, increase the mixer speed to high and whisk until the mixture is stiff. Stiff?
You will know it is done by stopping the mixer and inserting the whisk into the egg whites. It should feel firm-ish. When you lift the whisk up, the whites should stand up on the mixer and not fall. Be careful not to over-whisk the whites. Doing so will make them watery and cause the cake to fall while baking. If you are in doubt, stop the mixer to check the status every 30 seconds.
4. Whisk the dry ingredients
When you first turn the mixer on for the egg whites, give the dry ingredients a good whisk (by hand) so that they are fully combined. Set the bowl of dry ingredients aside and keep the whisk close by.
5. Whisk the egg yolks with the rest of the liquid ingredients
Using the whisk from the dry ingredients, whisk the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until it is thick and pale in color. Then whisk in the sour cream, vanilla and molasses. Set aside.
6. Fold everything together
Anyone who has watched Schitt’s Creek is familiar with the confusion around folding ingredients. (If you do not get this reference, Google “Schitt’s Creek fold in the cheese”. Such a great show! But, I digress…)
Folding ingredients is actually quite simple. It is a gentle way of combining ingredients without mixing them in such a rough manner that would cause the air bubbles created in the beaten egg whites to dissipate. Here are some tips to folding:
- Add a small amount (no more than one-third) of the beaten egg whites to the yolk/sugar/sour cream mixture. This is called a “sacrifice” because we are sacrificing some of the stiff egg whites into the yolk mixture to make it easier to fold in the rest of the stiff egg whites.
- Holding the bowl in front of you, use a rubber spatula to cut in the middle of the mixture, from the point furthest away from you working towards you. As the spatula approaches the side of bowl closest to your body, flip the spatula towards the left, folding over part of the batter towards the middle. Continuously rotate the bowl as you repeat this movement.
- When there are just a few white streaks left, add half of the remaining whites in and continue folding until just a few white streaks remain. Add the rest of the whites and fold until the whites are no longer visible.
- Then pour in half of the dry ingredients, folding until mostly incorporated. Add the rest and fold until the dry ingredients are no longer visible.
- Fold in the shredded carrots in one or two batches.
- Do not over-fold at any of these steps. The goal is to get the ingredients just incorporated without over-folding/mixing. Working the batter too much will destroy all the lovely air bubbles you created by beating the egg whites to stiff peaks.
6. Spread, bake and roll
Use a metal spatula to spread the cake batter evenly in the prepared baking pan. Tap it gently a few times on the counter top to break up any large air bubbles. Bake for 14-18 minutes. Make sure it is fully baked by inserting a toothpick into the middle which should be dry when you pull it out. Remove the cake from the oven and let it sit for no more than one minute.
You will roll up the cake while it is hot. Grab the ends of the parchment paper to remove the cake from the pan. Place it on a heat proof surface. (I like to lay out a silicon mat on the counter.* You can also check out Sur la Table for the name brand Silpat ones, which in my opinion are great quality.) Quickly and carefully roll the cake up tightly. It will be very hot, so be careful! Once rolled up, walk away. Let it cool completely, at least one hour.
History Lesson: In the days before we really baked with parchment paper, a typical cake roll like this was removed from the oven, released from the pan, and placed on top of a towel coated with confectioner’s sugar (which prevents sticking). There is nothing wrong with this method. However, it gets messy! Using parchment paper avoids the dust storm from the confectioner’s sugar.
7. Frost the Carrot Cake Roll
The Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting for this Carrot Cake Roll whips up very quickly. (And it is a similarly amazingly delish frosting I use with my Banana Snack Cake.) The key is to have both the cream cheese and the butter at room temperature. If you have a larger stand mixer, you will probably have to stop the mixer often to scrape the sides of the bowl and the beater with a rubber spatula. If you have a hand mixer, that is probably well-suited for this frosting recipe.
Beat the cream cheese and butter together. Once fully combined, mix in the brown sugar. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes so that the brown sugar fully dissolves into the cream cheese and butter. Mix in the vanilla, molasses and salt. On a low speed, mix in the confectioner’s sugar. Once combined, turn the mixer to high, beating until the frosting is fluffy and smooth.
Carefully unravel the cooled, rolled up cake. Do this slowly to try to avoid the cake from cracking. (If the cake cracks, don’t sweat it. It will still taste delicious!) The cake may not be completely flat, and that is ok. Do not force it. Use a metal spatula to evenly spread the frosting on the entire cake. Then roll it back up and place it on a serving platter, seam side down. Refrigerate the cake for at least one hour before serving. Cut off the ends for a cleaner look, wiping the knife clean after each slice. Garnish as desired. If sprinkling the top with confectioner’s sugar, do so just prior to serving, as the confectioner’s sugar will dissolve into the moist cake within a few minutes.
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Carrot Cake Roll
- 60 g. all purpose flour (½ cup)
- 68 g. graham cracker crumbs
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. fine sea or table salt
- 1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ¾ tsp. ground ginger
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
- ⅛ tsp. ground cloves
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 150 g. sugar, divided (¾ cup)
- 60 g. sour cream (¼ cup )
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 tsp. molasses
- 210 g. shredded carrots (1¾ cups)
Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 43 g. unsalted butter, at room temperature (3 tsp.)
- 74 g. light brown sugar (⅓ cup, packed)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ tsp. molasses (optional)
- Pinch salt
- 150 g. confectioner’s sugar (1¼ cups, plus more as needed)
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a jelly roll pan (10 inches by 15 inches) with parchment paper so that the parchment is flat on the bottom and comes up at least one inch on the 10 inch sides of the pan. (This extra parchment on the short sides of the pan will make it easy to lift to hot cake from the pan when it comes out of the oven.) Spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray, making sure to coat the sides along the 15 inch sides. Place parchment back into the pan and spray it will a little more non-stick cooking spray.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside, but hold onto the whisk.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on low-medium speed until they start to get foamy. Increase the speed to medium-high. Once the mixture is mostly white and not clear, slowly add only half (approximately 75 g.) of the sugar with the mixer running. Add just a little bit, let it get incorporated into the whites, then add a little more. Keep repeating until you have used apprxomately half the sugar. Set the remaining sugar aside. Increase the mixer speed to high and whisk until the egg whites are shiny and stiff.
- While the egg whites are beating, in a separate, large mixing bowl, whisk (use the one you used on the dry ingredients) together the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar until thick and pale in color. Whisk in the sour cream, vanilla and molasses.
- Fold some (no more than ⅓) of the stiff egg whites into the egg yolk/sugar/sour cream mixture just until the are barely any white streaks. Add another ⅓ of the whites and fold until almost incorporated. Add the remianing egg white and fold just until fully incorporated.
- Fold in half the dry ingredients until almost fully combined. Fold in the remaining dry ingrdients just until fully incorporated.
- Fold in the carrots to the batter.
- Spread the batter into the prepared pan with a metal spatula, making sure it is even throughout the pan. Gently tap the pan on the counter to break any large air bubbles. Bake 14-18 minutes. A toothpick inserted should come out dry.
- Within one minute of removing the cake from the oven, lift the cake from the pan by holding the parchment overlays along the 10 inch sides. Place the hot cake on a heatproof surface. Immedately and carefully roll the cake up. Allow the cake to cool completely while rolled up
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- In the bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand mixer), cream together the cream cheese and butter until fully combined. Add the brown sugar, mixing until fully combined. Allow to sit 5-10 minutes for the brown sugar to fully dissolve into the mixture.
- Beat in vanilla, mollasses and salt until fully combined. On a low speed, slowly add the confectioner's sugar. Once fully combined, beat on high for several minutes until light and fluffy.
- Gently unroll the cooled cake and remove the parchment paper.
- Use a metal spatula to frost the cake evenly all over.
- Roll the cake back up. Place it on a serving platter with the seam side down. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
- Prior to serving, slice off the ends of the cake for a cleaner look.
- If garnishing with confectioner's sugar, sprinkle it on just before serving. The cake will absorb the confectioner's sugar within a few minutes.
- Store the cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will keep for at least 5 days. Alternatively, wrap individual slices and store in the freezer so you can grab a slice whenever the craving hits.