Perfecting the Chinese Swiss Roll

Lately I’ve been through bouts of exploring my creativity and perfecting the Chinese Swiss Roll is one of them. Something about its soft spongy texture, light degree of sweetness, and variety of flavours make them a fun treat to experiment with and you barely need to go out to buy ingredients. Despite the utter simplicity of the baking recipe though, I discovered there’s a billion things you can do wrong to end up with a cake that is too dense, too airy, with the filling to watery, or it cracks when you roll it. Trust me when I say there are probably more techniques in this cake than baking a dam macaroon!

WHAT ARE CHINESE SWISS ROLLS?

We all know what they are just by looking at the picture. But there’s actually a lot of variations and I’m confused as to whether they’re Swiss/western or a Chinese sweet food? And so I did a little digging around to get to the bottom of this.

In a nutshell a Swiss roll is a type of sponge cake rolled with whipped cream, jam or icing filling. According to my friend Wikipedia, the cake didn’t actually originate in Switzerland or China. It sort of just evolved throughout Central Europe; how it got the name ‘Swiss’ roll, we’ll never know. But it’s interesting to find out the names they’re known by in different countries. For example in Denmark they’re called “Roulade”, in Czech republik “piškotová roláda”, in Japan “roll cake”, in India “Jam rolls”, in Portugal “tortas”, and in the Philippines “pianono”. This is the situation for a few foods actually, like kebab! Here they’re called Kebabs (surprise), in Greece Gyros, and in Germany Döner kebab. Countries just have their own versions of the same thing.

Now in Hong Kong, and in all Chinese bakeries, the cake is made fresh and sold daily and flavours typically vary between Coffee, Chocolate, Vanilla, Pandan, Durian, Taro, even mango and strawberry. Compared to the western version the Asian style Swiss rolls are apparently lighter and less sweet. But I think that’s all up to the baker no? 😉

So in the quest to determine whether they’re Chinese or Swiss, the answer is – Neither. They’re just sponge cake rolls that evolved in various countries around Europe and Asia, probably defined by the fillings used. I mean there’s probably a slim chance you’d find taro or durian sponge rolls in Austria.

THE CHALLENGE WITH CHINESE SWISS ROLLS 

Prior to baking Chinese Swiss rolls, I had an obsession with Pandan Chiffons and I baked it many times trying to get it to turn out the way it did the first time. Sadly I hadn’t recorded that first time it turned out beautiful, and I’m still on the mission to find out where my beginners luck had run off too. Any who, sponge cake was proving a delightful challenge and that’s when the thought of trying the Swiss Roll, well, rolled into my mind. I’ve tried many recipes but I figured what works for each person will vary depending on a number of things like:

  • What oven you have, how big it is, how strong the heat is, whether it has fan-mode
  • The temperature of your kitchen – if it’s too cold outside the oven this can ruin the structure of the cake when you take it out
  • Whether you beat the eggs with a whisk or electric beater (and the strength of the beater)
  • The timing of adding sugar to the egg whites
  • How you fold in the egg whites to the mixture – in sections, or mix all at once?
  • What order you make the recipe – some people start with the flour mix, some with the egg whites
  • The eggs – some eggs are small and have equal ratio of egg:yolk, others will have a tiny yolk and A LOT of white
  • Quality of ingredients – duh
  • The size of the baking pan
  • What cloth you use to flip the cake on

 

Man I could go on… but ALAS! I have hope. And I will perfect the Chinese Swiss Roll.

 

RECIPE FOR MAKING CHINESE SWISS ROLL 

This will obviously vary depending on what flavour your making, but for the basic vanilla roll this is what I’ve gone by.

Ingredients

A – 3 egg yolks, 40 g caster sugar

B – tsp vanilla essence, 40ml veg or canola oil, 40 ml milk

C – 60g plain flour, 40g rice flour

D – 4 egg whites, 80 g sugar

Method 

  1. Preheat oven at fan-forced, 170 degrees
  2. Beat A with a whisk or electric beater until it’s a lighter colour
  3. Add B and combine well
  4. Sift in C and combine well
  5. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites. Add in half the sugar when frothy and keep beating. When soft peaks form, add the rest of the sugar and beat until still peaks form. (My test is to flip the bowl upside down and if the meringue doesn’t drop, you’re good to go)
  6. Add 1/3 of the meringue into the cake mix and fold in until it’s a uniform colour. Add this mix into the rest of the meringue and fold in well. Now you’re ready to bake!
  7. Line the baking dish (a flat rectangle one) with baking paper. Ensure the baking paper is relatively larger than the dish so it’s easy to peel off after. Spread the mix evenly and then drop the dish a few times on your table to rid of any air bubbles.
  8. Put it in the oven for 15-20 mins.

 

When it’s cooked you need to flip it straight away onto a tea towel and cooling rack and peel the baking paper off. Now here you can do one of two things:

  • Roll it into shape while it’s hot with the baking paper then let it cool. After you can unroll, add the filling and roll again before refrigerating. This technique gets the cake into shape and avoids possible cracking when you try to roll it after cooling
  • Let it cool completely, add the filling, and then roll and refrigerate

 

It’s pretty much a matter of trial and error using the ingredients and equipment you have. Even the thickness of the tea towel you use to cool the cake on makes a difference! Here’s how my trials turned out:

 

MY MISSION CONTINUES… 

My favourite flavour to make is coffee rolls! I love the coffee scent (Who doesn’t) and my dad’s a fan of coffee or nut flavoured deserts. I also tried the simple vanilla one and I’m keen to give Taro flavour a go next! That probably has the added challenge of making taro filling. I’m thinking about making matcha as well since I have so much matcha powder left over. Again, gotta make some red bean paste filling to go with that!

I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I probably won’t ever be satisfied with what I’ve created. My judges are primarily Mum, who always says ‘tastes good!’, and dad, who likes anything as long as it has mounds of sugar (I mean, he puts condensed milk ON TOP of double choc bulla extra creamy ice cream). But hey I’m having fun baking and experimenting every day. I’m going through eggs at a rate that feels like I’m heightening the possibility of chickens going extinct (ok maybe not that dramatic). Wish me luck on the taro and matcha rolls! I might just make this a baking blog series… haha.

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