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Gather round, children, gather round. Allow me to rest in my creaky rocking chair, take up my knitting, and tell you a story about young Elizabeth’s magical 21st birthday.
I spent my junior year in college living and “studying” in London, which was a brilliant plan because I adored the city, made some great friends, and discovered to my delight that English schools are never in session. It was like 4 weeks of classes, 4 weeks off for holidays, a few more weeks of classes, a month off for “reading weeks,” and so on. This was fine with me, because who needs book learnin’ when you can be exploring Europe instead? The world was my classroom!…or so I told my parents.
I spent Christmas break traveling with two friends. We toured around Greece for a few weeks, then planned to hop over to Denmark and Sweden for Christmas, before heading back to London for New Year’s Eve. (Remind me later to tell you the story of NYE in Trafalgar Square, aka how I came to hate crowds and want to kick every smoker in the shins all the time.)
Anyhow, I flew up to Denmark with one friend, but our second friend was on a different flight that was supposed to arrive significantly later. We got settled into our hostel, and waited for our friend to arrive…and waited…and waited. After hours of waiting, we tried to get in touch with the airline, but aside from some very general information about her cancelled flight, they couldn’t tell us anything about her status due to privacy concerns. This was the pre-cell phone era (yes, I’m old) and she hadn’t sent us an email. We went to bed that night worried.
The next morning was my 21st birthday! Despite my concerns for my friend, it was still a glorious day. The city of Copenhagen was covered with a light dusting of snow, everything looked fresh and clean and beautiful, and the streets were decked in twinkling Christmas lights. I felt independent and free and so blessed to be able to explore such a lovely place. We checked in with the hostel periodically throughout the day, but my friend still hadn’t arrived. We were very worried by this point, and returned to the hostel that evening to try and formulate a game plan. While I was in the middle of yet another fruitless airline phone call, our friend walked into the room! A day late, tired and travel-weary, and still the absolute best birthday gift I could have asked for.
We finished the night with a quick trip to a neighboring grocery store, where we bought a birthday cake—a simple Swiss roll filled with strawberry jam and topped with powdered sugar. It wasn’t my usual chocolate-buttercream-birthday-cake-extravaganza, but sitting in my hostel in Copenhagen, halfway around the world from my home, surrounded by good friends and eating good food, it was the perfect birthday celebration.
McCormick is celebrating their 125th anniversary this month on September 28—dang! Lookin’ good, McCormick! To mark this occasion, they’re asking people around the world to share their favorite birthday story. When I was asked to share a birthday memory and create a birthday dessert in celebration, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. This Charlotte Royale is my SugarHero-ified tribute to the humble Swiss roll I enjoyed for my 21st birthday oh so many years ago.
The dessert starts with a light vanilla sponge cake, made with McCormick’s Extra Rich Pure Vanilla Extract. This is a new extract they created just for this occasion, and it is 25% stronger than classic vanilla extract. Described as “a perfect balance between sweet caramel and bourbon-rummy flavors,” it adds a lovely flavor to the cake that’s noticeable without being overpowering. The vanilla cake is spread with strawberry jam and rolled tightly like a classic Swiss roll. After cutting this roll into pieces, the pieces are then used to form the outer shell of a cake! A bit complicated? Maybe. A dessert worthy of a special occasion? Most definitely. And besides, I made a photo tutorial for you, so I got all your questions covered:
The Swiss roll cake is so light and ethereal, I wanted an equally light filling that matched it in both taste and texture. I ended up using a blancmange filling, which is sort of like the love child of a mousse and a panna cotta. It’s made with milk, cream, and almond meal, and thickened with gelatin. It has a fluffy texture like a mousse, with just a little wobble (like a panna cotta) and also a bit more substance, due to the finely ground almonds. I wanted to keep the vanilla-and-strawberry theme going, so I added chopped freeze-dried strawberries to the filling. The strawberries rehydrate during the chilling process, so they’re soft rather than crunchy, but they don’t add any extra moisture that might throw off the texture of the filling, the way fresh strawberries would. They’re entirely optional, though, and I promise that this cake will taste equally good with a simple vanilla-almond filling.
If you’re not entirely sold on my blancmange idea, you can use lots of other fillings. Traditional mousse works well, or try a no-bake cheesecake filling, pastry cream, or Bavarian cream. You could even pack it with softened ice cream and then freeze it until firm, although then you would lose the soft, fluffy Swiss roll texture. At any rate, it’s a really flexible idea, and for how impressive it is, it’s surprisingly easy to do!
Now it’s your turn—what’s your favorite birthday memory and/or birthday dessert? Tell me below! McCormick is also inviting readers to share a birthday story on their website, FlavorofTogether.com. For every story shared, they’ll donate $1, up to $1.25 million, to the United Way to help feed those in need. You can also share them on social media using #flavorstory. A good cause AND you get to talk about yourself? That’s win-win right there!
Charlotte Royale (Swiss Roll Cake)
For the Cake:
For the Filling:
To Make the Cake:
- Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and spray the parchment with nonstick cooking spray. Spray a 12x18-inch rimmed baking sheet (half sheet size) with nonstick cooking spray. Line it with parchment, spray the parchment, and dust it with a light layer of flour. Don't skip this step or you won't be able to roll the cake properly! Preheat the oven to 325 F.
- In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the cake flour, ¾ cup (5.25 oz) granulated sugar, the baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, water, yolks, and vanilla extract.
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin to whip them on medium speed. When the whites are frothy, add the cream of tartar and continue whipping. Once they start to hold soft peaks, slowly add the remaining ¼ cup sugar, a spoonful or two at a time, until it's all added. Beat the whites on medium-high speed until they're glossy and hold firm peaks.
- Add the yolk mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir them together with a spatula until smooth. Gently fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the mixture, trying not to over-mix and deflate the whites. Add the rest of the whites in two batches, stirring delicately.
- Scoop 1 1/2 cups of batter (6 oz) into the 9-inch round pan, and spread it into an even layer. Pour the rest of the cake batter into the sheet pan and gently smooth it into an even layer.
- Bake the cakes at 325 F for 14-16 minutes, until they are a light golden brown and the cake springs back when lightly pressed. The two cakes might be done at different times, so watch them both carefully. Cool the cakes on a wire rack until they are at room temperature.
- Once cool, spread the strawberry jam in a thin layer on top of the entire surface of the sheet cake. Beginning at the long end nearest to you, start rolling the cake into a spiral, peeling the parchment off the back as you roll. Once it is a tight spiral, wrap cling wrap around the roll and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. This chilling time will make the cake much easier to cut and will give you cleaner slices. The cake can be refrigerated overnight if desired.
- To assemble this recipe, you'll need a bowl that holds 3-4 quarts. The exact size of every bowl will vary, so it helps if you're flexible during the assembly process! Line the bowl with plastic wrap, extending up and over the sides of the bowl.
- Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the Swiss roll into slices between 1/2 inch-1 inch thick. If you're using a smaller bowl, you can make thicker slices, but if you're using a larger bowl, you'll need more pieces so you should err on the side of thinner cake slices. My bowl is about 3 1/2 quarts and my slices were about 3/4-inch thick. Press the slices into the bowl, right up next to each other, covering the bottom and sides of the bowl. The cake slices can be squished together and manipulated a bit to get the most even coverage—the goal is to have as few gaps between cake slices as possible! When you get to the top of the bowl, you can cut the slices to fit the top of the bowl, re-roll them so they're smaller, or otherwise manipulate them to get an even layer at the top of the bowl.
- To make the filling, whip the cream and powdered sugar together until they form firm peaks. Spread a layer of whipped cream on the inside of the bowl—this will keep any of the filling from leaking through to the outside of the cake, since it's fairly liquid when you pour it in before it sets.
- Refrigerate the remaining whipped cream and the cake bowl. Combine the gelatin and cold water in a small bowl, and whisk them together. Let the gelatin sit and absorb the water, for about 5 minutes, then microwave for 15-20 seconds, until melted and liquid. Combine the milk, almond meal, and granulated sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer, stirring while the sugar dissolves. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the melted gelatin.
- Fill a bowl or sink with ice water, and place the bottom of the saucepan in the cold water. Whisk while the milk cools until it is no longer warm to the touch. You want it to remain liquid, so don't cool it so much that it starts jelling together, but it should be fairly cool when you're done. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, if using, and stir well.
- Fold the remaining whipped cream into the cool milk mixture. Stir in the freeze-dried strawberries, then pour the filling into the cake bowl—it will be fairly liquidy. If there's a large gap between the top of the filling and the top of the cake along the sides, you can either trim the cake, or fill the gap with more sweetened whipped cream. Finally, press the 9-inch round of cake on top of the filling, trimming it if necessary. Cover the top with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight to set the filling.
- To serve the cake, remove the plastic wrap from the top. Place a plate upside-down on top of the bowl, then invert the bowl so the cake rests on the plate. Gently lift the bowl up, and peel the plastic wrap from the top of the cake. This cake is best serve chilled, and it can be kept in the refrigerator, well-wrapped, for up to a week.