Light and fluffy sponge flavoured with rich green tea powder and filled with delicious vanilla cream and fresh strawberries, this festive looking matcha roll cake is going to become a family favourite for sure!
Swiss roll (known as roll cake in Japan) is a popular sponge cake filled with cream, chocolate or jam, that is then rolled into a cylinder.
While swiss roll originates from central Europe, this light and fluffy treat is well loved all over the world. Roll cakes are especially loved in Japan and come in all different flavours, they typically appear at occasions such as birthdays or at Christmas.
Japanese Roll Cake
Roll cake is probably one of the most common cakes in Japan and while they look similar to any other swiss roll, there are a few things that make Japanese roll cakes a little different.
Firstly, they're not so sweet. In general, Japanese desserts are not as sweet as Western desserts and this is evident in Japanese roll cakes too.
Lastly, they nearly always contain cream rather than jam. The cream filling can be pretty much any flavour and quite often contains fresh fruits too (commonly strawberry, kiwi, mikan orange, etc).
While the classic flavours are the most popular (plain, vanilla or chocolate), there are also many more unusual flavours of roll cake that you might only find in Japan. Some examples might be:
- Matcha (green tea powder)
- Kinako (roasted soy flour)
- Hojicha (roasted green tea)
- Kocha (black tea)
- Kurogoma (black sesame)
- Purin (flan)
- Sakura (cherry blossom)
In this recipe, I'll be flavouring my roll cake with matcha! But first let me tell you a little bit about matcha and what to look out for when buying it.
What is matcha?
Matcha is a type of green tea powder and while many people do drink matcha tea, I'd say that these days, matcha flavoured sweets have actually become just as popular, if not more popular than drinking the tea itself.
Where to buy matcha and what to look out for
Because of its rising popularity, it's becoming easier to purchase matcha all over the world. You should be able to find it online, in health stores or tea shops. Be aware, that matcha can be quite expensive, even in Japan.
Look for a matcha powder that is bright green in colour. Dull or faded matcha powder is either old or low quality. Using this kind of matcha powder will also make your desserts look a dull, murky green which doesn't look very appetizing! Stick to fresh and vibrant matcha powder.
My tip is to buy matcha in small quantities and use it up within about one month. The colour and flavour will deteriorate over time so there's no need to buy it in bulk. Once opened, store in an airtight container in the fridge or the freezer to help maintain the colour and taste.
My other Matcha Recipes
The bitter and earthy flavour of the matcha creates a perfect balance in sweets, it's really addictive! Check out some of my other matcha recipes!
- Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream
- Fudgy matcha and dark chocolate brownies
- Matcha and white chocolate muffins
Tips for making the best roll cake
Making a successful roll cake might take a little practice, so here are some tips to help you make it perfectly!
Technique: Biscuit vs. Genoise
There are two common methods used for making roll cake. One is the "Biscuit (bis-quee) method" in which the egg yolks and whites are whisked separately then combined again later. The other is the "Genoise method" where the whole eggs are gently warmed over a double boiler (water bath) and then whisked together until foamy and ribbons appear.
I like to use the "biscuit method" when making matcha roll cake specifically because it's easier to incorporate the matcha powder into the mixture by whisking it with the egg yolks. Genoise also makes a delicious roll cake, but you have to be more gentle with the batter and this makes adding matcha powder evenly more difficult.
Tips for fail-free meringue
As I mentioned, using the biscuit method means separating the eggs. We make a batter with the yolks and then a meringue with the whites. Here are a few tips for making fail free meringue!
- Use a clean, dry glass bowl.
- Separate the eggs while they're chilled, they will separate more easily.
- When separating the eggs, use a small bowl to crack them one at a time and then divide them between the two mixing bowls. That way, if you accidentally break an egg yolk, you won't contaminate the rest of the egg whites.
- Cover the eggs (with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel) and let them reach room temperature before whipping. This is supposed to make the meringue more stable.
- Whip the egg whites until foamy, then add the sugar one third at a time.
- Use a medium speed on your whipper to make the air bubbles small and uniform. It takes longer but your meringue will be smoother and more stable.
- There are 3 types of meringue "peaks". Soft peaks that flop over, firm peaks that fold over slightly and stiff peaks that point up. Aim for somewhere between firm and stiff peaks for roll cake!
I like to use two types of flour in my recipe. The strong flour (bread flour) has more gluten and makes the cake more flexible and easy to roll. I also use cake flour to keep it light. It's the best of both worlds!
Before adding the dry ingredients (flour and matcha powder) to the mixture, it's important to sift them first to break up any lumps. This will create an airy and more even texture.
It's also important to sift the matcha powder and flour together so that they are well incorporated. This will help prevent uneven lumps of matcha powder in your batter.
This recipes makes a matcha batter with the egg yolks and then we add it to the meringue later. I loosen up the batter with a few scoops of meringue and whisk it, this will make it easier to incorporate with the rest of the meringue.
Once the batter is loosened up and makes ribbons, carefully fold in the rest of the meringue with a spatula.
If you overmix the batter or with mix too much force, you will lose the air from whipping and the cake will become dense.
I find using oil makes the roll cake more flexible and easy to roll. Not only that, but it stays moist after being refrigerated whereas butter becomes a bit hard once chilled. I used canola oil, but you can use vegetable oil.
Of course, if you want to use butter for a richer flavour, you can substitute the oil for 20g melted butter.
Using baking paper
It's important to use baking paper to line the roll cake pan because the cake needs to be removed while it's still warm, using baking paper will stop it from breaking and sticking to the pan.
I recommend using a piece of baking paper that hangs over opposite edges of the pan. You can pull the edges up and lift the cake out of the pan with ease.
Oven time and temperature
I like to bake my roll cake on a lower heat, I find the low and slow method results in a softer texture that practically melts in your mouth.
I bake at 160°C (320°F) for 15-18 minutes. Check your cake at about 13 minutes and make sure you take it out of the oven at the first sign of browning.
It's extremely important not to overcook roll cake. Overbaked roll cakes don't have enough moisture to roll beautifully, they usually end up with cracks or breaks.
Tip: Before placing it in the oven, drop the pan on the counter to push the air bubbles to the surface. Drop again when you take it out of the oven to "shock" the cake.
Once it's cooked through, the roll cake should be springy to the touch.
Once the roll cake is cooked through and removed from the oven, it should be removed from the baking tin straight away. If you leave the cake in the tin, it will continue to cook a little and dry out.
I recommend placing it on a wire rack and covering it with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. After about 10-15 minutes, flip it over, peel off the baking paper and place a new piece of baking paper over it.
You can then flip it back over, remove the plastic wrap and add your cream.
Tip: Cool it at room temperature and do not refrigerate before adding the cream. (The cake will "set" and break when you roll it.)
Cream for roll cake
When adding the cream, the cake does not need to be completely cool. A slightly warm cake will roll more easily. Just make sure it's not so warm that the cream melts. For a rough estimate, about 10-15 minutes of cooling is enough time.
Tip: Whip your cream while waiting for the cake to cool.
When whipping cream, I like to put the bowl in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. This will make it nice and cold, it will whip very quickly! You want stiff peaks, but do not overwhip otherwise the cream will become butter.
In this recipe, I make a simple vanilla whipped cream using double cream, sugar and vanilla essence. I really like the combination of matcha and vanilla, but it's okay to leave out the vanilla if you prefer. The striking white cream against the bright green matcha really makes a beautiful dessert!
How to roll a swiss roll
Rolling a swiss roll doesn't have to be too daunting, just follow these simple steps!
- First, let the swiss roll cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes. (Place plastic wrap over the top to keep it from drying out.)
- Whip the 150ml cream with 15g granulated sugar and ½ tsp of vanilla essence until stiff peaks form. If the cream is too soft, the cake will be unstable and difficult to roll and cut.
- Replace the baking paper with a new piece and lay the sponge with the browned side facing up. This will help you to roll the cake while keeping a beautiful finish.
- Dollop the cream into the center of the cake and spread it out evenly using an offset spatula or knife.
- Taper off the cream on two opposite edges. These edges should be at the beginning and the end of the roll, tapering the cream will stop it bursting out of the edges and create a neater finish.
- Feel free to add fruits such as strawberries, kiwi, banana or raspberries. Cutting them small will make them easier to roll.
- Carefully fold the top over, then pull the baking parchment to aid you in rolling it beautifully. You can use a ruler or something with a straight edge to push the bottom in firmly.
- Keep the rolled cake in the baking paper and then wrap it in plastic wrap to hold it in place.
- Roll cake needs to be chilled for at least 1 hour before serving. This improves the texture of the cake and stabilizes the cream. Place it in an airtight container. (If you don't have a big enough container, use extra plastic wrap to make sure it's sealed.)
Why did my swiss roll crack?
The hardest part about making a successful roll cake is making it flawless and crack-free. Here the main reasons why it might crack and how to prevent it.
The most common reason for a cracked swiss roll is baking for too long. The sponge is a lot thinner that your usual cake, so it's a very easy mistake to make.
To avoid overbaked sponge cake, make sure to bake at 160°C (320°F) for 15-18 minutes. After 12-13 minutes, keep checking the cake and take it out as soon as it starts to brown, it should be springy to the touch.
While dry cake is usually a product of overbaking, it can also happen if you leave it out to cool for too long. Leaving your cake exposed to the open air makes the surface dry and can lead to cracks when you roll it.
To prevent this, make sure to remove it from the pan immediately and place it on a cooling rack. You can also place a plastic wrap or baking parchment over the top of the cake to help lock in the moisture.
While we want the sponge to be cool enough that the cream doesn't melt, if it's too cold, it becomes rigid and more likely to crack or break when rolled.
To avoid this, make sure to cool the cake at room temperature. Do not be tempted to put it in the fridge before adding the cream.
It's fine to add the cream while the cake is still slightly warm, I recommend rolling it after 10 or so minutes of cooling time.