How I Roll

Jelly Roll with Rhubarb Jam

Jelly Roll with Rhubarb Jam

There it sat. Right where I left it, give or take the few inches I had slid it in either direction to get to something else. A visible reminder of my own over-reaching ambition. Would I ever actually use it?

Lest you think I am talking about a piece of exercise equipment, rest assured that I am not. I’m talking about the jar of Rhubarb Jelly I made last week. In my ambition to cook with ingredients that are fresh and local, I bought what I thought was “a little” rhubarb, and ended up with an exercise in, “Okay Smarty-Pants, now what?” a/k/a one quart of homemade jelly. Last week I baked my Mom’s jam-filled Thumbprint cookies, but they made only the tiniest of dents in my tank o’jelly.

I knew that I needed to put it to good use; indeed its fiery, ketchupy, redness practically demanded a return in front of my camera, like some botanical Norma Desmond ready for its close up.

If you read my blog last week, I can almost hear the “sssshhhh” of your pants /skirt / pajamas as you slide down in your chair thinking, “Aw jeez, again with the Rhubarb Jelly?” Fear not. This is less about the jelly and more about the use.

Let me make the briefest of detours now to correct myself. Even though I refer to it as jelly, what I made is actually jam, the difference being that jelly uses only the juice of the fruit; jam uses the entire fruit, seeds and all. By nature, it would seem to me that there could not be such a thing as Rhubarb Jelly: ever tried to juice a rhubarb?

The recent unseasonably summery weather got me to thinking of all the great things we eat during the warm weather. I was practically ready for a kitchen clambake and Strawberry Shortcake when the sixty-degree temperature returned. It’s a good thing I like the cool weather. I’ll put away my lobster bib until later.

All of this musing about hot weather food also brought to mind Jelly Roll. I can remember more than one warm Sunday afternoon meal that ended with a sticky slice of Jelly Roll. Aesthetically I doubt that there is a more humble dessert, but its humility belies a sophisticated heart. Yes, it looks humble, but there is a little technique required.

Jelly roll is known to bakers as Biscuit à Roulade, and shares a chunk of baking DNA with Ladyfingers. Ladyfingers are piped through a pastry bag. Jelly roll is made in a sheet pan and rolled unfilled just out of the oven.  This is a lesson in technique that is at once technical and chemical. If you wait until the cake cools to roll it, the sugar will have crystallized, and the cake will crack. (This same technique – and science – is used to make the little rolled “cigar” cookies.)

The cake gets it airiness because the only leavening in the batter is the air you whip into the eggs (the Kitchen Aid mixer proves to be your best mate here.) The only other technique-related task that may throw some aspiring Jelly Roll bakers is the need to separate the eggs. If you can handle that, you’re golden (and so is the cake.)

Savvy readers of Butter Flour Eggs may remember the Yule Log cake I made at Christmas. It was also a Jelly Roll, although filled with Coffee Buttercream instead of jelly, frosted to resemble a log, and decorated with Meringue Mushrooms.

I have a better reason for mentioning the Yule Log beyond just hyper linking to past glories. I realized as I was eating my slice of Jelly Roll that I was playing with my food. (I think the population of Earth is likely divided into two groups: those who play with their food and those who do not. I’m not talking about throwing my food at others, or other subversive activities. I’m talking about ritualistic eating.)

Okay, this needs explaining. I eat certain foods a certain way, all the time. Perhaps it is a mild form of O.C.D., but mild enough that if I can’t eat that food the prescribed way every time I do not feel that the world will come to an end. Examples: Bagels? I eat around the hole. Ditto donuts (on the rare occasions I eat them.) Pie? I eat the filling first, then the crust as a chaser. Soup? Crackers last—and never in the actual soup. You get the picture and probably have your own list of habits.

Jelly Roll? I was absentmindedly eating the Jelly Roll and realized that I was uncoiling it, scraping off the jelly, and eating the cake, exactly as I had done as a child. Noticing this made me think, “Maybe I’m just not that into jelly.” I mentioned this to a hungry friend whose attention skipped past my aberrant eating habits and right to making Jelly Roll. He asked, “Can you fill the Jelly Roll with Whipped Cream?”

I quickly topped that suggestion by proposing to flavor the whipped cream with my Rhubarb Jelly. Or even better: Chambord. How about a really perverse Strawberry Shortcake comprised of sliced strawberries sandwiched by two slices of the Chambord-laced whipped cream Jelly Roll? (Note that Jelly Roll’s name changes when you replace the jelly, becoming Swiss Roll.)

So if I’m just not into jelly, there’s a whole cast of characters waiting to take its place.

And, not that far off,  a whole summer to enjoy them. 


Click here for the recipes for Rhubarb Jelly and Jelly Roll.


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