Pumpkin Rolls and Food Memories

In keeping with our ongoing conversation about food and the holidays, I have a funny story to share. A few weeks ago, I gathered with two dear friends to practice making a pumpkin roll, a well-loved Thanksgiving dessert my friend and her family have enjoyed for many years. The goal was not only to set aside an afternoon to safely gather and spend time together, but also to practically learn how to make an intimidating dessert so that we might all try it for our own families this season. Again, using food to connect us to each other and those we love, even if we cannot all be together.

We laughed and fellowshipped while the cake was baking. It is not a complicated dessert but the technique is critical. The most fun part of the experiment was taste-testing the end result (which by the way was absolutely delicious.) And as we sat there relishing the fruits of our labor, I mentioned that my mom always had a chocolate roulade for us at Christmas and it was one of my favorite childhood food memories. When my friend asked for the recipe I immediately called my mom and the conversation went something like this

“Hey mom, Kate, Kim and I are testing a pumpkin roll recipe and were wondering if you can send us the recipe for your delicious chocolate roulade.”

Brief pause….

MOM “Well I don’t have a recipe for that.”

ME “What do you mean? We had it every year at Christmas it was one of my most favorite things you made!”

MOM “Well yes, but I always got that at Savage’s Bakery. I thought you knew that?”

ME “WHAT?!?!?!?!?”

MOM “Oh honey, I’m sorry. That dessert was a little tricky so I always let the experts do it for me. But you loved my red velvet cake didn’t you? Do you want that recipe?”

Silence while I process and consider everything I know to be true in my life…

ME “Mom, is there anything else I should know about? Now might be a good time to come clean…”

Now, of course I was kidding with my mom in that last bit but the conversation as a whole was absolutely hysterical for my friends to witness. I had so confidently offered up my mom’s famous recipe only to discover it belonged to the bakery down the street. And while it was a rather shocking discovery in the moment, it does not actually matter. The reality is that a special food, only made once a year offers a memory that remains special and meaningful to me. And learning that it was not a homemade dessert makes for a laugh, but doesn’t change the fond feelings that it conjures of Christmas time from my childhood.

While I cannot share the recipe for the bakery’s chocolate roulade, I do hope it gave you a laugh and perhaps brought up some of your own memories from kitchens past. It certainly encourages me to get in the kitchen to cook and bake all the things I make every year. I hope it will offer a sense of normalcy to a very different kind of holiday season and create those lasting memories for my children.

And as a bonus, here is my friend’s pumpkin roll recipe. Let me know if you give it a try!

Pumpkin Roll (Cook’s Country)

  • 1 cup cake flour, sifted

  • 2 t pumpkin pie spice

  • ½ t baking soda

  • ½ t salt

  • 5 large eggs

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree

  • 2 cups Cream Cheese Frosting (below)

  • Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 18x13 inch rimmed baking sheet and line with greased parchment paper. Whisk flour, spice, baking soda and salt in medium bowl; set aside. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat eggs and sugar until pale yellow and thick, 6-10 minutes. Add pumpkin and mix on low until incorporated. Fold in flour mixture until combined. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until cake is firm and springs back when touched, about 15 minutes. Before cooling, run knife around edge of cake to loosen, and turn out onto clean sheet of parchment paper that has been dusted with powdered sugar. Gently peel off parchment attached to cake and discard. Roll cake and fresh parchment into log and cool completely, about 1 hour.

To assemble, gently unroll cake and spread with frosting, leaving a 1 inch border at edges. Re-roll cake snugly, leaving parchment behind. Wrap cake firmly in plastic wrap and chill completely, at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Remove plastic, dust with powdered sugar and serve. Cream Cheese Frosting (makes about 1 cup. Can be doubled for fuller roll)

  • 8 T unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 cups powdered sugar

  • 8 oz cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened

  • 1 ½ t vanilla extract

Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, beating after each addition until fully incorporated. Add vanilla and mix until no lumps remain.

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