Easy pumpkin roll recipe for a festive fall dessert. A smooth cheesecake-flavored filling is layered between a tender spiced cake. I share my tips for creating a distinctive spiral design without the cake cracking.
Table of Contents
- Flour selection
- Leavening agents for a light cake
- Use two sweeteners
- Flavoring the pumpkin cake batter
- Pan selection
- Use parchment paper
- Bake time and temperature
- The trick to making the cake roll up
- Cream cheese filling
- Rolling the cake
- Slicing and serving
- Flavorful add-ins
- Freezing the cake
- Pumpkin Roll Recipe
When pumpkins are in season, this slice and serve pumpkin roll makes for an impressive dessert. It looks fancy, but it’s just two simple components; a flexible sponge-like cake and a rich cream cheese filling. It can be made in advance, refrigerated or frozen, making it easy to prepare ahead of time for a stress-free dessert.
The biggest challenge is preventing the cake from breaking when forming into a cigar shape. This problem can happen if it’s overcooked, too thick, or not appropriately cooled. To make rolling a breeze, you’ll be surprised to learn about the curl-and-cool technique. I shape the cake while still hot, and use parchment paper to assist in the process. This technique prevents sticking and yields evenly filled, tightly formed swirled servings.
Since pumpkin is dense and full of water, you need a higher protein content in the flour to help create a pliable, yet tender texture. All-purpose flour is the base of the cake. The extra moisture from the puree helps with gluten formation and a more robust, flexible structure so that it’s easy to roll.
Leavening agents for a light cake
I use three leavening agents to make the cake rise; baking powder, baking soda, and eggs. Baking powder already has acid added to it, giving a sustained release of gases while the cake bakes in the hot oven. Baking soda immediately starts to bubble, which adds extra lift. However, you must bake the cake right away as not to lose the gases formed.
I use room temperature eggs because it’s easier to mix. Whisking the eggs with the sugar until light and airy builds pockets of air that get trapped when the proteins in the whites and flour coagulate and set in the oven.
Use two sweeteners
I use a blend of two types of sugar; white granulated and dark brown sugar. The molasses in the brown sugar adds a deeper caramel flavor. A small amount also helps to keep the cake moist since it likes to attract moistures (it’s a humectant).
Flavoring the pumpkin cake batter
Pumpkin puree provides the slightly sweet and vegetal flavor for the cake, but its bland in taste. Using a generous amount of pumpkin pie spice, typically a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and sometimes cardamom, adds those characteristic warm, baked notes with little effort.
The cake will bake up to about ½-inch in height. It’s best to use a metal 15-by 10-inch pan with around 1-inch high sides. A jelly roll pan, which is designed for these types of cakes, also works. Don’t use a smaller half sheet pan, as it will be too thick to roll and produce cracks more easily.
Use parchment paper
To successfully remove the cake from the pan, use parchment paper. It should be big enough to cover the entire pan, with some overhanging on the sides. This size makes it a breeze to lift the cake after baking. Make sure that the paper is fit snugly in the pan.
If the cake is not flat in the pan, the cake will bake up unevenly. The parchment paper should be greased with cooking spray to prevent sticking when peeling away from the cake. The paper will also come in handy when rolling the cake.
Bake time and temperature
The thin layer of cake cooks quickly in the oven due to its large surface area. In under 15 minutes, it will be ready. I use a slightly elevated temperature of 375ºF (191ºC).
This heat level ensures that the gases formed will be trapped inside the crumb due to the proteins in the cake batter setting faster than at a lower temperature. The result makes a lighter, better-risen roll. The cake is ready when firm to the touch but still moist. An overcooked cake will crack and be harder to roll.
The trick to making the cake roll up
Right after removing the cake from the oven, immediately roll it up in the parchment paper. This is a critical step because a hot cake is more flexible. The gluten network of proteins is still loose, so training it to curl up helps it to stay pliable when it’s time to fill then roll up again.
Rolling the cake and letting it cool sets the spiral shape. The steam from the cake as it’s cooling keeps the texture moist and pliable. If you let the cake cool entirely flat in the pan, the proteins will set in that shape, and the crumb structure will become more brittle and crack. Do not fill the cake if it’s warm. Give it an hour to cool on a wire rack so that the filling doesn’t melt.
Cream cheese filling
To create a cheesecake filling flavor, I use cream cheese as the base. Some butter adds a creamy texture. It’s easier to mix the fats when softened to just below room temperature, about 65ºF (18ºC). You want it to feel cool because the friction in the mixer will bring up the temperature. When spreading on the cake, you want it to be smooth but still firm. It won’t give a nice thick layer when rolled between the cake if it’s too warm. Chill the filling if needed until it’s cool to the touch, between 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºC), before using.
Powdered sugar adds sweetness, but the fine grind keeps the filling smooth. I find 1 ½ cups gives just the right balance of savory, tangy cheese with sweetness. If you want a stronger cheese taste, use 1 to 1 ¼ cups of powdered sugar. Pure vanilla extract balances the sweet and savory notes of the filling.
Rolling the cake
When you unroll the cake, it will be slightly curled on the edges. The surface will be somewhat sticky, but should not be wet. To give a nice thick layer of filling, evenly spread the mixture over the cake when it’s slightly chilled. Leave about 1-inch around the edges to account for some spread from the cake’s weight once rolled. Tightly cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze, seam-side down for at least 1 hour to solidify the cheese and make it easier to cut.
Slicing and serving
It’s easiest to cut the cake when it’s been chilled, and the filling is firm. Right before cutting, I dust with powdered sugar on the top and sides. I recommend using a serrated bread knife for the cleanest cuts, use long sawing motions while lightly pressing down. Wipe the blade off in between cuts. The cake will yield 8 to 9, 1-inch thick servings.
- Add chopped nuts on top of the filling right before rolling for extra crunch. Walnuts, pecans, and almonds are great choices.
- Chopped nuts can also be added to the cake batter.
- Add extra spices to the cream cheese filling. Sprinkle a small amount of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon for an extra pop of flavor.
Freezing the cake
Once the cake has been tightly covered in plastic wrap, it can be frozen for up to a month. I place the roll in a large resealable plastic bag for extra protection from freezer burn. When ready to eat, defrost in the refrigerator about 3 to 4 hours or overnight, or at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes. Wait to sprinkle on the powdered sugar until ready to serve.
Room temperature eggs
Eggs at room temperature make it easier to mix with the other cake batter ingredients homogeneously. The thick albumin proteins in the whites become more fluid, making it easier to incorporate. It’s also easier to beat in air pockets to make a lighter, better-risen cake. Cold eggs take longer to bake since it takes more heat to raise the eggs’ internal temperature until the proteins coagulate and set.
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- ¾ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, see note
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ cups granulated sugar
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- ⅔ cup pumpkin puree
- powdered sugar, for dusting
Cream Cheese Filling
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to 65-67ºF (18-19ºC)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to 65-67ºF (18-19ºC)
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Set the oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 375ºF (191ºC).
- Line a 15-by 10-inch rimmed baking sheet (about 1-inch high sides) with parchment paper. Make sure that the parchment paper goes above the sides of the pan. Press the paper into the edges, folding the sides around the pan's rim, so it's flush with the bottom of the pan. Spray the bottom and sides of the parchment paper with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together sifted flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a large bowl, whisk together granulated sugar, brown sugar, and eggs until light, pale in color, and smooth about 2 minutes. Add pumpkin puree, whisk until combined.
- Fold the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture, stir until no flour streaks or lumps remain. Do not overmix.
- Evenly spread the pumpkin cake batter into the greased parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Make sure the batter is sitting flat in the pan. If the paper is lifted up on the edges, the cake won’t bake evenly in thickness.
- Bake until the center of the cake is firm and springs back when lightly touched, about 13 to 15 minutes.
- Immediately remove the cake from the baking sheet using the edges of the parchment paper. With the cake still hot, starting from the shorter 10-inch side of the cake, roll the cake with the parchment paper still attached, into a tight log.
- Place the cake seam side down on a wire rack and cool completely, about 1 hour. If needed, wrap another piece of parchment paper around the roll to keep it from unrolling.
Cream Cheese Filling (makes about 1 ½ cups)
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat softened cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla on low speed until just incorporated. Gradually increase the speed to medium, beating the mixture until smooth 30 to 45 seconds.
- Cover and refrigerate the filling until ready to assemble the cake. The filling should be cool and spreadable so that it stays thick when rolled, about 60 to 65ºF (15 to 18ºC).
- Carefully unroll the cake onto a flat surface. It’s okay if the ends are slightly curled. Use a knife or offset spatula to gently separate the edges of the cake from the parchment paper. This will make it easier to roll.
- The cream cheese filling should be cool but spreadable. Evenly spread the filling over the cake, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.
- Starting from the 10-inch long edge, roll the cake into a log, gradually removing the parchment paper as it’s rolled. The parchment paper will help lift and roll the cake over itself. When at the end of the cake roll, remove some of the cream cheese as needed to not overflow past the edge, for a clean seam.
- Wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap, store seam side down, and transfer to a sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. This will help set the frosting for easier slicing. The roll can also be frozen for quicker chilling.
- Trim the ends off of the cake for more uniform slices, about 1/2-inch. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into even-sized pieces, about 1-inch slices.
- Make your own pumpkin spice blend: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, ⅛ teaspoon allspice, ⅛ teaspoon cloves, ⅛ teaspoon cardamom (optional).
- Room temperature eggs: Add refrigerated eggs to a bowl and cover in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes, or until they no longer feel cold.
- Storing: Wrap unsliced cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Store sliced pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Freeze: Wrap the cake roll in plastic and store it in a resealable plastic bag for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator until no longer solid, about 3 to 4 hours or overnight. Defrost at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before slicing and serving.
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