The Swiss roll and I have never had a great relationship. It’s not my fault. At every encounter, I treat it with nothing but care and respect. It always starts out well – the gentle stirring of the batter, the perfume of chocolate lingering in the air, the delicate touch as the cake comes out of the oven. And just when I begin to think this is it, this is the one, it all falls apart. Literally. An atheist should try making a Swiss roll. Because even if you don’t believe in a higher power, when trying to roll a cake, you’ll find yourself muttering “Please, please, please – don’t let this one break.” This will inevitably be followed by expletives (at least in my case) as one after the other, the cracks begin to appear. And then comes the inevitable break-up. And we all know what happens after that.
So when I saw my first Daring Bakers challenge, I was not happy. Not happy at all. It was a Swiss Swirl Ice Cream Cake – slices of Swiss roll are used to line a bowl and then filled with two flavors of ice cream and fudge sauce – all made from scratch. Sounds elaborate and complicated? It sure does, but I had no problems with that. I live off elaborate and complicated. But the Swiss roll – I didn’t want to go back to that. I had the entire month to make it but I procrastinated and, I’m ashamed to admit, thought of elaborate excuses to drop out. They ranged from the plausible – my freezer broke down – to the ridiculous – the dog ate it! I also daydreamed of injuries that would leave me perfectly capable of doing everything except making a Swiss roll.
But then I pulled myself together. The group is called Daring Bakers after all, not Bakers-who-make-only-what-they-know. I decided to make a Black Forest Swiss Swirl Cake – dark chocolate cake layered with whipped cream, mascarpone and cherries to go with the chocolate and cherry ice creams I’d made earlier. For the cake, I picked my favorite chocolate cake recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen – the cake that Deb calls the Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Cake and her mom calls the Sh*t Cake – obviously for all the expletives you utter while making it. (At least I know I’m not alone in this.)
Before we go any further, let me tell you about this cake. It’s a flourless chocolate cake but you would never guess it. It’s not throat-achingly rich like most flourless cakes tend to be, but light and marvelously chocalatey at the same time. It melts in your mouth making you wonder where that last bite just disappeared. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve made it. I’ve paired it with whipped cream and ganache and mousse and raspberries and cherries. I’ve made it as a part of a wedding cake and as a plain cake that I pull out of the freezer and eat standing in the kitchen. But I had never made it as it was originally intended – as a Swiss roll. There’s a first time for everything.
As soon I started making the cake, I knew something was off. You know the kind of day I’m talking about – when you feel like you’ve lost your baking mojo and everything goes wrong. Like maybe an over-enthusiastic tap on the jar has sugar flying everywhere. Or you cut your finger while pitting cherries. (Who does that?) Or you break your nice wine glass while reaching for an oven mitt. And then ignore said oven mitt out of frustration and burn your other finger. You can imagine that by the time I was ready to roll the cake, I was in no mood to be trifled with. And the cake behaved. Mostly. I was expecting cracks by now, so the few minor ones that appeared didn’t bother me all that much. And just when I thought I could go as far as to say that this might be a minor success, I dropped it. Yes, I dropped it – cake, tray, the whole enchilada. (While lifting the tray, I’d forgotten my burnt and cut fingers.)
By now, I didn’t even have the energy to be upset. I patched it as best as I could and dumped it in the freezer. The next morning I grudgingly finished the task of slicing the Swiss roll and then layering it in a bowl with the two flavors of ice cream and the fudge sauce. I didn’t even step back to admire my handiwork or taste it. When I came back in the evening, I upturned it on a plate, took a few (not very good) pictures and retired it back to the freezer. That night I was low and dejected – it had been a bad couple of weeks and nothing seemed to be going right. Finally at 1 am, unable to sleep, I cut myself a slice. And then another. And another. The next morning I was fatter and happier. It seems, sometimes, ice cream cake is all you need to drive the blues away. But you already knew that, didn’t you?