How to Make a Vertical Cake Roll

You've made sheet cakes and cupcakes and layer cakes before. Now it's time to level up and learn how to make a vertical cake that will wow all your friends.

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Cake bakers are an adventurous sort. Who else would dare to transform dessert into a unicorn, stack layer upon layer or bare it all with a naked cake? With bakes like that under their belts, we know cake bakers won’t shy away from a new challenge: a vertical cake roll.

This showstopping bake is similar to a cake roll or jelly roll, but instead of rolling the sponge into a log, you roll thinner sheets of cake into a shorter, squatter form. It might look like a daunting project, but we know that intrepid bakers are up to the challenge.

For more baking challenges, be sure to check out Bakeable, our baking community.

What to Know About Making Vertical Cakes

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I consulted with Mark Neufang in the Taste of Home Test Kitchen about vertical cakes. Mark is an absolute whiz with desserts and created this recipe for a jaw-droppingly gorgeous vertical carrot cake.

While developing this carrot cake, Mark became an absolute pro at vertical cake rolls. I can attest to his skills and the decadence of this particular cake. However, you don’t need to limit yourself to this specific recipe (though Mark and I both encourage you to try it!).

For the sponge, Mark recommends a sponge cake. That means you should skip any recipes for flourless cakes, pound cakes or any other dense desserts. Mark says, “Sponge cakes are best as they are a bit more pliant and springy.”

If you have a hard time knowing where to start, opt for a cake roll recipe as a base. These cakes are designed to be rolled up and filled. As for the filling, buttercreams and cream cheese frostings are ideal. They’ll hold their shape and are easy to work with. For best results, steer clear of whipped cream frostings. These won’t hold up to the rolling.

Tools for Making a Vertical Cake

  • Jelly roll pansCakes like these require thin layers. Jelly roll pans (that’s a 15x10x1-inch pan) will do the trick.
  • Tea towelsTo train the cake to roll into that perfect spiral, you’ll roll a warm sponge up in clean towels. Pick thin tea towels or flour sack towels for this task.
  • Offset spatula: To get an even layer of frosting on this cake (or any cake), be sure to use an offset spatula. They come in all sorts of sizes. Keep a large one and a smaller option on hand.
  • Cake turntable: While a turntable isn’t strictly necessary for making a vertical cake, it is an incredibly handy tool to have on hand for frosting cakes of all kinds. It also makes a great gift for cake bakers!

How to Assemble a Vertical Cake

Step 1: Bake and Roll the Cakes

To get the right thickness for a vertical cake roll, bake the cakes in a jelly roll pan (that’s a 15x10x1-inch pan). Make sure the pans are greased and lined with parchment paper.

When the cakes are fully baked, turn them out onto tea towels dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Then carefully peel away the parchment paper. “If the cake seems to stick,” Mark says, “use an offset spatula to gently coax the cake from the paper as you go.”

Once the parchment is gone, roll the cakes, starting with the short side, into the tea towel. It should look like a jelly roll but with a towel in lieu of filling. Be sure to do this when the cake is still warm, according to Mark. If the cakes are cool, they won’t roll as well and are liable to crack.

Leave the cakes to cool in the towels. If you plan on prepping the cake more than a few hours in advance, wrap the cakes in plastic or pop them in an air-tight container to prevent them from drying out.

Step 2: Slice and Frost

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When you’re ready to assemble, unroll the cakes carefully and slice them into 15×5-inch strips (that’s in half the long way).

Then break out that offset spatula and frost each section of the cake leaving a bit of unfrosted sponge around the edge. Each section will require about a cup of frosting. Mark explains that any more than that will make your cake a bit more slippery when you turn it upright later.

Pop the cakes into the fridge until the frosting firms up—15 minutes or so. This will prevent the frosting from oozing out of the cake as you roll.

Step 3: Start Rolling

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When the frosting has firmed up a bit, it’s time to get rolling. Start by rolling up one section of the cake from the short edge.

“Don’t worry if the cake starts to crack a little bit,” says Mark. “Unlike a traditional jelly roll cake, the sides will be covered up inside and by a layer of frosting.”

However, if the cake is cracking into pieces (versus small hairline cracks), Mark says you may have let the cake chill too long. If that’s the case, take a quick break and let the cake warm up a bit at room temperature.

Step 4: Piece the Cake Together

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When that first section is almost completely spiraled, get ready to piece in the next portion of the cake. Carefully align the next section and pinch the seams together as best you can to keep the cake smooth.

Then keep the cake rolling and continue to work it into a spiral with each section.

There will be an uneven edge on the cake where the last section of the sponge ends, but Mark says don’t fret! This will all be covered up with frosting in the next step.

Step 5: Flip the Cake Upright and Frost

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With your cake perfectly spiraled, it’s time to turn it on its end. Take a deep breath and have your cake stand or turntable at the ready. Carefully grip the cake and flip it on its spiraled end.

If the cake doesn’t look perfectly even, Mark says don’t worry. “Feel free to gently shape it into more of a cylinder,” he explains. Be sure to use both hands to keep the cake as symmetrical as possible.

Once the cake is sitting pretty on your cake plate, use a bit of buttercream to paste the edge of the cake into place. Then frost the exterior like you would for any other layer cake. An offset spatula and turntable will make getting a smooth finish effortless.

When you’re done frosting the sides and top, refrigerate the cake for at least two hours (overnight is even better!). When you’re ready to serve, let the cake stand for 15 minutes at room temperature and then slice. Each slice will reveal layers upon layers of cake and frosting. Get ready for all the oohs and aahs!

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.