Gorgeously spiraled cake rolls (also called jelly rolls and roll cakes) look tricky to make, but they whip up in just a few steps. Follow our cake roll recipe and step-by-step instructions (yes, there really is a step requiring you to roll up a towel inside the cake!) to learn how to make this stunning dessert. Once you've mastered the roll cake technique, you can switch up the recipe to make a chocolate cake roll, cinnamon cake roll, pumpkin cake roll, or any flavor you're craving.

By Sheena Chihak
Updated January 30, 2019

Cake rolls put a fun new twist on layer cakes. You can dress up this easy cake roll recipe for any holiday or birthday by changing up the filling, using a different sponge cake recipe for the cake, or adding mix-ins like sprinkles, nuts, or fruits to the frosting layer. Try some of our favorite cake roll recipes, or create your own!

    Why do some call this a jelly roll and others call it a cake roll?

    • Originally, most probably called this cake type a jelly roll because it bakes in a "jelly roll pan." Never heard of a jelly roll pan? That's because we think of them now as 15x10x1-inch baking sheets or a baking sheet with sides. As the term jelly roll pan lessens in popularity, so too does the name jelly roll cake. Call it what you like, we're just here to help you make it.

    Step 1: Make and Bake the Cake

    Prepare and bake the jelly roll cake recipe as directed.

    Cake roll recipe tips:

    • Use a jelly roll pan (usually a 15x10x1-inch pan) only. Other pans may be too deep, making it difficult to remove the cake from the pan.
    • Be sure to grease and flour the pan (or line it with waxed paper or parchment paper) as directed in the recipe. That way, the cake will be easy to remove from the pan without tearing.
    • Do not overbake. The cake is done when you lightly touch the surface with the tip of your finger and the cake springs back.

    Step 2: Remove Cake from Pan onto Towel

    Next, dust a clean, lint-free kitchen towel with powdered sugar. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, immediately loosen the edges of the cake from the jelly roll pan with a flat knife.

    Turn out the cake onto the prepared towel. The towel prevents the cake from sticking to itself when rolled and the powdered sugar prevents the cake from sticking to the towel. Nothing will ruin your attempt at a roll cake like a sticking cake. Immediately peel waxed paper or parchment paper (if used) from the cake and discard.

    Step 3: Roll Cake with Towel Inside and Cool

    Starting with a short side of the cake, roll up the towel and the warm cake together into a spiral. Yes, the towel will be inside your baked cake roll. This step helps to form the cake roll shape later without any cracking.

    Roll to the end of the towel. Place the rolled cake in the towel on a wire rack and cool completely (about 1 hour). While your cake is cooling, whip up your filling or soften some ice cream if you're making an ice cream cake roll. 

    Related: Make our pumpkin roll cake

    Step 4: Spread Filling on Cake and Reroll

    Unroll the cooled cake, leaving the cake on the towel. Spread the filling over the top of the cake to within 1 inch of the edges.

    Reroll the cake, using the towel to lift and guide the cake into an even roll.

    • Note: You're NOT rolling the towel inside this time, just use it to help evenly lift the cake as you roll.

    Step 5: Chill Cake Roll

    Chill the cake roll in the refrigerator (or freezer for an ice cream cake roll recipe) as directed in your recipe. Note that some cake rolls, including those filled with whipped cream, are best served within a few hours. Others, such as those with a cream cheese filling, can be stored longer—be sure to follow your recipe.

    Need a little inspiration to take your cake roll recipe to the next level? Look no further than these holiday-theme cake rolls. To make our patriotic July 4th cake roll, reserve some of the cake batter and use food coloring to turn it red and blue, then create firework bursts in the cake batter. For a Christmas roll cake, try our gingerbread cake roll recipe, featuring a spiced sponge cake, a maple drizzle.