When I started my search of Jelly Roll recipes it quickly became evident it was not a New England recipe. It worked it way into New England. The two earliest listings came from upper state New York.
There are two types of cake associated with jelly: “Jelly Cake” and “Jelly Roll”. Jelly Cake is the earliest recipe. This type of cake appears to be a variant of an earlier version of Cream Cakes published in London in 1786. Cream cakes called for making two layers of semi-flat meringues with raspberry jam spread between them. Another version which showed up in an 1800 London cookbook was layering multiple puff pastry layers each with a different jam, jelly or marmalade.
The name Jelly Cakes showed up in 1798 in London in Libellus: Or, a Brief Sketch of the Kingdom of Gotham indicating it was a well known cake and had been around for some time. “Let every young man know that when he is tempted to pen anything which requires him to disguise his handwriting he is in fearful danger. You despoil your own nature by such procedure more than you can damage any one else. Bowie-knife and dagger are more honourable than an anonymous pen sharpened for defamation of character. Better try putting strychnine in the flour-barrel. Better mix ratsbane in the jelly-cake. That behavior would me more elegant and Christian.”
The earliest reference in the United States shows up in an 1809 advertisement in the New York Gazette (New York, NY). It reads: “jelly cake blaumonge and curd moulds”. Jelly cake molds were round cake tins. One was described in The Improved Housewife, or Book of Receipts (1859) published in Boston but copyrighted in Connecticut. It reads, “turn the mixture on scalloped tin plates”. The 1809 advertisement indicates Jelly Cake was being made in New York City probably by commercial bakers and hotel restaurants. The merchant was importing goods from France and England as indicated by “plan[?]lted coffee-higgins, on the English plan, coffee-greaks on the French principles, London made dish-covers”. Between the jelly cake molds (1809) and the common reference to jelly cake (1798) it shows this type of cake originates in Europe.
Jelly Cakes begin to show up in American cookbooks as of 1830 with Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie. Eliza Leslie was known as Miss Leslie, Lady from Philadelphia. This 3rd edition of the cookbook with the Jelly Cake recipe was published in Boston. A couple of excerpts will give an idea of the cake: “Have ready a flat circular plate of tin” for baking the cake. The cake appears to be thin like a pancake. “Bake as many of these cakes as you want, laying each on a separate plate. Spread that also with jelly, and so on till you have a pile of five or six, looking like one large thick cake. Trim the edge nicely with a penknife, and cover the top with powdered sugar.”
As can be seen layers of meringue, puff pastry and cake with jelly spread between the layers were used to make a confection that appeared much larger than its individual parts. Over the next thirty-five years the Jelly Cake recipe traveled in America. It was found in Philadelphia in Miss Leslie’s cookbooks, the American Housewife from New York, in an advertisement for a commercial bakery in Baltimore, Maryland, the New England Farmer Journal and in Dr. Chase’s cookbook in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The later cookbooks also contained recipes for Jelly Roll.
Jelly Rolls differ from Jelly Cakes in that a long, wide, thin sponge cake is made, spread with jelly and rolled up. The earliest reference I was able to find was in the Northern Farmer a journal published in Utica, NY in December 1852. The recipe was called “To Make Jelly Cake” but it reads: “Bake quick and while hot spread with jelly. Roll carefully, and wrap it in a cloth. When cold cut in slices for the table.” The description is for a Jelly Roll. For many years there was no clear distinction between the name Jelly Cake and Jelly Roll to describe a rolled cake spread with jelly. During the transition period from 1852 to 1877 it was called: Jelly Cake (1852), Roll Jelly Cake (1860), Swiss Roll (1872), Jelly Roll (1873), and Rolled Jelly Cake (1877). The name “Jelly Roll” eventually becomes the common popular name in America.
The name Swiss Roll appears to be British but did the name originate there? A bill of fare dated June 18, 1871 for the Union Steam-ship Company’s R.M.S. “Syria” listed Swiss Roll. That bill of fare was published in the 1872 book A Voyage from Southampton to Cape Town, in the Union Company’s Mail Steamer “Syria” in London. So far this is the earliest British reference to a rolled cake. That same year 1872, The American Home Cook Book published in Detroit, Michigan listed a recipe for Swiss Roll. This raises the question in what country did the name Swiss Roll originate? In the 1894, American Pastry Cook published in Chicago, there is an unusual arrangement of recipes. It started with Jelly Roll Mixture followed by Swiss Roll, Venice Roll, Paris Roll, Chocolate Roll, Jelly Roll Cotelettes, and Decorated Jelly Rolls. Each recipe utilized the basic Jelly Roll cake made from the Jelly Roll Mixture. In turn, each recipe was completed and finished in a different way thus distinguishing several European versions. In this cookbook, the Jelly Roll has a different name in each country. Several 1880’s to 1890’s cookbooks from London, England used the name Swiss Roll exclusively making it the popular name for the rolled cake recipe in England.
The layered cake called Jelly Cake originates in Europe, possibly England. The rolled cake called Jelly Roll originates in the United States around the 1850’s afterwhich it appears to travel back to England in the 1870’s under the name Swiss Roll.
Jelly Rolls are sheet sponge cakes spread with jelly or jam, rolled and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Commercial Jelly Rolls are often coated on the outside with jelly and shredded cocoanut.
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites
Beat egg yolks until thick; gradually beat in the ¼ cup sugar and add vanilla
Loosen sides and turn out upside down onto a towel generously sprinkled with sifted confectioners sugar; peel off the wax paper; trim the crusted edges with a sharp knife; starting with the narrow end roll up in the towel; cool on a rack
Unroll, spread with 1 cup jelly or jam (author’s personal favorite strawberry jam) and roll up
Cut into slices
American name sources:
Roll Jelly Cake
Rolled Jelly Cake