Rolled Carrot Cake

When I started making this cake, I knew from the instructions that it was going to take me some time and not be the easiest thing I’d ever made. If I’m honest, it took me the better part of a Saturday, and I probably dirtied half of my pots and pans (okay, slight exaggeration!). But I did dirty two and a half jelly roll pans – though that was because I had to try making not only the large cake, but also a few smaller mini-cake versions which you’ll see below.

In addition, however, there were those pans, two sauce pans, stand mixer and hand mixer, processor for the nuts, pan to dry out the pineapple in, zester, sifter, various spoons, offset spatula, regular spatula, at least three mixing bowls and other prep bowls…I don’t know, it just felt like the list went on and on!

I’m not saying the end result wasn’t totally worth it! However, just think it’s good to know what you’re going to get into before you get into it.

So firstly, a picture of the main cake, that used almost all of the cake batter and frosting:

The “rolled” part is that you bake this one big and thin, in jelly roll pans, slice into four pieces, roll them altogether, then stand them up so the layers are vertical rather than horizontal.

And below a picture of the mini-rolls as well. And can you believe that I think these were almost too mini? I mean, I love mini-cakes, and they work particularly well for an afternoon tea where you just want a little something sweet with your tea. But I think I would have made these even just a smidgen thicker in the jelly roll pan, or rolled them a little thicker or cut them a little longer. Or just used a little less frosting to get a better ratio of cake-to-frosting. But we live and learn!

Before I even started on the cake, I dried my pineapple to see how I could use it to decorate. I only had the small “tidbits” of canned pineapple I’d found in the story, so thought it would make most sense to try and make these into petal-like shape. You could always buy larger pieces, or a whole pineapple and cut down to shape how you want.

I took the back of a spoon and pressed down on the tidbits to flatten them a bit, as well as get them to fan out. I then put them in one of my baking tins so they could get a little curve. I baked them in the oven at 200° Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, pulled them out and shifted them around a little so they weren’t sticking to the tin, then put them in for another 30 minutes.

And that was it, they were done. That left the thinner bits just a little crisp, the thicker bits just a little chewy, but with a nice golden color and the sweet concentrated flavor of pineapple.

From here, I just played around with creating a kind of pineapple pecan “flower” on the top of the large cake at the end, which you can see in close up below:

And just used one or two of the “petals” to garnish the small rolled cakes, as anything flower-like was just too large:

One other thing I’d recommend is to freshly grate your nutmeg, if you can. Just the smell of it when it’s grated fresh vs coming out of a spice jar – just so much spicier and nicer, if you don’t mind that step.

So, back to the recipe – I took one from Taste of Home called “Vertical Carrot Cake.” I reposted both the cake and frosting recipes, as I edited them slightly, even without the decorations and “mini” version.

I think I mentioned there are a few steps, and quite a few different bowls of things going on, like the sifted flour/spices, the carrot+ mixture, folding at several stages…I was so getting into it while baking, I’m afraid I missed taking photos of a few steps!

The one step I thought would be the most challenging wasn’t too bad – that is when you turn out these two large flat cakes onto powdered sugar on tea towels. I just flipped them quickly and didn’t have any issues other than adjusting them a little bit to line up with the towel so I could roll them. And they rolled easily for me, no cracks.

So finally, a note about the mini version – All I did was skim a little off the top, so to speak, from the other two cakes, and set up a half-size jelly roll pan, and then only used enough for about half a half-sized pan. Baked this one separately and about 16 minutes was plenty for it to be perfectly baked. Below is before it was baked.

So I only had the one small roll to play with, but most everything else I did the same – turned it out on powdered sugar tea towel, rolled it up right away and let it cool, unrolled it to spread the frosting and cooled it down again.

Frosting the outside before adding the pineapple chip was a little tricky – just got a little messy. But otherwise, delicious!

Rolled Carrot Cake

  • Servings: 1 cake, 16 servings
  • Difficulty: difficult
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  • 1/2 c. plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. round cinnamon (you could cut this in half; I just like extra cinnamon!)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 c. toasted pecan halves, plus extra if you want to press chopped pecans to the outside bottom of your cake as decor
  • 8 oz. carrots, grated (use the fine side of your grater)
  • 1/4 c. chopped pineapple, no liquid (press out some of the extra water from the fruit)
  • Pineapple pieces/”tidbits” to dry to make pineapple garnish on the top (you may be able to use what you have left over from the canned pineapple pieces that you’ve put in the cake)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, finely grated with spice grater
  • 1 tsp. grated orange zest
  • 8 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 2/3 c. plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
  • Powder sugar to sift over tea towels when the cakes come out of the oven


First prepare your pans by lining 2 greased 15x10x1-in. jelly roll pans with parchment, then grease the paper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

Sift the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and cloves together. Place pecans in a food processor and pulse until finely ground (I left in pieces big enough I could see and recognize them in the cake, but small enough that rolling the cake wasn’t impeded). Transfer the pecans to a bowl and toss them together with the carrots, pineapple, fresh ginger and orange zest.

In a large bowl, beat egg yolks until slightly thickened. Gradually add 2/3 c. sugar, beating on high until thick and lemon-colored. Fold in the flour mixture, then the carrot mixture.

Next prepare the egg whites – place them in a large clean bowl. With clean beaters, beat egg whites on medium until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating on high after each addition until the sugar is dissolved. Continue beating until glossy peaks form. Fold one-fourth of the whites into the batter with a spatula, then fold in the remaining whites, gently so you don’t lose all the air from the beaten whites. Transfer the batter to the prepared pans, splitting it evenly between them.

Bake until golden brown and the tops spring back when lightly touched, 18-22 minutes. They will overbake quickly; you may check at 18 minutes to find it’s long enough. Also, if your oven bakes unevenly, consider switching the pans at the 10-minute mark.

Cool the cakes for 5 minutes in the pan, then invert them onto tea towels dusted with powdered sugar. Peel off the paper and trim the ends (and you may wish to trim the sides as well). Roll up the cakes in the towels, jelly-roll style, starting with a short side. Cool completely on a wire rack. At this point, you can make the browned butter cream cheese frosting in the accompanying recipe.

Once the cakes have cooled, unroll them, and cut each into two 15×5-in. strips. With the cakes still laid out on the tea towels, spread 1 cup frosting on each strip to within 1/2 in. of edges (I used less than 1 cup, just stopped when I had completely covered them evenly, but not too thickly). Put the cakes into the refrigerator until the frosting is firm, about 20 minutes.

To assemble the cake, tightly roll up 1 of your cake strips jelly-roll style, starting with a short side, lifting slightly as you roll. Carefully align the seam of your roll with the short side of another strip. Continue to roll, adding remaining strips; seal seams. Carefully stand the rolled cake on its end on a serving platter. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

If you are going to decorate the cake with chopped toasted pecans, take the extra in your hand and gently lay them up against the side, clearing away what doesn’t stick; go as high up on the cake as you wish. I usually set my cake on a couple of pieces of parchment that I can pull away from the cake after I’ve decorated, just to keep the serving platter clean. If you are going to add dried pineapple flowers, take a generous dot of frosting and place it on top of the cake where you want the flower to be, putting the end of 5 pineapple pieces into the dot. Add another dot of frosting in the middle of your 5 pieces, and gently press additional chopped pecans into the middle to simulate a flower. Repeat wherever you want flowers to appear on the top or sides of the cake.

Refrigerate the cake 2 hours or overnight to let it set. Let the cake stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: For one cake
  • Difficulty: Difficult
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  • 1 1/2 c. unsalted butter, cubed, divided
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 pkg. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened


Put one cup of the butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Heat the butter until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl (best to use stand mixer), whisk the egg whites, 1 c. sugar and salt until blended. Place over simmering water in a larger saucepan over medium heat. Whisking constantly, heat mixture until a thermometer reaches 160° F, or about 7-10 minutes. Then remove from heat.

Return the bowl to the stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, beat on high until cooled to 90°, or about 7 minutes. On medium speed, gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 c. butter, a few tablespoons at a time until the mixture is smooth. Beat in the vanilla, orange zest and cooled brown butter until smooth, then transfer to another bowl.

Add the softened cream cheese to your stand mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Add the buttercream mixture back into the bowl with the cream cheese and beat until fully combined.

The frosting is now ready to use on your cake. It will firm up when you put it in the fridge, soften gradually when you take it out.

So whether you opt for a large version of this cake, or a series of the mini versions, I hope you give it a try.

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