This spiced Pumpkin Roll is easier to make than you think! It is a soft, moist pumpkin cake rolled up with an easy cream cheese frosting!
Now I have no idea who Granny Kat is, but I wish I did because she deserves a personal thank you for this Pumpkin Roll. The pumpkin cake is moist and flavorful and the cream cheese filling is sensational!
When I first made this in 2013 I was super nervous, but I shouldn’t have been. It is way easier than you’d think and you know I am going to give you all the professional tips and tricks so that your pumpkin rolls will be fantastic on the first try. If you aren’t feeling the roulade stress, you could bake my pumpkin spice layer cake instead. Both use my favorite cream cheese buttercream for that sweet, tangy cream cheese layer. It is also phenomenal with a little bourbon like in these pumpkin pecan pie cupcakes or this red velvet layer cake. It’s the holidays. Pour it up!
Table of Contents
How to make a perfect pumpkin roll cake
- Start with a well baked cake: An over-baked cake will be dry and have a tendency to crack. Brush with simple syrup for a quick fix. An underbaked cake is possibly worse because it will be sticky and gooey and it will stick to the towel and to you and to basically everything you don’t want it to stick to. If this happens skip pre-rolling in the towel and allow to cool completely in the pan before rolling.
- Cool the cake in a towel: Cooling the cake in the towel really does make a world of difference because it keeps your cake moist. Pre-rolling the cake allows it to acclimate to its new rolled shape. It is less likely to crack.
- Chill your cake well before slicing and slice with a sharp knife or a serrated knife!
- All-purpose flour: All-purpose flour has just the right amount of gluten to make a tender pumpkin roll cake that is still flexible enough to roll.
- Sugar: I use granulated sugar in this cake. It is here for the more obvious flavor reasons, but also to aid in leavening, moisture, texture and stability.
- Baking Soda: Do check the freshness of your baking soda! It does lose potency over time. If it's not fresh, send it to the back of the refrigerator to absorb some odors, or clean your marble countertops with it!
- Pumpkin Pie Spice: Spices are best used within one year of purchase. They will be most potent and true to their original flavor. This recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice mix. I used my recipe but you could use store-bought as well.
- Pumpkin Puree: I use Libby's pumpkin puree because it is consistent and that is what I use to develop all my recipes. Use whichever brand you prefer. Just be sure to grab pure pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie mix! I would not suggest substituting homemade pumpkin puree due to the varying moisture content. Canned pumpkin puree is tightly controlled within a certain percentage. Too much moisture will make the pumpkin roll cake gummy and flat.
- Eggs: Whole eggs allow you to emulsify all that oil into the batter, resulting in a moist, not greasy, cake. They also help with leavening by trapping air with the sugar.
- Lemon Juice: Lemon juice is the flavor here! My motto for citrus juices is that fresh is always best. If you must use store-bought, try to find a frozen option that is frozen fresh juice, or sometimes it can be found in the refrigerator section. If it looks dark in color, then it is no longer going to taste fresh.
- Powdered Sugar: Dust powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar over the cake prior to rolling.
- Cream Cheese: I use original Philadelphia Cream Cheese for all my baked goods including frostings and buttercreams. I also use full fat though reduced fat can be substituted. Just ensure that it is not whipped. Whipped will make the buttercream too soft and it won't support the layers or stay in the roll.
- Butter: I use unsalted butter for baking, because you want to control the amount of salt you are adding. In frostings and buttercreams the butter is there for stability. It will firm up when cold, which helps the buttercream stay in the pumpkin roll.
- Confectioner's Sugar: We use confectioner's sugar in American buttercreams because it ground finely into a powder.
- Vanilla Extract: Vanilla Extract adds a beautiful flavor to the buttercream.
Frequently Asked Questions
While there is no real fix other than starting again, you can cheat it by brushing it with an easy simple syrup. Bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil then cool completely. Brush the cake with the cold syrup prior to assembling.
The first step to keeping a pumpkin roll from cracking is to properly bake the cake. An over-baked cake will crack when rolled and an under-baked cake will stick to the towel, parchment or plastic wrap.
The second step is cooling the cake rolled in a clean, dry kitchen towel. This gets the cake used to its new rolled shape and will be less likely to crack.
No tears will fix a cracked pumpkin roll, so it’s best just to whip up extra of my favorite cream cheese buttercream to slather on top. You can also add a little whiskey to the buttercream. This will cover the cracks and stop the tears 😉
Chef Lindsey's Recipe Tips
The biggest take-away from this whole post is, don’t stress! Pumpkin rolls look fancy but it is just a simple, oil-based cake that is made in one bowl. You can cover any cracks with more cream cheese buttercream and no one will be the wiser!
Granny Kat’s Pumpkin Roll
For the Cake:
For the Filling:
- Make the Cake:
- Preheat oven to 375° and grease and flour a 9x13 inch jelly roll pan. Do use the right sized pan so that your cake is an even thickness. I realized my pan was too large too late. Next time I won’t make such rookie Pumpkin Cake Roll mistakes.
- In a large bowl mix together flour, sugar, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice. Stir in pumpkin puree, eggs and lemon juice. Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread the mixture evenly.
- Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until cake springs back when touched lightly.
- While the cake bakes, lay a clean, unscented, lint free towel on the counter and sprinkle with ¼ cup of confectioners sugar. Turn the cake onto the towel leaving only ½ inch of towel exposed at one short end. Start rolling the cake and towel together lengthwise at the end with the smallest overhang. Place the cake rolled in the towel on a cooling rack and let cool completely.
- Make the icing: cream the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and 1 cup confectioners sugar together with an electric mixer.
- When cake has cooled, gently unroll cake and spread the icing with a small offset spatula within a ¼ inch of each side. Carefully re-roll the cake, making sure to tuck filling into the starting curl so that there is filling at the very center of the roll. Dust with Topping.
- Keep the cake refrigerated and slice right before serving.