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Baking Fails, Sweet, Thoughts

Apricot Swiss Roll: what a baking fail taught me, and how I turned it right

One of the greatest challenges for a sweet tooth like me is going more than one day without eating anything sugary.
No cake, no muffins, no cookies. Not even a single, little chocolate. Nothing.

Last week, I spent three whole dessert-less days, and I’m still surprised that I could survive such a long abstinence. I had such a busy schedule, that I lacked the time to even pop to a supermarket and replenish my biscuit supply!

To prevent withdrawal symptoms, I decided to bake over the weekend.
Having a new cookbook to try out made it even more exciting: it’s hard to choose one of 400 recipes, especially when you’re craving dessert so much that you’d gladly make them all. In the end, I decided to step out of my comfort zone, and went for a Swiss Roll instead of the usual cake or bunch of muffins.

While preparing and filling the cake was easy, I had a hard time rolling it up, as the sponge threatened to break on all sides. The result? A soft, fluffy and perfectly moist Apricot Swiss Roll – with lots of cracks on the surface. It brought back memories of the first cakes and biscuits I baked in my teens: tasting great, but looking like props from an amateur horror film.

Cracked Swiss Roll
A sprinkle of icing sugar on top helped me hide the cracks, and gave the roll a much nicer look, but didn’t completely dissolve the initial disappointment. At some point, somewhere, I must have made a mistake – and I still don’t know what it is.

My attitude towards cooking reflects my outlook on work and life: I’m a perfectionist, demanding from myself much more than I can actually achieve. The smallest detail going wrong gets me greatly upset, and there really have been times when a baking fail left me sobbing on the floor like Amy Adams’s character in the film “Julie & Julia”. Feeling miserable, with only myself to blame.

Wouldn’t it be better if I could learn to accept that things don’t always run smoothly? See the snags and failures inherent to new challenges as opportunities to learn – and have fun in the process?
Of course it would; and I have no other option but to teach myself. It may take some time to let go of my need for perfection in my job and my writing, but baking looks like a good place to start.

I was tempted to not post this recipe, and wait until I get it absolutely right, but I resolved to make one further step out of my comfort zone. As my mother would say, “even the best make mistakes”: the people I admire the most are not ashamed of failing (or hide disappointment well!), and I shouldn’t be either.
So here’s the Swiss Roll recipe, which you’re welcome to try and help me improve. Perhaps you’ll spot what I did wrong!

Apricot Swiss Roll

Swiss Roll for Breakfast

(makes 11 – 12 slices)

  • 3 eggs;
  • 115g caster sugar;
  • 75g plain flour;
  • 15ml boiling water;
  • 200 – 220g apricot jam;
  • Icing sugar, to decorate.


  • Whisk the eggs and sugar together until you obtain a firm, mousse-like mixture, forming soft peaks when you lift the whisk. It takes a few minutes to get there, so make sure you have an electric mixer on hand.
  • Gently fold in the flour with a metal spoon, then fold in the boiling water.
  • Line a 30x20cm rectangular oven dish with baking paper, and pour in the cake batter . Spread it well, and even out the surface with your spoon.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 200°, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes. You’ll know that the cake is ready because it springs back when you press on the surface.
  • Roll out a sheet of greaseproof paper, and sprinkle it with caster sugar.
  • Invert the cake on top of the greaseproof paper. Do it while it’s still hot, to make sure the sugar adheres to the cake.

Inverting the Cake

  • Peel off the baking paper, and trim the edges of the cake if necessary, to give it a rectangular shape.

Peeling Off the Baking Paper

  • Make a cut two-thirds of the way through the cake, 1cm from one of the short edges. This should help you roll it up, but didn’t work as well as expected for me. Perhaps it’s where things started to go wrong?
  • Spread the apricot jam all over the cake.

Spreading the jam over the cake

  • Roll the cake up quickly, starting from the partially cut end. If you don’t get any cracks, make sure you tell me how you did it!
  • Hold the cake in position for a minute, keeping the joint underneath. Once it’s sealed, leave it aside to cool.
  • Sprinkle it with icing sugar, to decorate. Spreading it with a small sieve will help you hide any cracks, and give your roll the nice look it deserves.
  • Slice, serve and enjoy.

Swiss Roll Slices

If it’s true that we learn from our mistakes, my next Swiss Roll will be perfect. I only need to overcome one more challenge: figuring out what the mistake I should learn from is.

Have you ever made a Swiss Roll, and are there any baking tips you’d like to share? And what lessons did your own baking fails teach you? Drop me a line, and let me know: I’d be delighted to learn something from other fellow bakers!

The recipe has been adapted from “Baking”, by Martha Day, published by Hermes House. The original recipe is  © Anness Publishing.

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