It’s time to end matcha dominance and add some variety to the tea cake roll: malty and fragrant Thai tea swirled with dreamy condensed milk buttercream and dulce de leche. It’s the sort of cake where it’s not so elaborate that you can’t be bothered to make it, but it still feels like a treat. I’ve made it for 2 birthdays so far.
I’ve had this idea for years. Swiss rolls are everywhere–you’ll certainly have seen these sweet soft pastel-coloured cakes in all kinds of Asian bakeries, for example. In recent years it’s become popular to decorate the rolls using a combination of joconde imprime and painting details onto the finished cake. Such cakes are known as deco rolls, and in Thailand it seems they’re called เค้กโรลแฟนซี (fancy cake roll). Japanese baking blogger, Junko, published a book on deco rolls, so now you can make these super-cute cakes at home. They’re all adorable, aren’t they? The idea of making and eating cake Totorolls brings me such joy.
But as this was the first time making any kind of roll cake, I set the bar pretty low. It’s pretty lucky that you don’t need a mountain of costly ingredients to make these: I went through several runs of distressingly rubbery cakes before getting it right. You know, I’m amazed at how much I can be wrong sometimes; one attempt saw a completely tough cake, while another resulted in a fluffy cake supported by a very precise, thin rubbery layer on the bottom.
I fiddled about with a roux-based cake, which was perfect: a little scalded milk and butter, an extra egg yolk for richness, the meanest amount of flour, and a solid meringue–minimal ingredients which come together surprisingly quickly for a delicious treat. It’s indulgent while still being light on the tongue. This recipe gives you a flexible cake layer to work with so it should be fairly easy to roll it up, but don’t worry if it cracks or the roll is uneven. That’s part of the charm.
After a lot of taste testing, it turned out that dulce de leche in the filling married the best with Thai tea. I was surprised at first, but I needn’t have been: there’s the rich, sweet, vanilla and cooked cream notes you expect in a tall cold glass of cha yen, and the smooth caramel really complements the slight smokiness of the tea.
I found dulce de leche alone a bit too sticky, so I added a layer of a light buttercream sweetened with condensed milk to continue the Thai tea theme, which also means the cake will keep fairly well. For my mother’s birthday, though, I used a layer of whipped cream as I knew we’d be eating the cake in one sitting. Both are perfect.
THAI TEA ROLL CAKE WITH DULCE DE LECHE & CONDENSED MILK BUTTERCREAM
Cake recipe adapted from Chopomama via cookpad.
Yield: 6 small slices. The roll is 20 cm long, perfect for light dessert or tea inbetween or soon after a full meal. Keeps for 3 days, well covered and chilled.
A note on tea: Get your Thai tea from the internet or Asian shop, I don’t have a favourite brand. Check the ingredients carefully, though–it should only be the unsweetened leaves with flavouring and colouring added, nothing else. If your tea is on the chunky side, don’t skip grinding the leaves, otherwise your cake will be full of inedible tough bits. If you don’t want to bother with grinding or speckly bits in your cake, infuse the milk with tea and strain before proceeding.
You can, of course, substitute any type of black tea you want. You probably don’t need to grind the leaves if you get them from a tea bag. An Earl Grey cake with lemon curd and whipped cream would be wonderful, don’t you think?
An alternative filling is simply 100 ml (1/3 cup + 1 tbsp) softly whipped cream sweetened with 1 – 2 tablespoons icing sugar or condensed milk, maybe some vanilla extract or a split and scraped bean. This can be used in addition to or instead of the dulce de leche, whatever you like.
1 /2 tbsp Thai tea, finely ground
50 g milk (I used full-fat)
25 g unsalted butter
25 g plain flour
1/2 tbsp cornflour
3 egg yolks (UK medium or US large)
2 egg whites (UK medium or US large)
Pinch of salt
50 g granulated sugar
75g unsalted butter, room temperature
Pinch of sea salt, plus more if needed
100g icing sugar, sifted
4 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 – 4 tablespoons dulce de leche
* You can also use sweetened whipped cream; see note above.
Icing sugar, for dusting
for the cake:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius/180 fan. Lightly grease and line a 23 cm (9 inch) square tin with baking paper.
If your tea is a bit chunky, grind it for a few minutes in a mortar & pestle or a spice grinder until powdery.
Make the roux. Bring the milk, butter, and ground tea to the boil in a small saucepan, removing mixture from heat as soon as it starts bubbling. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the plain flour and cornflour. Gradually pour the hot milk mixture into the flour mixture while combining thoroughly, then mix in the egg yolks one at a time until smooth. Set aside.
For the meringue, in a large clean bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with a hand mixer until just approaching stiff peaks. Add the sugar in thirds, beating at full speed until stiff and glossy but not dry.
Stir 1/3 of the meringue into the bowl of yolk mixture, just to lighten it. Pour the yolk mixture into the meringue and fold lightly and thoroughly with a spatula, taking care not to overmix; you may have to poke at little lumps with your spatula to encourage a well-combined, smooth batter.
Pour cake mixture into your prepared tin, gently easing it into the corners, and place in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 190 Celsius/170 fan and bake undisturbed for 10 – 12 mins. The cake is ready when it’s risen with light brown patches on top, springing back when lightly pressed.
Leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin. Run a knife round the edge of the cake and turn it out onto a work surface, carefully peeling away the baking paper on top, setting the paper aside. If necessary, trim edges slightly to ensure they’re straight.
Put the cake layer back onto the baking paper. Beginning from the edge of the cake nearest to you, roll the cake layer up, taking the paper with it. (Peeling the paper off beforehand means the cake won’t get stuck once it cools, and the whole exercise helps keep the cake flexible and set the layer into shape.) Leave the cake like this, seam side down inside the paper, until completely cooled, around 30 minutes.
Make the frosting by beating the butter until light fluffy, then gradually adding the sifted icing sugar a quarter at a time, alternating with tablespoon of condensed milk. Mix in the vanilla extract. The scanty mixture should fluff up into a smooth, creamy frosting. Taste, adding a pinch of salt or two to round out the flavour if needed.
Unroll the cake layer and add a layer of condensed milk buttercream (save any excess in the fridge), leaving a small margin all around. Add the dulce de leche in small dollops, swirling lightly. Roll the cake up as you did before, going slowly. Let the finished roll sit seam-side down. Dust with icing sugar if desired before slicing and serving.