The recipe calls for you to make a thin cake dough that you cook until it is “just done” then to “at once” spread a jelly topping on the de-panned, "just barely done" cake.
My feeling about the recipe at this point has already gone sour. Julie Powell, author of “Julie & Julia” writes about this exact feeling in her new book “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession:”
“Heat the oil until almost smoking. (Don’t you just hate it when recipes say things like “almost smoking”?) Reminds me of that Beckett story about a stage direction reading that a door should be “imperceptibly ajar.” Fuck you, Beckett. The oil can be smoking a little. Or not. Just make sure it’s good and hot.” (p. 38).
So that is how I feel about this recipe. To make matters worse, this old world cookbook gives no indication of how long it will take until the cake is “just done.” When the time comes to bake this portion of the recipe, I have to stop what I am doing (cooking a bean stew for 6, and prepping for the other two cakes to be made) to stand watch.
But first, the jelly for the roll has to be made. This is contrary to the recipe, but never having made a jelly, and only slightly experienced in a jelly like pie (lemon meringue), I didn’t want to be still fussing over it when the “at once” moment came along. So I beat 3 egg yolks, add the lemon juice, corn starch, etc. and begin to slowly bring it to a boil on the stove.
What you need to know about concoctions like these is this: there comes a critical moment where all of a sudden they gel. If you aren’t hovering over it constantly stirring, it is going to burn. Ruined. In the trash, can’t be saved.
I am whipping this stuff around trying to get the cornstarch to dissolve. Powered mix-ins are to me how jellied items are to Julie Powell: they just don’t jive for us. I can never get the little clusters of powder to break up and mix with their ingredient brethren. They just make their way into the final product all lumpy and disgusting. That is why I am whipping this bad boy like my life depended on it.
So when the jelly gels, FINALLY, I get the 12x14” baking sheet greased and floured. I pour out the cake batter, but it does not coat the whole bottom of the pan. Crap! I spread it using gravity like 99% of the rest of the population. Into the oven, and onto the floor where I sit and watch for that "just done" moment.
You know those time lapsed commercials where the little cookie in the oven suddenly pops up and looks ready to eat? Well the cake did that…sort of. I took this to mean that it was “just done.”
At this point you are supposed to flop it on a towel and shemear on the jelly. Well, I carefully loosen all the edges as the “at once” window is quickly closing. I want it to come out of the pan seamlessly, but it holds on for dear life! I turn over the pan against the towel and begin to pound on it, hoping to shake the cake loose.
Scrape, scrape, scrape, pound, pound, pound.
Repeat 3 times.
Finally, I get a BEAUTIFUL full side to fall off the pan in a nice sheet. I gently dangle it inches above the towel and throw out my back. It is falling out of the pan painstakingly slow, then the worst happens: a stick and tear. I get this huge tear in the cake, and 1/4 of it is stuck to the pan while the rest flops on to the towel. Shit!
You know how you can sometimes make a hot cookie or brownie kind of mold back together with some mashing? Not going to happen with a jelly roll cake. It wants to be its own man. Therefore, I am forced to try to scrape the rest of the cake off the pan, and try to glue it together with the lemon jelly.A nice coat of jelly over the top disguises all ugliness.
Now it's time for the rolling up part.
By now I am sure that “at once” window is long gone and is moonlighting somewhere in Albuquerque. I start to roll anyway, but the freaking cake has now embedded itself in the towel. I finesse it away from the towel and try to roll.
Roll, roll, roll.
Roll, roll, roll.
Finally I decide to quit being dainty and say (all together now) "The hell with it!"
I finish rolling the cake up and notice that it is nice and fat at one end, while looking deflated and sad at the other.
With a shrug of the shoulders, I sprinkle on powdered sugar. Jon’s parents have low culinary expectations anyway.