My Grandmother’s Swiss Roll – A Scrumptious and Retro Dessert: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 19

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye” – why are these lyrics,  foreshadowing the Von Trapp family’s clever escape into Switzerland from Austria – stuck in my head?  It is due to my grandmother Jessie’s retro Swiss roll, the last of the 19 recipes of hers I discovered earlier this year.

While I vaguely recall a jelly roll – or Swiss roll – my grandmother had made, I associate this more with the commercial, sometimes chocolate-covered, individual “pastries”, filled with all sorts of artificial ingredients.  This recipe has just five staple ingredients (one being the jam for filling), so it really does not have much in common with those preservative-laden “treats”.

Being in a Swiss state of mind, I was pleased to have found photos Jessie took while in the Swiss Alps:

Jessie's husband, Louie, (my grandfather) in Switzerland, mid-1950s.



Jessie's daughter, Natalie (my mother) met her parents in the Alps for a visit.


Perhaps Jessie did not take these, but it is odd that she is not in either of them – or any others – and she liked to pose for photos.  My mother was working as a civilian employee of the US army near Stuttgart in the mid-1950s.  On one of their trips to Europe, my grandmother and grandfather decided to check up on my mother, meeting in Switzerland (my grandmother refused to set foot in Germany or Austria after World War II – my last two posts will give you a clue).

However, there is a photo of Jessie dancing in Florida in the 1950s, which I thought went well with this post:


Was Jessie (in white jacket) doing her own Swiss rock-and-roll here?


While this recipe is simple, with few ingredients, it does require attention and meticulousness in preparing the pan and rolling up the cake.  Jessie was very particular and specific about what she liked, so that fits with this recipe well.

It reminds me of a lunch she and I had, right around 1970, not too long after my grandfather had died.  We were at a restaurant near the University of Chicago’s Law School, and it was summer.  My grandmother ordered iced tea.  When it arrived, she sent it back because there wasn’t enough ice:  “You call this iced tea?  It’s barely got any ice!”  Then she sent it back, as there was too much ice:  “What do you expect me to do?  Remove these ice cubes myself?  Why bother going out to eat?” she said to the patient waiter.  Finally, the third time, she said, “Where’s the lemon?  I can’t have iced tea without lemon!”  The frustrated waiter complied, and Jessie had her tea exactly the way she liked it.

For a description of Jessie’s Swiss roll – and the recipe….

So like the precision of Swiss watches and trains, Jessie’s Swiss roll requires exactitude in mixing the cake batter and watching the baking time carefully.  It is a classic technique and one that is not difficult but requires attention and patience.  The Swiss roll deserves a quality filling, and I used my own strawberry with black pepper and mint preserves (recipe from the diva herself, Christine Ferber, “la fée des confitures” – “the fairy of jams”).

The cake is like a rather chewy sponge cake, which has enough moisture to roll well but a tender crumb – and is virtually fat-free, with jam or jelly as the filling (whipped cream is a completely different story, of course).  This Swiss roll makes for a nice afternoon tea (“Tea, a drink with jam and bread” for more Sound of Music madness!) or a lighter dessert after a rich meal.  Or it could be a breakfast or brunch treat, for that matter – not too far removed from toast

I will follow my 19-installment series with a review of the project, featuring favourite recipes, and other such commentary.  In the meantime before we head off to Scotland and England on holiday, adieu, adieu, adieu, to you and you and you.  Enjoy my grandmother Jessie’s Swiss roll.

Swiss Roll, from Jessie’s recipe file

Serves 6 – 8


  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar, with additional for dusting when cake has baked
  • 1 cup less two tablespoons cake flour
  • 1 8 ounce jar of good quality jam, jelly, or preserves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon water, at room temperature
  • Butter, at room temperature, for greasing pans


  1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees, positioning rack on the middle rung.
  2. Grease and flour one jelly roll pan (11 x 17” inches) or deep cookie sheet of this size, line with parchment paper cut to 121 x 18”, and butter inside of paper.
  3. Mix eggs in bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment for two minutes (or use hand-mixer or the good old-fashioned whisk with “elbow grease” method)..
  4. Add sugar slowly and beat on medium speed for five minutes (on level six on my KitchenAid was the right setting).  With an electric handmixer or a whisk, by hand, it will take longer, but the volume should have doubled with the mixture looking pale milky white and airy.
  5. Sift flour and baking powder (or mix thorough with whisk by hand) in small bowl.
  6. When the egg-sugar mixture become pale and double in volume (making a ribbon when the batter is dropped from a spoon back into the batter), fold in flour by hand with a spatula, adding water when it is almost entirely incorporated, being careful not to mix just until blended.
  7. Fill the prepared pan and smooth the batter evenly.
  8. Bake until cake tester comes out clean, just 3-5 minutes.
  9. Cool in pan for 10 minutes
  10. Remove the cake from pan, peel off paper, and place on clean kitchen towel.
  11. Sprinkle layer of sugar on surface before jam.
  12. Spread jam over surface, leaving a one-inch margin on the bottom long side.
  13. Roll carefully, the long side towards you (I guess the opposite could work for a very thick but shorter cake).
  14. Sprinkle with additional sugar, and think about days of yore.

18 responses to “My Grandmother’s Swiss Roll – A Scrumptious and Retro Dessert: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 19

  1. What a beautiful and, as you say, retro dessert to end Jessie’s series!

    I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to “know” Jessie a bit through her recipes, photos, and your bits of information about her. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you, Kath. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series, which I certainly have enjoyed creating. Your consistent readership means quite a bit to me!


  2. I’m so sad that the Jessie series is over. Her restaurant demeanour was a lot like my grandfather’s. Whenever he ordered fish in a restaurant in his hometown of Calgary he would ask, “And how far did it have to swim to get here?” He always asked for the “English cut” (thin slices) when he ordered roast beef and would send it back unless it was done perfectly. My mother always asked me to sit next to him when we went to restaurants because she was afraid she might throttle him. I thought he was charming (if a bit embarrassing at times).

    • Thanks, Lynn. I value your feedback and liked the anecdote. Just imagine what it would have been like for us to go out to dinner with the two of them together!

      Maybe I will have to hold an all-Jessie dinner party, featuring her china and recipes, of course. Who knows what Jessie would have made of our island potlucks, but she certainly would have had a strong opinion – one way or another….


  3. And so your series ends on a sweet note! Is there anyway Jessie would allow a little whipped cream in that swiss roll? That’s my favourite…Theresa

    • Thanks, Theresa. I’m glad you suggested the whipped cream, as that was a variant on Jessie’s original. While I only recall the jelly-roll version, a cream-filled Swiss roll, buche de noel, or whatever you call it, is tasty!

  4. Dan, I’ve so enjoyed this series. I didn’t know Jessie, but I almost feel like I did, given all the wonderful pictures and stories you’ve shared here. And this delicious-looking cake — a sweet ending, I must say.

  5. Dan,
    Thanks so much for sharing the contents of Jessie’s recipe box. I’ve enjoyed the journey. You ought to go rummaging through all your relatives kitchens and grab theirs as well.

  6. This spongecake jellyroll looks lovely….so soft. I bet you used some of your own homemade jam as well. Jessie’s recipes will be missed and so will your stories of her life. She seemed like a real kick and one-of-a-kind.

    • Hi, Geni. Yes, I did use a strawberry-mint-black-pepper jam I made myself, and you are absolutely correct about her being a kick and definitely one-of-a-kind. At least her recipes are on the InterTubes now!



  7. Dan, do you have any idea how sad I am that this is the last entry from Jessie’s wonderful files? Honestly. I feel like I’ve lost something rather significant: my Jewish-American-pseudo-British grandmother.

    Great post to end on, though. Swiss Roll is a favourite over this side of the pond (as I’m sure you’re discovering; if not, go eat some cake!). Hope you and yours have a FABULOUS time in the UK and have arrived safely, etc.! Enjoy 😉

    Jax x

    • Hi, Jax. While it is over, Jessie’s recipes now live on! Not to mention a few more I’ve found since then. Thanks very much for reading them all. Dan

  8. les roulés sont les premiers gateaux sue j’ai faits !!pierre

  9. So simple but i love this dessert. It is pretty big in Sweden. We put everything from jam and fruit in it to almond cream to regular whipped cream.

  10. appetizing and delicious

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