This cake roll, filled with Champagne buttercream and decorated with gold chocolate shards and sugar pearls, is the pinnacle of festivity. It's delicious, even if you don't like Champagne. Wait, what? Is there anyone out there who doesn't like Champagne? Although most people drink Champagne for celebrations, I personally think a good bottle is cause for celebration (and a good reminder to make a cake).
Needless to say, I also really love this cake. It's like eating a slice of Champagne...and yet there's not a drop of actual Champagne in the whole recipe. Confused yet?
A few years ago, a pastry chef taught me how to make Champagne-flavored cakes and desserts. His top tip was to use Marc de Champagne instead of actual Champagne. As you all know, Champagne is a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. Marc de Champagne is also made in Champagne, but it's not a wine. A 'marc' is a brandy produced by distilling the grape skins, seeds, and stalks that are left over from the wine-making process. Although it's made from the same grapes as Champagne, Marc de Champagne is a lot sweeter than its bubbly cousin, with a more intense flavor. Which makes it perfect to use in sweet dessert recipes.
For this cake, I add Marc de Champagne to the batter, the buttercream filling, and the simple syrup used to soak the cake.
Unfortunately, Marc de Champagne can be hard to come by. Plus, it can be really expensive. Lucky for us, there are cheaper options!
Although I'm sure wine connoisseurs will be able to tell the difference, those of use who don't have a sommelier's palate can also use a Marc de Bourgogne or a barrel-aged grappa made with Chardonnay grapes instead of Marc de Champagne. Both impart similar flavors to the cake, but are a lot cheaper because they're not from the popular Champagne region.
Like Marc de Champagne, Marc de Bourgogne is a marc, made from the skins, seeds, and stalks of the region's grapes.
Grappa is the Italian version of the French marcs; it is also made by distilling grape skins, seeds and stalks. However, unlike the French marcs, it's more widely available. More often than not, you can even buy smaller bottles of it, which is great if you're only going to use it in dessert recipes like this one. By using a barrel-aged grappa made from the same grapes that are used to make Champagne (chardonnay grapes mostly), you can get that great Marc de Champagne flavor without having to spend too much money.
Despite the title, I wouldn't recommend using actual Champagne or another sparkling wine in this recipe. I tried it, and it just wasn't the same; you'd have to add a lot more of it than I call for in order to get that intense Champagne flavor. And adding a lot of Champagne to the cake batter or buttercream would dramatically affect the texture of these elements.
Making the Cake
The cake I use for this recipe is really easy to make. You beat eggs for a good five minutes until they've tripled in size and kind of look like batter all by themselves. You then mix in sugar, oil and buttermilk for a moist, tender crumb; and some flour, baking powder and salt. Easy, right? You'll have the cake baking in the oven before you know it. There's nothing to it!
Rolling it is a little more difficult, though. Here's how it's done.
Rolling the Cake
Step 1: Sugar a Towel
The cake doesn't take very long to bake, so the first thing you want to do once it's in the oven is tidy up your workspace and place a clean, cotton tea towel on top of your counter. Make sure the towel doesn't smell too strongly of laundry detergent and that it doesn't have a clear waffle pattern or any textural embellishments, which can make the rolled cake stick to the tea towel. Dust the tea towel generously with powdered sugar, using your hands to rub the sugar into the fabric. The powdered sugar keeps the cake from absorbing too much steam as it cools and imparts an added sweetness to the outer side of the cake roll.
Don't worry about the inner side of the cake roll lacking sweetness; the cake is actually delicious on its own and once it has cooled, the inner crust will also be soaked with Champagne syrup.
Step 2: Turn Out the Cake
Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for one to two minutes in the pan before turning it out onto the sugared tea towel and carefully peeling off the baking parchment.
Don't forget to wear oven mitts when you turn out the cake; both the cake and the cake pan will still be very hot! The mitts will probably feel a bit clumsy, but it's better than burning yourself.
Step 3: Begin Rolling
Once you've peeled off the baking parchment, immediately start rolling the cake into a tight roll, starting at one of the shorter ends. Roll tightly, making sure to apply even pressure as you roll.
Step 4: Rest the Cake
Once rolled, place the cake seam-side down onto a wire rack to cool to room temperature. This may take up to two hours, depending on where you leave it to cool. I placed it on the balcony, where it's nice and chilly this time of the year.
Once the cake has cooled to room temperature, unroll it carefully. You don't want it to crack or stick to the tea towel. The unrolled cake will roll back up a bit, but that's fine. Don't force the curled end down, or you'll risk cracking the cake.
Should you accidentally crack the cake a little bit, don't worry about it. Once the cake roll is filled and coated with the white chocolate ganache, no one will be able to tell!
Soaking the Cake
Before filling the cake with Champagne buttercream, you need to soak it with a simple syrup mixed with a little Marc de Champagne.
To make the syrup, you start by combining equal amounts of sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. That's it! You don't even need to bring the mixture to a boil. It's really just a matter of dissolving sugar in water. Once the syrup has cooled to room temperature, add a teaspoon of Marc de Champagne and you're done!
By the way, I love soaking cakes with simple syrups. Laced with liqueur or mixed with a little fruit juice, they impart incredible flavor while adding moisture at the same time. In this cake, the Champagne syrup really brings out the Champagne flavor of the buttercream. Without the syrup, the flavor of the white chocolate coating can easily overpower the delicate champagne notes of the buttercream, so don't skip this step.
Once you've brushed the inside of the cake roll with the Champagne syrup, you need to fill it with the buttercream.
Filling the Cake
I use Swiss buttercream to fill this cake. As I explained in last week's massive buttercream post, Swiss buttercream is made with Swiss meringue, which in turn is made by dissolving sugar into egg whites and whipping the mixture until it holds stiff peaks. Cubes of softened butter are then mixed into the meringue to turn it into buttercream.
Swiss buttercream is notoriously finicky and tends to separate once you start mixing in the butter. Lucky for us, it's also super easy to fix it if it does—just keep mixing and beating with an electric mixer and the buttercream will come together again. It will initially look worse, but it shouldn't take longer than a couple of minutes before the curdled mixture magically transforms into smooth and luscious buttercream. After you've mixed in the butter, you add a tablespoon of Marc de Champagne or grappa.
It's easiest to use an offset spatula to spread the buttercream over the cake, but a simple metal spoon will work as well. Try to keep the naturally curly end of the cake (which will become the center of the cake roll) somewhat curled as you frost it to keep it from breaking and cracking. The inner curl can be quite stubborn. Leave a one-inch border of uncovered cake at the other short end of the cake (the side that doesn't curl after you've unrolled the cake). This makes for a cleaner seam.
Once you've filled the cake, re-roll it tightly and place it seam-side down onto a wire rack set over a rimmed cookie sheet or baking sheet. Coat the cake with a thin layer of whipped white chocolate ganache (the cookie sheet will catch any drips), using the back of a spoon to create a bark-like pattern, and place it in the fridge until the ganache has set.
That's most of the work done!
If you're lazy or just don't feel like making white chocolate shards, just serve the cake roll as is. It will still look very pretty. Or use a clean, dry paintbrush to dust it with gold luster dust. You can also dust it with non-melting topping sugar to make it look like a snowy log. Still too much work? Pop in a few cake sparklers and dim the lights before serving. It's your cake, so feel free to decorate it whichever way you like!
As much as I love the idea of cake sparklers, I prefer the white chocolate shards. They look kind of dangerous and sharp. My rocking rebel boyfriend even thinks the chocolate shards make the cake kind of look like the tip of a dragon's tail. (The cake does kind of look like that white and gold dragon in one of the last Harry Potter movies.)
Make the White Chocolate Shards
I made the white chocolate shards the easy way, without tempering the chocolate. If you have the right tools to temper chocolate and prefer the snappier texture, by all means temper it first (see our guide to tempering chocolate here). I just melted the chocolate and spread it onto a chilled cookie sheet lined with baking parchment. I then placed it in the fridge to set before I cut it into shards and dusted it with gold luster dust.
If you've never worked with luster dust, it's super easy. But be warned, working with luster dust might actually give you the urge to cover everything within an arms length (including said arm) in sparkling gold dust. Or is that just me?
Anyway, once the ganache coating has set, remove the cake from the fridge and transfer it to a serving plate before decorating it with the golden shards and sugar pearls. Oh, just don't forget to trim the edges of the cake with a hot serrated knife first! This exposes the pretty spiraled ends of the cake (and make great chef's treats).
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.