Photos and Words by Fred Chang
In Asian bakeries, there are plenty of exotic, unique, and intriguing desserts. One of my favorites when growing up in a Southern Californian suburb was the Swiss roll or roll cake! A fluffy, light sponge wrapped around a delicate, silky cream, the roll cake was a blank canvas waiting to be painted with different flavor combinations. Traditionally, a genoise is the type of spongecake used to make a roll, but for this particular recipe, I opted for a Malaysian sponge, as it is light, spongy, and eggy, something that helps make it perfect to contrast any sort of filling. As an immigrant interpreting classics from all around the world, I like to combine the flavors of one dessert into the components of another.
After paying a visit to Mike’s Pastry in the North End of Boston, I came across a very delicious Italian classic, the cannoli. A crisp fried shell wrapped around a tangy ricotta-orange cream that’s studded with crunchy chocolate chips; I was enamored more by the filling than the pastry itself. And while experimenting with different flavors, it became very clear that chocolate and orange could easily pair well with speculoos cookie butter, something else I instantly fell in love with growing up in the States. And that’s when I invented a delicious mixture, a riff on Cookies and Cream, called Cookies and Cannoli Cream. The light spiciness and nuttiness from the speculoos pairs beautifully with the tanginess of the orange and the bitterness of the chocolate, with the ricotta being a creamy vessel that carries all of these intermingling flavors.
So, after thinking about different riffs on the classic cannoli, I figured I could take that Cookies and Cannoli Cream and instead of piping it into a cannoli shell, use it in a roll cake instead! However, as any cream-based mixture could run the risk of being too runny, I incorporated elements from yet another dessert to really round out this bakery treat: a Russian marshmallow-like confection known as zephyr (or zefir). A zephyr is traditionally some sort of compote that is aerated with whipped egg whites and and set with gelatin. However, instead of using a compote, I opted to use my Cookies and Cannoli Cream, as it would never hurt to have that sort of melt-in-the-mouth texture that a zephyr normally has, especially when paired with a silky cream. So the ultimate end result, taking influences from Asian and Italian-American sweets, is the recipe for a Cannoli Roll Cake.
Orange Malaysian Spongecake:
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon orange zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whip egg yolks, zest, and sugar until it becomes pale yellow and stiff ribbons form. Gently fold in the sifted flour to the egg yolks and add a portion of the batter into the melted butter, mixing together into a homogenous mixture before combining back into the rest of the batter. Pour onto a medium-sized shallow baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes. Once baked, gently roll the cake into a scroll shape (it’s easier if the baking paper is kept on the cake when doing this!) while still warm and allow to it sit in that form until cooled.
Cookies and Cannoli Cream Filling:
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin powder+3 tablespoons cold water
1 egg white
1/4 cup powdered sugar+3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons orange blossom honey
2 teaspoons orange zest
3/4 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup cookie butter
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
Bloom gelatin with cold water by sprinkling the gelatin powder into the water. Combine sugar, water, honey, gelatin, and orange zest in a pot and reduce into a simple syrup. Whip egg white until stiff and whisk in the sugar syrup, continuously whipping to add in more air. In another bowl, mix together ricotta cheese and cookie butter. Fold the whipped egg whites with the ricotta cheese and the dark chocolate to form the filling and refrigerate to set before using. It is better to make the filling ahead of time!
Gently unroll the cooled cake (remove the baking paper at this time) and spread the filling evenly inside. Re-roll cake, and allow the filling to set in the cake by refrigerating for about 30 minutes. Slice and serve!