The food out here

The return of the great pumpkin roll

Posted 11/24/21

The interesting thing about Thanksgiving is that most individual dishes within it are widely controversial. For example, take the standard that is cranberry sauce. Both homemade and canned versions …

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The food out here

The return of the great pumpkin roll


The interesting thing about Thanksgiving is that most individual dishes within it are widely controversial. For example, take the standard that is cranberry sauce. Both homemade and canned versions are highly coveted by some and equally despised or criticized by the rest.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving, not just for what it means as a holiday, but of course for the food. What’s procured for the national celebration seems to cater to those who have no palate and simply enjoy a day of gluttony, as well as those who consider themselves foodies and utilize the occasion to go all-out. I find myself in the latter category and would argue that the folks in the middle just don’t know a good time when they see one.

I do find joy in converting the naysayers to the light of appreciation for things they may have previously written off, however. My personal triumph in this area is the simple pumpkin roll. For many who have been led astray by mass consumerism, pumpkin rolls seem to have gotten a bad rap, be it from the machine-made, preservative-filled desserts in the supermarket or the equally terrible home attempts from bakers in the older generation who for some reason think walnuts belong in every dessert. To all the elder bakers out there, I’m sorry, but someone had to say it.

Getting back to the subject of pumpkin rolls, however, I find that I have had great success at the Thanksgiving table with the simple Libby’s recipe often found printed on the side of the pumpkin cans. HOWEVER… This recipe suggests the optional addition of walnuts.


Do not.

For the good of the pumpkin roll.

Moving on. Pumpkin rolls are admittedly their own animal when it comes to baking technique, but from my experience that just makes them more fun to make as well as rewarding to accomplish.

In preparation I would recommend investing in a new clean tea towel if you don’t already have one, as well as a cooling rack of some kind. Timing is essential and the most important aspect to executing this correctly is moisture. If you end up with a filling that is not moist enough, it will be unspreadable within the roll during construction. If you overcook or allow the roll to dry out too much while cooling, it will become stale and crack apart, as well as be far less palatable.

To that end, I find that reading the full instructions prior to baking is helpful, even if you’ve made this before. Being prepared is the best approach to making sure each step flows into the next.

By the end of baking and assembling, the pumpkin roll should land rather quickly in its plastic wrapping in your fridge in order to preserve it for the best results.

Another tip I’ve found over the years is to wait until you serve it to add the dusting of confectionary sugar. I used to add it when I baked it and then when it was opened after sitting in the fridge for a day or so, the sugar would have been absorbed into the moist cake and it can get messy and taste gummy. You may want to leave it off altogether as there is quite a bit of sugar in the cream cheese filling and sometimes it can be a bit much.

As a final recommendation, I would suggest serving with a nice glass of fresh cold milk. As the son-in-law of a dairy farmer, I’d posit that every good dessert goes with a glass of milk, but in this case, it really adds to the depth of flavor in the filling as well as brings out the autumn spices in the cake portion of the roll.

The way out here, an old classic and a supermarket substitute just don’t compare, so before you judge the dish, try the tried and true and go from there. And for heaven’s sake… ditch the walnuts!

Pumpkin roll

Recipe courtesy of


  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar (to sprinkle on towel)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup LIBBY’S® 100% Pure Pumpkin


  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped, if you choose to ignore my advice
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar (optional for decoration)


Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan; line with wax paper. Grease and flour paper. Sprinkle a thin cotton kitchen towel with 1/4 cup powdered sugar.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in small bowl. Beat eggs and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until thick. Beat in pumpkin. Stir in flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts, if using.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top of cake springs back when touched. (If using a dark-colored pan, begin checking for doneness at 11 minutes.) Immediately loosen and turn cake onto prepared towel. Carefully peel off paper. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with narrow end. Cool on wire rack.

Beat cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar, butter and vanilla extract in small mixer bowl until smooth. Carefully unroll cake. Spread cream cheese mixture over cake. Reroll cake. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving, if desired.

Cooking Tip: Be sure to put enough powdered sugar on the towel when rolling up the cake so it will not stick.

Thanksgiving, side dishes, pumpkin roll


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