Fall is the time when the kids return to school and life slows down a bit, but fall also means pumpkin season and baking pies and cakes blended with the warm spices of fall. While pumpkin pie is the obvious dessert choice, pumpkin also pairs well with cake, especially when the warm pumpkin spice cake is rolled up with cool cream. While some prefer the rich taste of a cream cheese filling, you can substitute whipped cream for a lighter dessert. The two elements rolled together create a pinwheel design to dress up the dessert table.
Place your mixing bowl and beaters in the refrigerator or freezer for a few hours before whipping the cream so it is chilled, making it easier for peaks to form. Keep heavy cream in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours before whipping; it's best to use cream that is a few days old rather than fresh. Heavy cream leads to thicker whipped cream that holds its form better than lighter whipping cream.
Bake a pumpkin cake in a 1-inch deep jelly roll pan, using your favorite pumpkin cake recipe. If you don't already have a pumpkin cake recipe, try substituting pumpkin puree for the fruit in your banana bread or applesauce cake recipe. Line the jelly roll pan with wax paper before baking so you can easily remove the cake in one piece while warm.
Lay a linen kitchen towel, such as a tea towel or flour sack towel, on a flat work surface and dust with sifted confectioner's sugar. The confectioner's sugar keeps the cake from sticking to the towel and also adds extra sweetness.
Flip the cake pan over on top of the towel to release the cake. Peel back the wax paper and discard. Dust the cake with more powdered sugar.
Roll the cake up into the towel, working from one of the short sides to the opposite end. When finished, the towel should be wrapped inside the cake. Place the cake and towel in the refrigerator seam-side down for about one hour until the cake cools completely. As the cake cools, it holds the curled shape, making it easier to roll it with the cream. Think of the way a hot roller curls your hair, but the hair holds the curl if you leave the curlers in until completely cool.
Pour the heavy cream into the mixing bowl along with confectioner's sugar to sweeten to your taste. Confectioner's sugar blends better in the cream than granulated sugar and the small amount of corn starch in the sugar helps thicken the cream. You can also add vanilla extract or other flavors to taste.
Beat the cream and sugar mixture vigorously, using a stand mixer, hand mixer or wire whisk. Continue beating the cream until it thickens and forms firm peaks that hold shape well. To determine the firmness of the whipped cream peaks, touch the cream with the back side of a spoon and lift up. The spoon will lift up soft peaks that then bend over, similar to the ice cream at the top of a soft-serve cone. Firm peaks rise up with the spoon and hold shape. Stop mixing and check for firmness frequently. If you mix too much, you'll end up with sweetened, flavored butter.
Remove the pumpkin cake from the refrigerator and unroll it. Leave the towel under the cake.
Spread the whipped cream evenly across the top of the cake; you might want to leave a 1/2- to 1-inch margin around the cake so the cream doesn't squish out the ends. Use a spatula or icing spreader to achieve a level whipped cream layer.
Sprinkle optional filling ingredients over the whipped cream layer, if desired. Crushed pecans, dark chocolate shavings and sprinkles are among the many ingredients you can add to the pumpkin roll.
Roll up the pumpkin cake, starting at the same end as you started when you rolled it with the towel. Roll slowly to keep the ends even and prevent squishing the whipped cream filling out the ends.
Wrap the entire roll tightly with clear plastic wrap to hold the shape. Store the pumpkin roll in the refrigerator until ready to use or place it in the freezer if you won't eat it within a day or two. Skip this step if you want to serve it immediately.