It's risky to mess with tradition on Thanksgiving, right down to the slabs of pie that provide the feast's grand finale. So serve them.

But few will quibble with being offered an unexpected option, especially an elegant cake roll, or roulade, that looks like you fussed far more you did.

Roulade comes from the French word rouler, meaning "to roll." Typically, it's a thin sponge cake spread with a filling, then rolled into a cylinder and sliced. The classic Christmas dessert called Buche de Noel, or Yule Log, is a roulade, usually sponge cake filled with chocolate buttercream, and frosted to resemble tree bark.

A whipped cream filling is the easiest to make, and can be customized with a variety of flavorings. But to get the distinctive spiral effect, the cake needs to be a contrasting shade. With autumn in mind, we've chosen to make a rich russet gingerbread, rolled with whipped cream flavored with maple extract and pumpkin pie spices. Candied pecans add crunch.

Tips for making a cake roll

There are a couple of key techniques to making a successful roulade.

The first is using the stroke for mixing known as folding. This helps you combine a dense mixture with an airy mixture without deflating the lighter mixture, as stirring would do, which would result in a less tender cake. The idea is to work quickly, yet gently, using a spatula to cut down through the mixture, move across the bottom of the bowl and then come up, folding the mixture from the bottom over the surface of the batter. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat the motion until everything is evenly combined.

The second technique is inverting the baked cake onto a tea towel that's well dusted with powdered sugar, also called confectioners sugar. Peel off the parchment or waxed paper liner, then roll up the cake, towel and all, so the cake "learns" its curve while cooling. The powdered sugar keeps the cake from sticking when it's time to unroll and fill the cake.

As for flavoring the whipped cream, there are several options. depending on the quantity of flavoring you wish to keep on hand.

For 1 cup of whipping cream, you can beat in 1/4 cup of real maple syrup. Or, if using artificial flavorings, use 1 teaspoon of maple extract, or 1/4 teaspoon of maple oil.

You can add more to taste, but go slow, particularly with the oil, which comes in small bottles that hold about a teaspoon. Oils are good options if you want to buy just enough flavoring for a particular recipe.

Roll, roll, roll

When it's time to fill the cake, gently unroll it, spread with whipped cream, sprinkle with nuts and roll it back up. The whole process, from mixing to filling, takes about 40 minutes. As with pumpkin pie, a roulade benefits from several hours in the refrigerator, even overnight -- another plus, no last-minute preparation.

So challenge some expectations this Thanksgiving. Let the good cakes roll!

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185