Vertical Cake (Lemon & Blueberry)

Assembled with vanilla sponge cake, lemon blueberry swirl whipped cream, and lemon cream cheese buttercream, this vertical cake is a beautiful masterpiece. It’s soft and light with bright refreshing flavors and an impressive aesthetic. For recipe success, follow the recipe and video tutorial closely.

vertical cake

Welcome to the August Baking Challenge! For the past 2 years, I’ve dedicated the August Baking Challenge to cake recipes (Checkerboard Cake and Chocolate Chip Cookie Layer Cake), but this year is my very favorite. We’re making VERTICAL CAKE!

Assembled with vanilla sponge cake, lemon blueberry swirl whipped cream, and lemon cream cheese buttercream, this vertical cake screams celebration. It’s soft and light with bright refreshing flavors and an impressive aesthetic. Who can resist?

You’ve been requesting a challenging recipe and after 6 failed vertical cakes and 12 total recipe tests, I admit that this one is tough! But I’m happy to share my recipe fails and successes with you so you can get the recipe right on the first try. I know you can do this!

vertical cake slice

What is a Vertical Cake?

Our eyes are used to seeing horizontal layer cakes, so when you first cut into a vertical layer cake, you’re instantly impressed. They’re ALWAYS a crowdpleaser! But what are they and how can we make one?

Vertical cake is just that: a cake with vertical layers. Instead of stacked layers like traditional layer cakes, vertical cakes are actually made with a cake spiral. When you cut into the cake, that spiral displays as vertical layers. You assemble the cake spiral with a sponge sheet cake. Roll the sponge cake into a cake roll when it comes out of the oven. Once cool, unroll it, cut it into 3 long strips, then top each with whipped cream. Roll the strips up, connecting the end of the first rolled strip with the next. Turn the cake upright and decorate with frosting as you would any other layer cake.

There’s a few more steps along the way, but that’s the basic rundown!

Video Tutorial: Vertical Cake

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s watch this vertical cake come together:

vertical cake slice on pink plate

Tools You Need:

How to Make a Sturdy Sponge Cake

A successful vertical cake must begin with a sturdy sponge cake. This is where all 6 previous recipe tests went horribly wrong. I tried separating the eggs, cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, no baking powder, deflating the batter, creaming the butter, melting the butter, no butter… honestly I could keep going on about all the mistakes I made. If the sponge cake is too fragile, the vertical cake will collapse. If the sponge cake is too firm, it won’t roll up. Take it from me– follow this sponge cake recipe to the letter.

  1. Beat eggs until pale yellow and relatively thick. (Use 4 whole eggs.)
  2. Slowly add sugar, vanilla extract, and a touch of oil. Butter dried out this cake.
  3. Whisk all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt together. In 2-3 additions, sift the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients, stirring lightly to combine after each addition. This sponge cake batter is very light and airy, so be careful not to deflate it.
  4. Grease a 12×17 inch cake pan, line with parchment paper, grease the parchment paper, then dust with flour. We need an extremely nonstick surface for this cake.
  5. Spread cake batter into prepared cake pan. It will be a very thin layer of batter.
  6. Bake for a short 12 minutes or until the top is set. Do not over-bake.

Forceful mixing will deflate this airy sponge cake batter. Be gentle– it needs volume!

sponge cake batter

sponge cake batter in sheet pan

Roll the Cake Up

No time for cooling! When it comes out of the oven, immediately invert the warm cake onto parchment paper or a thin kitchen towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Gently roll the cake up with the parchment/towel. Let it cool in the rolled up shape so when it’s time to roll it up with the whipped cream filling, it’s already “familiar” with the rolled up shape.

Lemon Blueberry Swirl Whipped Cream Filling

The lemon blueberry swirl whipped cream combines homemade lemon blueberry sauce and whipped cream. If desired, feel free to use your favorite blueberry (or any flavor) jam to replace the homemade lemon blueberry sauce. The sauce must completely cool before you mix it into the whipped cream, so I recommend making it ahead of time or as the cake cools. You need blueberries, lemon juice, cornstarch, water, and sugar. Cook it on the stove, cool it completely, then fold into lightly sweetened whipped cream. For the whipped cream, you need heavy cream and a touch of confectioners’ sugar.

This whipped cream would be unbelievable with pound cake or cream puffs, too!

blueberry swirl whipped cream

How to Assemble a Vertical Cake

Watch the video above for a visual of these steps.

  1. After the sponge cake cools in the rolled shape, carefully unravel it. The cake may crack a bit as you unroll it, so work slowly. You can see mine has a few cracks.
  2. Using a very sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut the cake into 3 long strips. The cake is about 11 inches wide (it shrinks when baking and cooling), so each strip is a little over 3.5 inches wide.
  3. Spread the whipped cream all over the top. It’s easier to neatly cut the strips without the whipped cream on top, so that’s why I recommend cutting before topping.
  4. Working with 1 strip at a time, gently roll the cake strip back up. Connect the end of the first rolled strip with the next, continuing to roll and wrap.
  5. You now have 1 large cake spiral. Turn it upright so one of the spiral ends is exposed at the top.
  6. Chill the shaped vertical cake for at least 45 minutes before decorating.

whipped cream on vertical cake pieces

assembling vertical cake

How Big is This Vertical Cake?

If you think about it, the cake should only be about 3.5 inches tall, right? The strips actually stretch and bulk up as you roll them with the filling! So after you top the cake with cream cheese frosting, the cake ends up being about 5 inches high by about 6 inches wide.

Cream Cheese Buttercream

Just like any layer cake, this lemon blueberry vertical cake needs a frosting decoration. Whip up a simple lemon cream cheese buttercream by combining block cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. A bench scraper and small offset spatula are handy for decorating. Some of the whipped cream exposed on the top of the cake will mix with the buttercream, creating beautiful random swirls of purple. This cake is gorgeous on both the inside AND outside.

One last step– refrigerate the decorated cake for at least 30 minutes before serving. This prevents the cake from squishing too much when you slice it.

 

vanilla sponge vertical cake with lemon blueberry whipped cream

Looks like a regular cake, right?

It’s what’s on the inside that counts. 🙂

vertical layer cake

Join Sally's Baking Challenge

Make the vertical cake. Feel free to use different flavors of whipped cream or frosting, but keep in mind that this is a fragile cake and a stiff frosting could tear it. If you’re not into this recipe, here is the alternate August Baking Challenge:

After you make the vertical cake or alternate recipe, share your photos throughout the month using #sallysbakingchallenge on your public Instagram or Twitter account. (Instagram messages are hard to track, so email instead!) Or upload a photo to my Facebook page or Facebook group or email it to me. By sharing your photo, you’re automatically entered in the $250 giveaway.

For a bonus entry, leave a review on the recipe below!

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vertical cake

Vertical Cake (Lemon & Blueberry)

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 12 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: serves 8
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This recipe yields one vertical cake, about 5 inches tall and 6 inches wide. For best results, follow the recipe carefully and read through the directions before beginning.


Ingredients

Cake

  • all-purpose flour for dusting pan and confectioners’ sugar for dusting baked cake
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Blueberry Whipped Cream

  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons warm water
  • 1 cup (190g) fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) heavy cream
  • 3 Tablespoons (20g) confectioners’ sugar

Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 ounces (112g) block full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 3 cups (360g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • optional: fresh blueberries for garnish

Instructions

  1. For best success, follow this recipe closely, be prepared with all of the special tools you need (see recipe notes), and watch the video tutorial in the blog post.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray a 12×17 inch baking pan with nonstick spray or grease with butter, so the parchment paper sticks. Then line it with parchment paper. Spray or grease the parchment paper, then dust with a very light layer of flour. (A sifter helps.)
  3. Make the cake: Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat the eggs in a large bowl on high speed for 5 minutes until pale yellow and relatively thick. Switch the mixer to medium speed and beat in the sugar, vanilla, and oil just until combined, about 1 minute. Set aside.
  4. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl. In 2 or 3 additions, sift the dry ingredients over the egg mixture, gently folding together after each addition. You do NOT want to deflate the eggs. Make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients. Batter is thick and airy.
  5. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. You’ll really have to stretch the batter out to fit this pan. It will be a thin layer. Tap the whole pan on the counter a few times to pop any air bubbles on top.
  6. (As the cake bakes, complete step 7.) Bake for 12-13 minutes or until cake is set and the top springs back when lightly poked with your finger. Do not over-bake.
  7. As the cake bakes, place a piece of parchment paper (a little larger than the cake) or a thin kitchen towel flat on the counter. Using a sifter, dust with a light coating of confectioners’ sugar.
  8. Roll the cake: Once the cake comes out of the oven, run a thin knife along the edges to help release the cake, then immediately invert it onto the parchment/towel. Peel off the parchment paper that was on the bottom of the cake as it baked. Using a sifter, dust surface with a light coating of confectioners’ sugar. Starting with the narrow end, slowly and gently roll the cake up with the parchment/towel. The cake will be warm. Allow the cake to cool completely rolled up in the parchment/towel. Place in the refrigerator to speed it up, about 2-3 hours.
  9. As the cake cools, make the blueberry sauce: The blueberry sauce must be completely cool before folding into the whipped cream, so make it ahead of time or when the cake is cooling. Mix the cornstarch and water together in a very small bowl. Set aside. Combine blueberries, lemon juice, and granulated sugar together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly, bursting the blueberries against the sides of the pan. Once the blueberries have released some liquid, add the cornstarch/water. Turn the heat up to medium. Stir and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Mixture will thicken as it cools. I place it in the refrigerator to cool down quicker.
  10. Remove the cake roll from the refrigerator and allow to sit on the counter for a few minutes to warm up as you prepare the whipped cream.
  11. Make the whipped cream: Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar together on medium-high speed until medium peaks form, about 3-4 minutes. Medium peaks are between soft/loose peaks and stiff peaks. Using a spoon or rubber spatula, gently fold in cooled blueberry sauce. If you want blueberry swirls as pictured, don’t completely combine the two. Only fold together a few times. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  12. Assemble vertical cake: Slowly and gently unroll the cake. If you notice the cake cracking, unroll slower and gently press the cracked pieces back together. (Some cracks are fine!) Using a very sharp knife or even kitchen shears, cut the cake into 3 long strips. Cake is about 11 inches wide (it shrinks when baking and cooling), so each strip will be a little over 3.5 inches wide. Spread whipped cream evenly on top of each strip. Working with 1 strip at a time, gently roll the cake strip back up, without the parchment/towel this time. Connect the end of the first rolled strip with the next, continuing to roll and wrap the cake up. See video above if you need a visual for this step.
  13. Turn cake upright on its flattest end and place on a cake turntable for decorating or if you don’t wish to use a cake turntable for decorating, onto a cake stand or serving plate. Refrigerate covered or uncovered for at least 1 hour or freeze covered or uncovered for 45 minutes. Chilling helps ensure the cake holds its delicate shape.
  14. Make the cream cheese buttercream: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more lemon juice if frosting is too thick, or a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
  15. Remove cake from the refrigerator or freezer. Spread the frosting all over the top and sides. A bench scraper and small offset spatula are handy for decorating. Some of the whipped cream exposed on the top of the cake will mix with the buttercream, creating beautiful random swirls of purple. Garnish with fresh blueberries, if desired. If you decorated the cake on a cake turntable, use a couple thin spatulas (and a helper!) to carefully lift the cake off the turntable and onto a cake stand or server. (Decorating on a cake board is helpful for this, too.)
  16. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  17. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The best way to make the vertical cake ahead of time is to complete the recipe through step 8, letting the rolled up cake chill overnight in the refrigerator before continuing with the recipe. Make the blueberry sauce (step 9) 1 day ahead of time as well. Cover tightly in the refrigerator overnight. You could also complete the recipe through step 13, letting the assembled vertical cake chill in the refrigerator for up to 1 day or freeze for up to 1 month. Cover tightly if chilling/freezing for longer than 1 hour. If frozen, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before continuing with step 14.
  2. Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Sieve Set, Half Sheet Baking Pan, Cake Decorating Turntable, Offset Spatula, Bench Scraper

This recipe was inspired by the beautiful vertical cake by Dan Langan

Keywords: layer cake, lemon, blueberry

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140 Comments

  1. I can’t wait to try this, Sally! It looks amazing and totally worth all the (hard?) work. Is the texture different from a horizontal layer cake (just out of curiosity?)

    1. I liked the tutorial, it helped a lot. I have an electric oven now so wasn’t sure how the temperature runs. Baked for 12 minutes and came out over done. Now I know only 10 minutes. Other than mine having more blueberries ( my husband loves blueberries) it came out great.

      1. I’m so happy this cake was a hit with your family! Thanks for participating in this month’s baking challenge 🙂

  2. Ahhhh this is gorgeous, Sally! I definitely want to try this and enter the August Baking Challenge! It looks like so much fun

  3. Hi Sally! This cake is so amazing! I love the idea but I’m really not a fan of lemon and blueberry. Do you have any flavor alternatives? Maybe raspberry or even a simple funfetti? Thanks 🙂

  4. After making a wedding cake out of vertical layers (your chocolate Swiss roll and Smitten’s banana bourbon roll)(and a not vertical lemon layer) less than 3 months ago, I feel good sitting this one out. I found the vertical cake much easier to frost than the regular layer, but I’m just not ready to make cake again!

  5. This looks amazing! I had to store my half sheet pans since they do not fit in my French oven so I may have to sit this one out.

    1. You are amazing, Sally! How impressive. Think your swiss cake roll could be assembled the same way? I don’t have many who would enjoy the lemon blueberry flavors, but I SOOO want to try this recipe!

  6. This looks awesome! I would really like to try it but I live in England and a 12×17 Pan is too big for my oven. Would I be able to halve the batter into two smaller pans so I can participate?

    1. Hi Courtney! I haven’t tried halving the recipe and rolling up a smaller cake. The “layers” would be very narrow. Maybe you could just cut the cake in half and roll up two? Let me know what you try.

    2. Hi Courtney,
      I am in Germany and my plan is to use a baking sheet that fits my oven. Is your baking sheet somewhere between 30-35cm x 40-45cm? It should work. I always do sponge rolls that way. Just line with parchment paper and evenly distribute the batter with a spoon.

  7. I’m making this tonight, have a pool party tomorrow this will be light and perfect. Thanks Sally just in time !!

  8. Can’t wait to make this! I have book club with my teacher friends Monday and they’re expecting a good dessert!

  9. Wow! What a gorgeous cake. I don’t have enough people in the house that would eat this. Everyone here would eat your chocolate Swiss Cake Roll. I’m going to make it for my daughter’s birthday in late September and will let you know how it turns out. Thanks for another great recipe idea.

  10. So pretty, and one of my favorite flavour combinations! The lazy part of me wants to try it as a regular rolled cake, but the challenge of the vertical layers sounds fun too!

  11. This looks like a lot of frosting and very little cake. How would I tweak the recipe to get a thicker layer so that there’s only 3 frosting strips inside the cake when cut?

    1. It’s whipped cream on the inside, so very light! You can try a smaller cake pan for a thicker cake, but the thicker the cake– the harder it will be to roll up. Let me know what you try!

    1. You definitely can, but be extra careful adding additional ingredients to the cake batter. Want to make sure the texture remains the same.

  12. This is so clever! When I looked at it yesterday before you’d published the recipe, my mind was inventing all the ways it might have been done. I never came close to the real method. Beautiful!

  13. How long do you suppose you can keep the cake rolled up in the towel? Is it best to use it fairly soon, or can it stay that way for a while if you need to wait a bit?

  14. Every month, I say I’m going to do the challenge but never do. I am making this on the weekend for a co-workers birthday on Tuesday. I’ve never thought of doing a vertical cake and this one will be perfect! Hopefully I remember to take pics!

  15. Cannt wait to try this cake. Just picked wild blueberries over the weekend.will be great flavor
    Thanks for the inspiration

    1. Oh yum! What a delicious way to use some of your wild blueberries- would love to know what you think if you try this recipe, Linda 🙂

  16. Cakes aren’t my wheelhouse, but I can’t wait to try this one. If I just use jam instead of making the blueberry sauce, how much should I use?

    Thanks!

  17. I already completed it and this cake Was much easier than I anticipated! I followed the recipe exactly and the whipped cream was so good. Probably my favorite part! It is a beautiful cake!

  18. My baking partner (my 14-year-old son) and I brainstormed and decided we wanted to do a chocolate marshmallow vertical cake with marshmallow buttercream frosting.
    This cake was small, but mighty! DEFINITELY a challenge!
    We used Sally’s chocolate cake roll recipe and her marshmallow buttercream frosting recipe.
    I think I gained a gray hair or two working on this with him and maybe a few determined tears.
    But, we pulled it off. We were high-fiving and hugging – BEST feeling ever. I love my boy!
    This was a real challenge, but, a fantastic experience with my little one. Can’t wait until the next one!
    Thanks, Sally! ❤️

  19. I just ate the first slice of this cake and it was delicious! I had so much fun making it. I used a smaller baking pan, adjusted the baking time slightly and it turned out great. Great challenge!

  20. I am so excited I signed up for this challenge and future challenges. This vertical cake was definantly a challenge. I got through the recipe just fine but my slices don’t look as clean as yours Sally and my filling is more purple. I guess that’s why you’re the pro. However, the cake taste great.
    Thanks for an awesome experience!

    1. So glad you tried it! Thanks so much for participating this month, Kim. I find the longer I chill the cake before cutting into it, the neater the slices.

  21. Sally, since the cake itself is plain vanilla, could you pair it with any kind of frosting? I would assume you would need to thin out american buttercream if you used that, because it’s stiffer than cream cheese frosting, and you wouldn’t want to tear the cake when frosting. It’s just that though I’m a HUGE fan of lemon, most people in my family don’t like it 🙁 I’d still like to make this though. Also, even if I do a different flavor combination, would it still count towards the baking challenge? Thanks Sally! 🙂

    1. Hi Erin! Yes, you can definitely try a different flavor combination with the vanilla sponge cake. That counts for the challenge! You can leave out the lemon in the blueberry sauce and replace it with milk in the cream cheese buttercream. This cream cheese buttercream is super silky and glides onto the cake without tearing it, so that’s why I suggest it. 🙂

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