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 just made this for my birthday and it was delicious! My two and a half year old and my one year old definitely approve of this recipe. I would like to make it again, but I will have to wait until I can convince my husband to occupy our little crazies while I go into my happy place and bake for four hours!

    1. What a fun birthday cake! I hope you had a wonderful celebration 🙂 Thanks for participating in this month’s baking challenge!

  2. Oh My GOSH! Sally i absolutely L- O- V- E! this recipe! You are so amazing and i love you so much! You are my baking Role Model!!

  3. Sally, i just want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH! My daughter looks up to you and you have brought me from What the HECK am i doing?! to Ok, mix in the dry ingredients on low…
    This Recipe is now my favorite cake and i would definitely make it again.

    1. Hi Erika! If you temporarily pause any ad blockers in place, the ad shows right up. It’s also on my Facebook page and YouTube!

  4. DELICIOUS!! Challenging but such a sense of accomplishment when you finish!! Thanks so much Sally for your inspiration!!

  5. I’m so excited that this cake batter is non-dairy!! Do you have any suggestions for a dairy-free filling and frosting?

    1. Hi Sara! How about a coconut cream whipped cream? I know there are dairy free coconut whipped cream recipes online!

  6. Sally…absolutely beautiful work! I have enjoyed and made many tasty treats from your catalog. Curious…would this technique work with a different kind of cake like a red velvet or a full chocolate cake? Interested in trying…any suggestions?

    1. Hi Blair! You can leave out the lemon in the blueberry sauce and replace it with milk in the cream cheese buttercream. 🙂

  7. I made it all vanilla, and it was delicious. My only complaint is that I baked it for 11 minutes, and came out a little too done. I want to try again but with chocolate!

    1. So happy you loved this recipe, Eileen! Chocolate would be delicious next time 🙂 Thanks for participating in this month’s baking challenge!

  8. I was nervous to make this cake but it turned out to be pretty simple! I loved the flavors of this cake but I was also thinking of other flavors and thought about maybe a chocolate one!!! It is a very beautiful and fun cake! Thank you so much!

  9. This looks like a very interesting and yummy challenge, if I can get a few minutes peace, I think, I am going to try it.

  10. If you want to make a cake that will impress the heck out of anyone who eats it, DO THIS ONE. It’s small but mighty, and it tastes delicious. I used strawberries instead of blueberries, and I added some strawberry flavor to the frosting. It was so good (and so pretty!)

    The video tutorial is definitely helpful, especially for whipping the eggs and later rolling the cake. The one thing I’ll say is next time I make one, I’m not going to roll it in a towel. Stick with the parchment paper, y’all! I have a fine layer of cake stuck to my kitchen towel now.

    1. I bet yours was so pretty!! Love the idea of strawberries 🙂 So happy you found the video tutorial helpful and thank you so much for participating in this month’s challenge!

  11. I ended up using your chocolate cake roll recipe instead and used raspberry whipped cream for the filling. It definitely wasn’t gorgeous but with a few more attempts I think I could get it down! It tasted great at least!!

  12. This is so fun and the perfect size for a small family gathering!!!! What a great way to impress everyone.

    Sally does it again 🙂

  13. My son and I made this cake together a few days ago. It was such a hit with everyone we served it to. The lemon buttercream was definitely my favorite part! I could (and may have, some) just eaten it with a spoon! I was so happy that our cake held together on our first go too! This was such a fun recipe to have for this months baking challenge.

    1. What a fun recipe to make with your son, Emily! So glad it was a hit and I’m thrilled you participated in this month’s baking challenge 🙂

  14. This challenge is perfectly timed! I needed a cake for my MIL’s birthday, and here it is!

    I’m looking forward to making this tonight, but I was eyeing it and wondering… I have a box of cake flour from the angel food cake recipe that I need to finish. Would it change things overmuch or affect the cake adversely if I did, do you think?

    1. Hi Brittany, I recommend all purpose flour for this cake. When I tested it with cake flour the sponge cake was too fragile and the vertical layers collapsed.

  15. Love this cake, it is so light and scrumptious. I contemplated switching up the flavours but blueberry + lemon is truly the best flavour combo out there so I stuck with it. The cake smelt super eggy when it came out of the oven but not after it was assembled thankfully! I don’t know, when I cut into my cake it looked nothing like yours but you could see the vertical layers at least. It was a tricky recipe but I’m glad I participated!

    1. I’m so happy you loved this recipe, Stephanie! Thanks so much for participating in this month’s baking challenge 🙂

  16. My vertical cake came out awesome! Made is for hubby’s birthday & it was a hit. He said, “you have to make this again!”

    I used Sally’s cake recipe as written, rolled in parchment & cooled on a cooling rack. I made the blueberry jam the day before and instead of using whipped cream I used more cream cheese icing- 2 sticks butter, 16 oz cream cheese, and double other ingredients. I mixed the blueberry in with half for the layers! I knew we’d be eating the cake over 4-5 days and thought cream cheese would hold up better.

    Unicorn chips on top! Amazing recipe.

    1. I bet it was so delicious with the blueberry jam and cream cheese frosting! I hope your husband had a great birthday!

  17. What a FUN recipe! I love to impress a dinner guest – and if a recipe doesn’t make me nervous swett, double win!
    Vertical cake will be a regular in this house! Thanks Sally!!

    1. The perfect impressive dessert! Thrilled it was a hit- thanks for participating in this month’s baking challenge 🙂

  18. This was challenging and delicious! I made a chocolate / strawberry version. Some challenges that I encountered: the strawberry filling was looser than the blueberry looked on the video. This could be attributed to using frozen strawberries. Next time I will increase the cornstarch or eliminate water. I used your swiss roll recipe but used the lemon roll techniques when baking. I might just stick with the Swiss roll recipe as written in the future. I did have a break in the sponge but it was fixed and couldn’t be seen in the final cake. Everyone thought it was beautiful. thanks for another great recipe!

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed this recipe! How fun to make a chocolate strawberry version- delish!! Thanks for participating in this month’s baking challenge 🙂

  19. I loved making this recipe. It was well worth breaking my no-oven-in-the-summer rule 🙂 It’s looking gorgeous and delicious in the fridge right now and I’m excited to cut it open to see how it all turned out! Thank you for the fun inspiration, and for figuring out all the details with your multiple trials 😉 Keep the more difficult challenges coming!!

  20. Made this yesterday. It was delicious. I made only a minor change. We have hundreds of huckleberry bushes that are currently loaded with fruit so I used huckleberries instead of blueberries. (And I find huckleberries a little more flavorful.) The only other thing was I ran out of powdered sugar after adding 1 1/2 cups to the frosting. BUT it tasted sweet enough to me. Served this for our dinner party and everyone loved it. Phrases like “oh my god, that cake is so good” could be heard.
    I want to try this again though because I made a mistake. I forgot to butt each strip against each other as I was rolling it up. I just rolled one around the other so part of the cake wasn’t quite as pretty.

    1. Absolutely delicious! A fun baking challenge, was definitely very proud of the outcome when slicing into it tonight at a family get together! Thank you for the helpful tips and video, they helped in making me feel confident that I could do it!

      – Kara

  21. This was so neat and fun to make! My only advice is to be careful of drying out the cake. I’m not sure if my oven was too hot or if it’s because I put the cake in the fridge to cool and left it overnight, but something dried it out a bit. Otherwise, give this a try!

  22. This cake is so good! Also, is it just me or is banging the pan on the counter to get the air bubbles out kind of cathartic?

  23. I made this recipe this evening and was delighted with the ease of assembly. It looked intimidating but I watched the video on YouTube about 5 times then while I made the cake and assembled it. I have not cut into it yet because it’s for a Sunday pool party but I’m sure my guests will love it! Thank you Sally for a fun and challenging recipes!

  24. This recipe is SO GOOD! My family loved this, especially my dad who has been begging me to make something lemon for days. Thank you so much for a fun challenge!

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