Saturday, April 22, 2017


We seem to have a lot of April birthdays in our family—grandparents, cousins, my son Benjamin. So there’s inevitably at least one birthday cake on the agenda.

My usual favorite for birthdays is a carrot cake, which is big enough to serve a party. For Ben’s spring birthday the cake was always accompanied by strawberries. Son Daniel would get pomegranates for an October birthday.

"Gypsy's arm" cake roll, lovely for spring birthdays. Serve with bubbly cava to celebrate.

This year I decided to do something different—a roulade filled with white chocolate mousse. In Spanish, it’s called brazo de gitano—meaning “gypsy’s arm,” presumably because the filled and rolled cake sort of looks like an arm. I’ve noticed that in current pastry packaging, the cake is just called “brazo.” The gypsy designation has disappeared, perhaps because singling out that ethnic group is not politically correct in this day and age.

Ben was off to a birthday barbecue afternoon, shared with a friend with a birthday the day before his. He decided that he wanted a carrot cake too. He got it started; I finished it up. Both cakes went to the party!

"Brazo" in arms.

Cake filling is a white chocolate mousse.

Cake and filling are light and sweet. Strawberries are a nice accompaniment.

“Gypsy’s Arm” (Rolled Cake with White Chocolate Filling)
Brazo de Gitano con Chocolate Blanco

Use either the Custard Cream Filling or the White Chocolate Mousse Filling for this rolled cake, also called roulade, Swiss roll or jelly roll. (You will need some custard cream to make the white chocolate mousse; the remainder can be saved for another pastry.) If using the plain custard, flavor the cake and filling with grated lemon zest. If choosing the white chocolate, flavor it with vanilla.

While still warm, roll up the sponge layer with the towel.

The cake—a simple sponge—bakes in a sheet pan lined with parchment. While still warm, unmold it onto a clean dish towel that has been lightly sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. Roll cake up with the towel.

When the filling is ready, unroll the cake, spread the filling and use the towel as a guide to roll the cake around the filling. Use the towel to lift the cake and ease it onto a serving platter. 

Makes 10 1-inch slices.

For the sponge cake roll
4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Custard cream or white chocolate mousse filling (recipes follow)
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Prepare a jellyroll pan or rimmed baking sheet, 11 X 17 inches. Brush it with oil, then place a sheet of baking parchment on the bottom.

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat them at high speed until stiff.

In another bowl, combine the yolks and sugar. Beat on medium speed until thick and pale. Beat in a quarter of the egg whites. Then fold in remaining whites.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the batter and fold it in with the vanilla.

Spread the batter evenly in the baking pan. It will be very thin. Bake until cake springs back when pressed in the center, about 12 minutes.

Spread a clean dish towel on a work surface and sprinkle it with 1 tablespoon of confectioners’ sugar. Reverse the cake while still warm onto the towel. Peel off the baking parchment. While cake is still warm, roll it with the towel into a long cylinder.

Unroll the cake and spread it with the custard cream filling or white chocolate mousse. Using the cloth as a helper, roll up the cake, enclosing the filling. Roll the cake onto a serving dish and allow it to cool.

Sift remaining powdered sugar over the top. Sift cocoa over the sugar. 

Refrigerate the cake. Use a serrated knife to slice it.

Use an offset spatula to spread mousse on the cake.

Roll the cake, enclosing the mousse filling.

The filled and rolled cake. Ends can be trimmed.

Place strips of parchment alongside the cake and sift sugar over it.  Remove parchment with excess sugar.

Sift cocoa over the sugar.

Custard Cream Cake Filling
Crema Pastelera

Makes 2 cups of custard. You will need only 2/3 cup to make the White Chocolate Mousse. The custard also can be served as a pudding or spooned over fresh fruit.

If using the custard cream for the White Chocolate Mousse, it can be prepared in advance, refrigerated, and melted along with the chocolate.

2 cups milk
1/3 cup cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or lemon zest)

In a bowl combine ½ cup of the milk and the cornstarch. Stir until it is very smooth. Add the sugar and egg yolks to the cornstarch and beat until smooth.

Scald the remaining milk. Pour it through a strainer into a heat-proof pitcher. While beating the egg mixture with a whisk, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs.

Place the custard mixture in a clean pan on a medium heat, beating constantly, until it thickens. Cook, stirring, on a low heat 5 minutes more. Remove and stir in the vanilla. Beat the custard well, then let it cool before spreading on cake.

White Chocolate Mousse Filling
Mousse de Chocolate Blanco

Chilling bowl and beaters makes whipping the cream faster.

2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
¼ cup water
2/3 cup of Custard Cream Filling (recipe above)
4 ounces white chocolate, broken into pieces
1 cup whipping cream

Sprinkle gelatin over water and allow to soften 5 minutes.

Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Put in the custard cream and the chocolate. Heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted. Add the gelatin and stir until dissolved and the custard cream is smooth. Remove from the heat. Scrape into a chilled bowl.

Fold whipped cream into white chocolate.

Beat the cream until stiff. Beat a scoop of the cream into the chocolate-custard filling, then fold the rest of the cream into the filling. Refrigerate 15 minutes. The mousse filling is now ready to spread on the cake.

Why is the cake called a "brazo"? It does sort of look like an arm.

Birthday boy, Ben, gets a carrot cake too. Not nearly enough candles!

More birthday cake recipes:

Layer Cake with Apricots and Marzipan (Bizcocho de Toledo)  
Sugar-free Almond Torte (Torta de Almendras sin Azucar)  

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