I posted this picture of the birthday cake my mother made for me the other day on 3(six)5, and as a result, several people asked me for the recipe. My mother is from southern Spain, and it's always a treat when she whips out her Spanish recipes. This cake is called Brazo de Gitano, which translates into "arm of a gypsy." Let's just call it by its prettier name from here on out, shall we? Otherwise it makes me think of something your mob boss uncle would bring for your birthday. It's fairly easy to make, even easier if you go my mother's route and use a box of lemon pudding (the kind you cook, not instant) in place of making the filling from scratch. I've included the instructions for making the filling as well, in case you like to make things more difficult for yourself as I do. Either way, you'll be happy with the end result!
If you're at all interested in cooking more Spanish food, I highly recommend the cookbook The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas. It's filled with very traditional recipes and gives you lots of background on the foods and wines of the vastly different regions of Spain.
Brazo de Gitano (Custard-Filled Cake Roll)
6 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar
pinch of cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
6 tablespoons sifted flour
Powdered sugar and cinnamon, or cocoa, for dusting (my mother dusted hers with cocoa)
FILLING: (If you opt to use a boxed pudding mix instead, you'll still want to fold in the whipped cream before filling the cake. It just helps to lighten the filling a bit.)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons lemon zest
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup of whipped cream
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 375 F. Line a 10 x 15 rimmed cookie sheet (also known as a jelly roll pan) with parchment paper, then grease parchment with cooking spray.
To make the cake, beat egg whites with an electric or stand mixer until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and sugar and beat until whites form soft peaks. In a separate small bowl, lightly beat egg yolks with a fork. Fold egg yolks and lemon zest into egg white mixture. Lightly fold in flour. Pour batter into prepared pan, distributing evenly. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cake is done, but only lightly golden on the bottom. If you over-bake the cake, it will be difficult to roll.
While the cake is baking, slightly dampen a kitchen towel. When cake is done, invert the cake onto the cloth while still warm. Peel off the parchment paper and roll the cake in the cloth. Cool and leave wrapped until ready to fill.
While the cake is cooling, make the filling. Place sugar and cornstarch in a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Whisk to combine. Gradually add milk, whisking until smooth. Add egg yolks, lemon zest and salt. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat, until thickened and pudding coats the back of a spoon. Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice and butter. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Chill in refrigerator until complete set, about 2 hours. Just before spreading filling onto the cake, fold in the whipped cream.
When the filling is ready, unroll the cake, leaving it on the cloth. Spread with filling. Re-roll, using the cloth to aid in rolling. Transfer to a serving dish. Dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon, or cocoa. Serves 8.
Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.