Everybody knows this cake. A homey dessert with different famous names, in Spain and Central America it is brazo gitano (gipsy´s arm); jelly roll in English; arrollado or enrollado in some parts of South America… But for us, it is, and always will be our craved pionono. Sometimes it’s filled with dulce de leche, others, with pastry cream or jelly, whipped cream, chocolate cream… the list never ends, because every person who makes it has his or her own recipe.
I first learned to make pionono with Ada and Maricarmen, two of the best cooking instructors I know. They have many recipes for the fun-looking dessert, but I like this one in particular because it´s easy and you can make it in the spur of the moment. The cake is spongy, as you can see from the picture, with a springy and tender crumb. I recommend eating it the same day you make it, but it will be fresh up to three days if wrapped carefully. However, I doubt that you won’t finish it at once because it´s sweet but far from overpowering, so very tempting and easy to gobble down in one go.
This week I was with my daughter and she wanted to learn how to make it, and I´m glad she insisted, even though we couldn´t make it together because we never had the time. I had not baked this pastry for a very long time, so long that I had forgotten how easy it was to make it, and how enjoyable the result was. Maybe I was distracted with so many sophisticated desserts out there but I’m starting to realize that the real pleasures in life are found in simple things. Sometimes, as they say, less is more.
Follow the instructions very carefully to achieve good results. If you bake the cake too long and it becomes too crispy instead of spongy, start again, and eat the cookie-like confection on the side! Why waste something so good, right? Or you can do like my friend Maria Elena, who transformed the overcooked cake into a completely new dessert, by cutting the crispy layer in small pieces and mixing it with whipped cream and fruits. To her surprise, it was a hit!!! Nobody knew the unusual pudding was meant to be a pionono, and some even asked for the recipe!
- 5 eggs, at room temperature
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- Dash of salt
- 5 tablespoon self-rising flour
- 1 can dulce de leche (manjarblanco)
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- **To serve:
- Whipped cream
- Mint leaves
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 17 x 15 x 1 inch baking pan, cover with parchment paper and grease again. You can use a larger pan to make a thinner cake but it´s up to you.
- In the mixer (make sure it’s completely clean and dry) beat the eggs at high speed until they are thick and foamy, about 7 minutes.
- Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating 7 minutes more. The egg mixture should be two or three times as high as when you started, and very thick.
- Add vanilla, salt, and lemon zest. Stop the mixer.
- Sift the flour over the egg mixture, folding very carefully with a spatula. Put the batter on the baking pan, and bake for 12 minutes. To check for doneness, touch the cake with your fingertips. If some dough sticks to them continue baking 2 more minutes. Take out of the oven.
- In the meantime, put a clean kitchen cloth on the counter, sprinkle with sugar. Turn the cake upside down over the cloth, take out the parchment, and with the help of the cloth roll the cake in the direction of your preference. Let rest on a rack, undisturbed until completely cold.
- After a couple of hours, unroll the cake, cut the borders with a sharp knife, spread the cake with dulce de leche and roll again without the cloth. Transfer to a plate, and dust the top with powdered sugar.
- To serve: cut in 1-inch thick slices and garnish with whipped cream, berries, and some mint leaves.