02 November 2009

Brazo de Mercedes

Filipino Meringue-Custard Roulade
Brazo de Mercedes (with title)
RP = Republic of the Philippines, just so you know.
When I was in Greenville, North Carolina, one of my kind hosts requested a dessert. Actually there were three mentioned: 1) Food for the Gods (to come later), 2) Tiramisu (unfortunately we couldn't find Savoiardi and I was strapped for time to make some), and 3) Brazo de Mercedes. I couldn't pass up on the opportunity to make something she missed dearly and probably couldn't get any other way in Greenville. It must have been something she really missed! It got me thinking about the things I'd miss most about the Philippines if I were to ever leave.
Brazo de Mercedes process 1

  1. Family. No matter how small the occasion, they are always there at your doorstep in a heartbeat. And I have a pretty awesome family.

  2. Books and magazines. I love Filipino bookstores. Our shelves have a massive variety of books (and yes, cookbooks) from the US, UK, Australia, Singapore, India, and China (and of course local ones). Whenever I set foot in a Borders or Barnes & Noble (any store that isn't a specialty cookbook shop), it's always all-American and there just isn't enough variety to sustain my interests (thank God for Amazon, huh?). We also catch surplus magazines from all over the world, and I save plenty by buying back issues for $1-$4 a pop.

  3. Cheap tools. I can get a very nice aluminum cake pan (straight-sided and deep, which is the ONLY way to go as far as I'm concerned) for $3. That much money in the US can only get me an aluminum foil pan (and I don't like wasteful disposables).

  4. Availability of ingredients. Though the timing can be very narrow for some items like peaches or raspberries, they eventually find their way here. But I usually can find whatever I want (though some things, like imported cheese, cost a pretty penny).

  5. The best mangoes you will find in the world. Period.

  6. The sun comes up at about 6AM and goes down about 6PM throughout the year.

  7. A $6 taxi ride will take you very far. A $25 plane ticket can take you to lovely resort islands. In the US $20 is a ten-minute taxi ride.

  8. It's a walker's country. Everyone understands that not everyone can own a car, so the streets-- even highways-- are made so you can, if you have enough energy, walk to wherever you want.

  9. All eats are cheap eats. And most are good eats. After dropping $6 for my perennial weakness-- steamed barbecued pork buns-- in the US, my heart leaps for the ones here, which go for only $1. And I can never forget the tastes of home. Which reminds me, I have to get cracking on actually learning how to make them!

I'm not a very good hypnotist, ha ha.

Brazo de Mercedes' origins are not well-known. From the name one can infer that it's actually a Spanish dessert, but it's more likely that someone slapped a Spanish name on an original Filipino dish to make it sound posh (the Philippines was a colony of Spain from 1565 to 1898). If anyone can clarify the matter for me, I'd very much appreciate it!

Brazo de Mercedes is a roulade made of a meringue sheet with a yema ("yolk") filling. It can be made with just yolks and sugar, or with milk, or in this case, condensed milk. Some people like to eat only the filling but it can be really sweet so it's better to balance it out with a bit of the meringue with each bite. It's actually not hard to make and in fact, the person who took the pictures of the procedure was inspired to make one herself. How good is it? Well, I thought the family would take it slow since it was so sweet, but it was gone in a few hours!

Brazo de Mercedes
You can decrease the sugar in the meringue to make it less sweet but take note that you may not achieve very stiff peaks (and be careful not to overbeat it). I originally cooked the custard for 14 minutes (as the original recipe was unclear), but it thickens quite a bit as it cools, so for a custard that stays put but is less firm, try 10-11 minutes instead. I noticed that after 30 minutes in a low oven, the meringue did not brown, so I broiled it for 1 minute so it would get that characteristic color. There are some recipes that call for the meringue to be baked at higher temperatures but I can't vouch for them.
  • 10 large egg whites

  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

  • 200g (1 cup) sugar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 115°C (250°F). Spray with baking spray, line with parchment, and spray again a 25x38cm (10x15 inch) sheet pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat at high speed until soft peaks form. Start to add the sugar gradually while beating until the meringue forms very stiff, shiny peaks (do not overbeat- it would be better to underdo than overdo it). Fold in the vanilla.
Brazo de Mercedes process 2
Above: soft peaks.
Brazo de Mercedes process 3
Spread the meringue evenly on the prepared pan. I covered only about 25cm (10 inches) of the length for a thicker meringue. The neatness of the ends don't matter as they will be cut off. Using a cake comb or serrated knife, make a wave pattern over the surface. Bake for 30 minutes or until set, then turn on the broiler and broil for a minute or until the surface is light brown. The surface might bubble up and get deformed, but it will settle as it cools.
Brazo de Mercedes process 4
Brazo de Mercedes process 5
Brazo de Mercedes process 6
  • 10 large egg yolks

  • 397g (1 can or 1-1/4 cup) sweetened condensed milk

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the egg yolks and condensed milk and whisk until thick, about 10-11 minutes (longer will make for a very thick custard). Take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Brazo de Mercedes process 7
Place a sheet of parchment slightly bigger than the meringue sheet on the counter and dust with confectioner's sugar (or cornstarch if there's none available). Remove the meringue sheet with its parchment from the sheet pan and invert it, parchment and all, onto the dusted parchment on the counter. Peel off the parchment it baked in. Orient the meringue so one of the long sides is in front of you. Pipe the warm filling on one of the long sides of the meringue (you can also spoon it on). Using the parchment as a guide, roll up the meringue sheet away from you, compressing it as you go so the filling is compact. Place on a serving platter and cool completely. Refrigerate until serving time. You can remove the confectioner's sugar or cornstarch by gently brushing it away with a pastry brush, or you can dust the roll with more confectioner's sugar if desired.
Brazo de Mercedes process 8
Brazo de Mercedes process 9

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