This fluffy, delicately flavored cake roll has a sweet-tart guava filling and gets a liberal (at least in my house) dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon.
It's an extraordinary cake to serve with your afternoon coffee or a treat to end your evening meals. Not only does it make the prettiest slices, but something about serving guava makes it so much more special. I mean, when was the last time you ate a guava dessert?
Truth be told, this has been my breakfast more times than I can count. Saying this guava cake is worth the small amount of effort it takes to bake, roll, and chill, would be an understatement.
What is Brazo Gitano?
The proper Spanish name for this dessert is Brazo de Gitano, which means "Gypsy's Arm.”
In good colloquial Spanish, we've shortened it to Brazo Gitano. This guava-filled sponge cake can be considered the tropical version of a jelly roll cake.
My family tops our rolled Brazo Gitano with a liberal (meaning don't inhale too forcefully or you'll choke on it) dusting of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Other families just top theirs with powdered sugar or nothing at all.
As kids we enjoyed it in the living room with café con leche (yes, we drank coffee) and always within earshot of the adults who were dishing out the latest family and neighborhood gossip.
Brazo Gitano Origin Story
Though this type of cake is very popular in many Spanish-speaking countries, no one seems to have the true story about where the name Brazo Gitano came from.
I was told that it's a throwback to medieval days. Some holy man returned with the dessert, having traveled from, "where the gypsies live." That didn't educate me at all, considering gypsies lived everywhere from India to Romania.
Like the Swiss roll, which, as far as anyone can ascertain, isn’t from Switzerland, the origin of the cake itself is just as shrouded. Many countries, including non-Spanish speaking nations, have a version of this jelly roll-style cake. Though there's no solid evidence of where the dessert or the name comes from we do know that it's sweet and tasty!
All About Guava
Instead of exerting tons of effort to make guava paste from scratch I use store bought guava paste or guava jelly. Either will work in this recipe and there are pros and cons to both.
Guava paste has a very thick, almost taffy-like consistency. Depending on the brand you choose it may come in a round pack inside of a thin, metal tin, or in a square wrapped in plastic. To use it, dice the paste and microwave it until it is loose, then whisk it smooth. It's tart and sweet simultaneously, so it lends its flavor well to sweet and savory dishes alike.
The name guava comes from the Arawak word guayabo, nearly identical to the Spanish word for guava: guayaba. Look for packaging labeled guayaba when seeking out the paste to make this dessert. Most grocery stores have a small Hispanic-Caribbean section which is where you’ll be able to find this product.
When I can't find guava paste, I dump a bottle of guava jelly on the cake instead. Guava jelly is just like most fruit jellies, except it leans more tart than sweet. Guava jelly is a great stand-in for the paste.
The paste is a thicker, stickier product that will set up firm after refrigerating. The jelly is easier to work with initially since you don't need to microwave it to smooth it out; however, it also oozes more after slicing the finished brazo gitano.
Tips and Tricks for Making Brazo Gitano
Making the perfect Brazo Gitano is easy. Just keep a few things in mind so your cake sets properly and you end up with a nice, tight roll:
- You will need a half sheet jelly roll pan (18 x 13 x 2-inches) to bake the Brazo Gitano in. This just means the sheet pan should have four sides.
- When preparing the jelly roll pan, don't grease the sides. This gives the sponge cake something to "grip" onto while baking, helping it rise.
- Gently rap the pan against the countertop to expel any large bubbles before baking the sponge cake. Bubbles that break during baking leave a hole in the cake that can contribute to the cake breaking or tearing as you roll it.
- Avoid over-baking the cake, or it will dry out and become more susceptible to cracking when you go to roll it.
- Using an old tea towel (one that you're okay with staining) is a great way to get a tight roll on the Brazo Gitano. You can also use parchment paper to do this. Pull back in the bulky part of the roll (towards the cake) as you’re rolling it to cinch it into tight tube.
- Dust your towel with the cinnamon-sugar mix to keep it from sticking when you roll it.
- Rolling the cake up while it's still hot and letting it to cool in that position keeps it from breaking after you fill it and re-roll it.
Jelly Roll Filling and Flavor Suggestions
A brazo gitano is commonly filled with guava, but feel free to swap out the filling to create your own unique roll.
- Instead of guava paste, use your favorite flavors of curd, jams, jellies or preserves. Passion fruit curd is a favorite of mine.
- Dulce de leche, cajeta, or chocolate ganache are also great fillings.
- Replace the almond extract with vanilla extract (or any extract), amaretto, brandy, or rum.
- Sprinkle chopped nuts, toasted coconut flakes, or sprinkles over the rolled and iced cake.
Brazo Gitano Swaps and Subs
To go a step farther in creating your own unique version of this recipe, consider making small tweaks to the toppings or adding your chocolate.
- Omit the ground cinnamon in the powdered sugar and just dust the cake with powdered sugar or dust the roll with granulated sugar instead.
- Replace the guava filling with custard or a stabilized whipped cream.
- Glaze your brazo gitano in dark, milk, semi-sweet or white chocolate ganache.
Make Ahead and How to Store
Since the cake needs to chill in the fridge for an hour before slicing and serving, making it ahead is ideal.
Make it a day ahead of when you want to serve it and let it hang out in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Keep the roll wrapped tight up until you plan to serve it and always use a very sharp knife to slice it. This ensures you get nice, clean slices. Cleaning the knife off between slices keeps things picture perfect.
After serving the cake, you can transfer the sliced Brazo Gitano to a covered container (or wrap it) and store it on the counter at room temp for 2 days or in the fridge for 4 days.
As the cake sits, the powdered sugar topping will dissolve into the cake. The flavor will still be there, but you can re-dust it or enjoy it as is.
More Cake Recipes to Try
Brazo Gitano (Guava Jelly Roll Cake)
- Baking spray
- 1 1/4 cups (150g) cake flour
- 1/4 cup (30g) cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon (2g) baking powder
- 4 large eggs, yolks and whites separated and at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups (250g) granulated sugar, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon (3g) kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 cup (125ml) whole milk, room temperature
- 1/3 cup (32g) powdered sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 14 ounces (392g) guava paste or 1 cup (290g) guava jelly
Preheat your oven and prepare sheet pan:
Preheat your oven to 400°F (204°C). Lightly spray the bottom (not the sides) of a half-sheet pan with baking spray or brush it with melted butter. Line the bottom of the sheet pan with parchment paper.
Sift the dry ingredients:
In a medium bowl sift together the cake flour, cornstarch, and baking powder twice, this aerates the flour and helps yield a tender cake. Set the bowl aside.
Whip egg whites:
In a large mixing bowl add the egg whites. Use a hand mixer (or a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment) to begin whipping the egg whites on low speed for 30-45 seconds or until they look foamy. If you have a whip attachment for your hand mixer use that. If not, the beaters will work fine.
Once foamy, continue whipping at low speed, and gradually sprinkle 1/2 cup (100g) of the granulated sugar into the bowl of egg whites.
Increase the speed to medium-high and whip the whites until they hold a stiff peak when the beaters are removed. When you lift the beaters from the bowl, the egg whites should stand straight up. Also, the whites on the beaters will stick straight out. This should take 6-7 minutes.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar:
In a separate large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks, the remaining sugar, salt, and extract using the same beaters (no need to clean them), at low speed, 30-45 seconds until light and fluffy. Once combined, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.
Increase the mixing speed to medium-high and beat the yolk-sugar mixture for 3-4 minutes, or until it is lemony-yellow in appearance and the sugar is nearly dissolved.
To test this, dip your finger into the mixture and rub it between your finger and thumb. You should feel minimal sugar crystals.
Add the milk to the egg and sugar mixture:
Add the milk into the bowl with the yolk-sugar mixture, then with the mixer at low speed, blend until fully incorporated.
Add the flour:
Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl with the yolk, sugar and milk mixture.
Use a large rubber spatula to gently fold the flour into the mixture. To do this, start at the sides of the bowl, push down toward the bottom then pull up through the center. Rotate the bowl and repeat this process until the flour is fully incorporated.
Do this gently to avoid deflating the eggs too much and until no streaks of flour remain. This is your batter.
Gently fold in the egg whites in two parts:
Place half of the whipped egg whites on top of the batter. Fold the whipped whites into the batter using the same movements above.
Once the whites are almost fully incorporated, minimal streaks of yellow and white will remain, add the remaining egg whites. Fold these in just until no white streaks remain.
Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan:
Pour the batter into the prepared sheet pan. Use an offset spatula to spread the batter level in the pan. Give the pan 3 or 4 gentle taps against the countertop to expel any large bubbles. Bake the cake until it has risen and is golden brown, 10-12 minutes.
Make the cinnamon sugar mixture and dust tea towel:
While the cake bakes, in a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and ground cinnamon.
Lightly dust a clean tea towel by sifting 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture over it. Reserve the remaining cinnamon-sugar mix for topping the finished roll.
Remove cake from sheet pan, roll, and cool:
Once you’ve removed the cake from the oven use a knife to separate the cake from the sides of the pan and immediately flip the cake onto the sugared towel. Try not to hold the pan up too high, or you'll make more of a mess with the sugar.
Quickly, but carefully (it's hot!), starting with the long side, roll the cake into a tube shape. Allow the cake to cool in this shape, seam side down, for 45 minutes.
Prepare the guava paste (if using):
Toward the end of the cooling time prepare the guava paste (if using). Cut the block into 1/2-inch cubes and put these cubes into a 3-cup microwave-safe bowl. Heat the guava paste for 45 seconds to 1 minute or until the cubes begin to look glossy. Use a whisk to stir the guava paste until smooth.
If you're using guava jelly, you only need to whisk it until smooth. There is no need to heat it up.
Unroll the cake, fill, and re-roll it:
Once the cake has cooled and is no longer warm to the touch, carefully unroll it and remove the parchment paper.
Spread a 1/8-1/4-inch layer of the guava onto the cake, leaving a 1-inch margin on one of the long ends.
Beginning on the guava-covered long end, tightly roll the cake back into a tube. Use the towel to roll the tube tightly toward the other end.
Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate:
Wrap the cake tube snugly in plastic film. Twist the ends of the wrapping to create a tight cylindrical shape.
Refrigerate the Brazo Gitano for at least 1 hour, but preferably 2 hours.
Dust cake with cinnamon sugar and serve:
Unwrap and generously dust the brazo gitano with the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture. Slice and serve. Enjoy within 4 days.