Origin: Other countries and Spain
Brazo de Gitano, which quite literally means 'Gypsy's arm', is the Spanish name for a Swiss roll. Bizarrely, the Swiss Roll was not designed in either country and is most likely to have been though of in central European countries like Germany and Hungary. However, this dessert has become an interesting home-made staple in Spain, and one that is commonly found at family meals.
The story of how this rolled sponge cake got to Spain is also bizarre. The story goes that an Italian monk in medieval times was travelling the world and discovered the dessert in a monastery in Egypt. He decided to bring the dish back to Spain where it came to be known as 'brazo egipciano' or 'Egyptian Arm'. It is thought that the name of today is simple a degeneration of the word over time.
The dessert has become very popular in Spain and many regions have their own versions and variations. If you visit Madrid, you will find that this cake is most commonly found with a cream filling, like this recipe, but you can also find ones that are covered on the outside with cream too which are called 'reina de nata' or 'Queen of Cream'. One of the most traditional Brazo de Gitanos can be found in the province of Huesca, north of Zaragoza.
Other variations in the filling include sponge cakes filled with marmalades and jam such as strawberry and blackberry jam, with cream, coffee cream and chocolate. The exterior is also subject to change and many of these Spanish cakes are covered in icing sugar, like this one, or chocolate, meringue, cream or burnt crema catalana, a custard like substance similar to the French Crème Brûlée. It is not uncommon to find almonds sprinkled on top too.
The cake has also made it across to many of the former Spanish colonies, particularly those in Latin America. In Mexico, they call it the 'niño envuelto' or 'wrapped-up child' and it is filled with a custard like cream and covered in sugar or chocolate. Meanwhile, if you visit Chile, you should look out for the cake called 'brazo de reina' (Queen's arm) which tends to be filled with dulce de leche, a kind of sweet caramel, or fruit jam. You can even find this Spanish cake in the Philippines where it is called 'brazo de Mercedes' or 'Mercedes' Arm' whose filling includes cashew nuts and vanilla.
This recipe is relatively simple and sticks mostly to the traditional style of making this Spanish cake. Of course you can always adapt the recipe and add your own extras, toppings and fillings. The rum is of course optional, but it does make the cake very tasty and the amount is so little that it is still ok for the little ones. This cake is great when served with tea or coffee, or even you are feeling a bit fancy, it works great when accompanied by some cold Spanish cava and some strawberries.