Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Based on the title alone, I personally wouldn’t eat a dish called the “arm of Mercedes,” named after Our Lady of Mercy, even if it promises some divine gift. But this pillowy meringue roll filled with a rich citrus-scented custard is irresistible. It is a true celebration of eggs: A dozen egg whites are whipped up to make the baked meringue and a dozen egg yolks enrich the custard. In the past, this meringue custard roll was reserved for special events and gatherings, but in recent times, bakery chains have made it widely accessible. It is now often served as a merienda (snack) or an after-dinner panghimagas (dessert).

I have a deep connection to this saccharine treat. As a kid I had such a massive sweet tooth that my lola (grandmother) used to hide and ration chocolates and candies at home. That didn’t deter me from grabbing a sweet snack from a panaderia on my way home from school. I used to drool over these custard-filled meringue logs and would beg my aunt to buy me a slice to take home, although it rarely made it all the way home intact. The version I remember best from one particular panaderia had custard with a distinct citrusy tone. I later found out it used the zest from dayap, popularly known as key lime. In further research I learned that zests from native citrus like calamansi or pomelo are sometimes used as well.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

The core of this dish is the sweet and citrus-tinged custard that is enveloped in the airy meringue. The inspiration for the custard is yema (Spanish for “egg yolk”), a sweet, soft confection made with egg yolks and sugar that’s thickened and shaped into balls or pyramids and wrapped in colorful cellophane. Some variants of yema include chopped peanuts or cashews, and milk or condensed milk.

It’s believed that yema originated in the Philippines during the Spanish colonization. Egg whites and egg shells were mixed with limestone and crushed coral and used as construction material to build churches. The eggs’ albumen proved to be such a strong adhesive that a lot of these colonial churches are still standing today. To use the surplus of discarded egg yolks, Filipinos incorporated them into custard confections such as yema.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Sadly, as an adult, I no longer have the same palate for indulgently sweet desserts. So in my yema-inspired custard, I’ve used ground cashews and a generous amount of lemon zest to cut through the sweetness. The addition of heavy cream ensures a smooth and creamy texture. Toasting the sugar for the meringue provides welcome caramel notes that transform the final dessert from a cloyingly sweet confection to a more balanced dessert I now savor as an adult.

Despite its grown-up refinements, my brazo de Mercedes recipe still calls back to the flavor of those rainbow-colored balls of yema, the egg yolk candy I loved as a child. This sweet arm of Mercedes may not be divine, but it magically makes me feel 7 years old again.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

For the Custard: In a food processor, pulse cashews with the sugar, scraping down as needed, until cashews are finely ground, about 6 pulses. Reserve 1/4 cup ground cashews and save remaining ground cashews for another use. Wash and dry food processor bowl and blade, then set aside.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Fill a large bowl halfway with an ice bath; set aside. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, whisk egg yolks and condensed milk until combined. Whisk in heavy cream, lemon zest, vanilla, salt, and reserved 1/4 cup ground cashews until well combined. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until custard thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer custard to a heat-proof bowl and place plastic wrap directly on its surface to prevent skin from forming. Nestle bowl of custard into ice bath to chill.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

For the Meringue: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃). Spread superfine sugar evenly into a 10-inch oven-safe skillet and bake until sugar has a strong caramel aroma and is light beige in color, 15 to 30 minutes. (Read about this quick-toasted sugar method for more tips and pointers on the process.) Scrape sugar onto a rimmed baking sheet and let cool completely, about 15 minutes.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

In now-empty food processor, process toasted sugar until finely ground, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Line baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease with baking spray. Using a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until white and frothy, 5 to 7 minutes. Increase speed to high and gradually add toasted sugar in thin, steady stream. Continue mixing on high speed until sugar is fully dissolved and the meringue holds stiff peaks, about 7 minutes.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Pour meringue onto prepared baking sheet, using an offset spatula to spread into an even layer. Use the tines of a fork to make a wood-grain pattern lengthwise over entire surface of meringue, running the length of the pan. Bake until the top of meringue is light golden brown and the fork pattern is well defined, about 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to wire rack and let stand until fully cooled, about 30 minutes.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

To Assemble and Serve: Run a small knife along edge of baking sheet to loosen meringue. Use a fine-mesh strainer to dust top of baked meringue evenly with confectioners’ sugar. Place a clean sheet of parchment paper on top of meringue, then carefully invert meringue onto a clean inverted baking sheet.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Carefully remove parchment from now-top side of meringue. Spread custard filling evenly over meringue, leaving a 1/2-inch margin on each side. Starting with the long side, gently roll the meringue and filling into a jelly roll shape, leaving the parchment paper behind as you go. Cover with parchment paper and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Cut into 1-inch-thick slices and serve.

Serious Eats / Rezel Kealoha

Special Equipment

Stand mixer with whisk attachment, 2 rimmed baking sheets, fine-mesh strainer, food processor, parchment paper, offset spatula

Notes

Take note that baking spray is different from cooking spray, as baking spray contains flour, while cooking spray does not.

Be firm when rolling the meringue to create the desired coil shape, but gentle enough so that you do not squeeze the custard filling out of the ends.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The custard can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

The finished brazo de Mercedes can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 5 days.

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