The Pionono is a Peruvian dessert made with a soft and light sponge cake that is the perfect vehicle for manjar blanco, the creamy filling used in Alfajores. The Spanish version is called Brazo de Gitano, and in other countries they use different fillings and call it a Swiss Roll, Jelly Roll, or Gâteau Roulé. But according to Gaston Acurio, the Pionono is seen less and less in Lima’s pastry shops, so inspired to keep its tradition alive, I spent three days trying different recipes, until it came out just right.
The first thing I did was make a batch of manjar blanco and set it aside. Then I got down to business and researched different recipes from Gaston Acurio’s Los Postres, Dulce Tradicion, The Culinary Institute of America’s Baking at Home, and the Joy of Cooking. And after some trial and error in the kitchen, I found the Joy of Cooking’s Jelly Roll recipe ideal for making the cake. And I came up with a rolling technique that was based on the one used in Baking at Home.
Though there are few ingredients, I found it was really important to use the right tools and proper technique for making the batter, for testing when the cake is done, and for rolling the cake. And 16 eggs, 2 1/3 cups of flour, and 2 1/2 cups of sugar later, I felt I had all the techniques down and I was truly delighted to have learned how to make this traditional Peruvian dessert. And just one bite took me back to Lima when I was a child, and every pastry shop had Pionono’s proudly displayed in their windows.
- 4 eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup cake flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 3/4 cup manjar blanco
- cooking spray
- powdered sugar for decorating
- fresh mint leaves for garnish
In addition to the ingredients above, you’ll need 3 bowls for mixing, an electric mixer with a whisk and dough hooks, a spatula, parchment paper, a clean towel, aluminum foil, and a 10″ x 15″ x 1″ jelly roll pan.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Coat the pan with cooking spray, line with a sheet of parchment paper, coat the parchment paper with cooking spray, and set aside.
- Sift the flour into a bowl, mix with the baking powder and salt, and set aside.
- In a separate bowl combine 4 egg yolks and the vanilla extract. Use an electric mixer to beat with a whisk attachment at high speed for 1 minute. Then, gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat at medium speed until the mixture is thick and pale yellow in color, about 10 minutes. Switch to the dough hooks, gradually add the flour mixture to the egg yolks, and continue to beat at slow speed until the batter is thick and smooth, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl combine 4 egg whites and the cream of tartar. Beat with the whisk attachment at medium to high speed while gradually adding 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter using a spatula, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, and spread evenly.
- Bake until the surface of the cake springs back to the touch, and is a golden color, between 12-15 minutes.
- Using oven mitts to hold the pan, carefully slide the cake out the pan and onto a working surface with the parchment side down. Sprinkle the top of the cake with about 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar and cover the cake with another piece of parchment paper. Roll the cake starting with the short end to form a 10″ log. The parchment on top of the powdered sugar will be on the inside of the log. Roll a towel around the log to keep it tightly rolled, and let cool for 20 minutes.
- Remove the towl, unroll the log, and remove the parchment paper on top. Spread the manjar blanco on top of the cake, and roll into a log again, while removing the parchment paper on the bottom of the cake.
- Cover the log with a piece of aluminum foil and refrigerate for 1 hour, seam side down.
- Remove the foil, place the log seam side down on a serving dish, and srinkle with about 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar.
- Slice into rounds and garnish with a sprig of mint.
About 12 servings.
To make the manjar blanco, combine 1 can of evaporated milk (12 oz.) and 1 can of sweet and condensed milk (14 oz.) in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until a thick, creamy, and caramel color sauce forms, about 40 minutes. This yields about 1 1/2 cups. Let cool before spreading over the cake. Rolling the cake while it’s still warm will help retain its shape without cracking on the outside. Refrigerating the log with the filling solidifies the manjar blanco before slicing. Be sure to place the log seam side down before slicing into rounds with a thin knife.