My dad has four sisters. When I was 5, one of them came to live with us. She came straight from The Philippines and moved into our tiny NYC apartment. Her name is Eloisa, however, in our family and with other Filipino friends, we never called people by their officially documented names. Everyone in our Filipino-American world had a nickname and it would be a long time until you found out a person’s “real” name.
My aunt was the second to the youngest in her family, but for some reason they called her “Baby,” just like in the movie Dirty Dancing. Out of respect for our elders, we always addressed our aunts by first using the word Tita which is aunt in Filipino and then by their nickname. Somehow, my brothers and I started calling Tita Baby, “Tita Babe” and eventually she became “Tita Babes”.For the three of us, Tita Babes was like a third parent. She moved to the States to be closer to her family and to help my parents out. Much of the immediate family had emigrated earlier to Toronto, Canada or NY. She was the last to relocate. The year she came to live with us, was also the year my mother started a full time job. Tita Babes became our own Mrs. Garrett (see TV show Facts of Life , if you don’t know Mrs. G.) She brought us to and from school, took us to the library, spent hours with us at the park, walked us to the local Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Shop and cooked a lot of tasty meals for us. Tita Babes is one of our family’s finest in the kitchen. When we got to our teens, Tita Babes left and moved into another apartment with two other sisters. We are still very close to her and she holds a very special place in our hearts.
Found this photo of the three of us with Tita Babe, the youngest one is hiding behind the stroller
Over the years, I have collected many recipes from my special Tita. Just a few years ago, she started experimenting with baking and last summer I got this recipe from her. We typically celebrate birthdays in our family with an ice cream cake or a mocha cake from our local Filipino bakery. I was surprised to find a recipe for mocha roll stuck to her refrigerator door. The combination of a mocha sponge cake and mocha buttercream frosting often graced the tables of many Filipino celebrations and was served in different ways, such as a roll, sheet cake or layered cake. This one is for the mocha roll.
The recipe I scribbled down
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Tita Babes and missing her. I am also thinking about my babies, still in my womb and this ex-pat life that my husband and I live. Separated by borders, an ocean and a time zone, we live kilometers away from our families. I can’t help but wonder if they will be lucky enough to have a Tita Babes in their lives too.
Tita Babe’s Mocha Roll
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. hot water
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Mocha Buttercream Filling & Frosting:
1/2 cup butter or a stick
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. coffee (dissolve granules in a drop of hot water)
1/4 cup cream or evaporated milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees or 180 celsius
Line a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper or grease it with butter and sprinkle with flour.
Dissolve coffee granules with hot water, from the tap is fine.
In a bowl, beat egg whites on high for about 3 minutes, until they are stiff.
In another large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar.
Beat on high for 3 minutes.
Then add flour and stir.
Fold in the egg whites and carefully blend all the ingredients.
(I use a spatula)
Finally, add the vanilla and dissolved coffee granules.
Gently mix all the ingredients together.
Then pour into pan and spread the mixture evenly.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Filling/Frosting: (You can start the filling while the cake is baking or cooling off)
Dissolve granules in a drop of hot water
and then stir into the cream.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter.
Then add sugar and continue mixing.
With the mixture running, slowly add the coffee
and cream mixture, tablespoon by tablespoon.
Otherwise, it may curdle and you will have to start
all over again.
When the cake is done, run a knife along the edges to loosen it up from the pan.
(You will have to invert the cake onto a clean kitchen towel,
so have that ready on your counter.)
Place the towel over the pan.
To ensure a good catch, I also place my cooling rack on top of of the towel.
Then hold the pan on the short end and flip it over.
Remove pan and then peel off the parchment paper.
Starting with the long side, begin to roll the cake up.
Let the cake sit in this position for at least 20 minutes or until completely cool.
When ready, carefully unroll the cake. Don’t worry about cracks, you can cover it up with the frosting.
Then spread a thin layer of cream in the middle and sides of the cake.
When it is all covered with cream, roll it up again and cut the ends off.
With the seam of the cake facing downwards, use the rest of the frosting to cover the cake.
Before serving, refrigerate cake for 30 minutes to let the frosting firm up.
You can run a fork along the cake to add some fancy ridges.
Leftover slices can be refrigerated or kept in the freezer for up to a month.