Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hecho en Mexico - Tres Leches Cake

Soaking cake with liquids is a common practice across the globe.  And while liquor or liqueurs are a common choice, such as Rum Cake, Real Fruit Cake, and most Genoise based cakes, there is nothing that is quite as extreme as the famed Tres Leches of Mexico.  Dare I say it, even the Coconut Milk cake my mom use to make when I was a kid, falls short of this gorgeous galette. (though it is a really close second... Love ya mom!)

Tres Leches Cake is kind of a paradox, both in flavor and in texture.  One would expect that the cake would be soggy, but it's surprisingly moist and tender.  One would expect it to be a cloyingly sweet, however it has more of a delicate "creamy" flavor than anything else.  One would expect this soaked cake to be a heavy dessert suitable for wintertime, but on the contrary, it is surprisingly light and refreshing, making it an excellent dessert on the hottest of summer days.

So what exactly is Tres Leches Cake?  Direct translation is "Three Milks" cake, for this is what the soaking liquid consists of -- Evaporated Milk, Sweetened Condensed Milk and Heavy Cream (or Half & Half) This liquid is poured over a very "dry" sponge cake, allowing the "sponge" to soak up the lucious milkiness, thus providing a tender and utterly moist, but light cake.  On top of this, the whole thing is generously slathered with unsweetened or very lightly sweetened whipped cream. Sinful!  My own recipe uses milk in the sponge cake itself, so I guess it's kind of a Quatro Leches cake; but why argue semantics?

I was exposed to Tres Leches cake almost 14 years ago, when I first moved to San Diego.  I went to a real Mexican restaurant, as opposed to the Tex-Mex & Southwestern food that is normally passed off as "Mexican".  I was enjoying that infamous Baja Californian dish known as the Fish Taco and decided I wanted some dessert.  They recommended the Tres Leches cake....  Luckily, I had had 3 years of Spanish in school, so I figured that 3 milks cake would be harmless enough and had a piece.

Boy was I wrong!  This cake is completely addictive.  It is SO light and SO creamy and SO delicious.  I could sit and eat it ALL day long... And I don't even like cake!  I got a second piece to take home, so I could be alone with my new found guilty pleasure.

Needless to say, I don't make this cake very often.  I purposefully forget that I know how to make it.  It's a matter of waistline preservation that forces me into the self inflicted memory loss.  But I have accessed the darkest recesses of my mind, where said cake knowledge is stored, on a couple of occasions; one being my friend Joe's birthday several years ago.  Some of my Bakspace peeps know him as "espressojoe".  Though I must admit, I was attempting to make a layered version (it's usually a 13x9 single layer sheet cake) and got a little carried away, resulting in a less than stellar rendition of said cake. (4 layers was just too high)

After this, I buried the recipe in my sub-conscious again... Up until a week ago, when I inquired of my little brother what sort of cake he would desire for HIS birthday.  I thought he would ask for German's Chocolate cake, since that is the traditional celebratory dessert for both him and my dad.  I was slightly taken aback when he burst out with "I really want a Tres Leches cake.  Do you know how to make one?"

Oh God, do I EVER!!!

So having learned from previous layering experiences, I decided to reign myself in this time and stick to 2 layers, thus not disturbing the outside crumb of the cake.  So armed with 8x8 square pans (round does not work, the cake is too tender to foster cutting a radial pattern from the center of a round cake) I embarked upon Tres Leches Nirvana.

Tres Leches Cake

Butter & Flour, for cake pans
7 Large Eggs, separated
2 cups (10.3 oz) (290 g) AP Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 cup (7.2 oz) (205 g) Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract (preferably Mexican Vanilla)
3/4 cup (170 ml) Whole Milk
14 oz net wt (1 can) (396 g) Sweetened Condensed Milk
12 oz (1 can) (355 ml) Evaporated Milk
3 cups (715 ml) Heavy Cream, divided
2 tsp Gelatin
2 TB Water
2 TB Confectioners' Sugar

Begin by separating the Eggs.

Butter and flour 2 8-inch square cake pans, then set aside.

In a small bowl, combine Flour, Baking Powder, and Salt with a whisk, then set aside.

Place Sugar, Vanilla Extract and Egg Yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment.

Whisk on medium speed until pale and fluffy.

Turn the mixer low and slowly add 1/4 cup of the milk.

Follow this with half of the Flour mixture.

Another 1/4 cup of the milk, then the remaining Flour mixture.

Finally, add the remaining Milk.

Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, place egg whites in a bowl (I use copper wiped down with salt and vinegar then dried out)

Beat the Egg whites until they hold firm peaks.

Fold the Egg whites into the batter in three additions.

Divide the resulting batter between the 2 cake pans.

Bake for 25 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cakes are baking, whisk 1 cup (227 ml) Heavy Cream with the Sweetened Condensed Milk and the Evaporated Milk, together in a pitcher (this will make it easier to pour over the cakes)

When the cakes are done baking, remove them from the pans immediately and onto a rimmed baking sheet and poke holes all over the surface of the hot cakes with a fork.

Begin pouring the milk mixture over the cakes, VERY SLOWLY, to allow it to be absorbed.  (this must be done while the cakes are still hot from the oven, or they will not absorb all the liquid)

Once the "milk" has been absorbed, move the cakes to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but preferably over night.

Make the Stabilized Whipped Cream ---  This is important, if the cake begins to "weep" milk, the gelatin in the whipped cream will help absorb it.

So, bloom the gelatin in a small ramekin for 5 minutes.

Place your whipping implements in the freezer.

Prepare an ice water bath in the sink.

Warm the gelatin in a water bath until it dissolves, then set aside.

Combine 2 cups (473 ml) of Heavy Cream and confectioners' sugar in the frozen bowl, set the bowl in the ice bath and beat the Cream until it holds firm peaks.

Using a hand whisk, whisk in the gelatin.

Remove the Stabilized whipped cream from the ice bath, and remove the soaked cakes from the refrigerator.

Remove 3/4 cup of the whipped cream for piping decorations and set it aside. 

Select a rimmed dish for assembly.

Place the first layer down and cover with 1/2 -3/4 cup of the whipped cream.

Lay down the second layer and frost with the remaining whipped cream.

Place the reserved whipped cream in a pastry bag and pipe some simple decorations. (You can also sprinkle with Coconut if you like - Do not decorate with Pineapple until right before serving, the bromelain in the pineapple will break down the gelatin and you will have a soupy top)

Cover and chill for 4 hours.

Keep chilled until ready to serve.....  

I am very thankful that this cake is safely deposited at my brother's house... LOL  I could have eaten the whole thing myself.


More decorating ideas can be located in Hoppy Birthday and Pretty Pansies


Bo said...

Nice job with the frosting...My cakes usually look like train wrecks.

Patti T. said...

How can I ever thank you for all that I have learned from you over the years? Thank you, I was wondering about the gelatin in the icing, what a great thing to have learned. I made this cake many many years ago but you have made me want to make one again SOON! I enjoy your blog very very much.