Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tres Leches cake

Making a cake from scratch seemed a bit daunting. I’ve seen the process; I have helped in it, but I had never attempted the feat. After having all the ingredients for this recipe sitting there on the shelf for a week, I decided it was time to take the plunge and bake my first cake from scratch.

However, this was not any cake. It was the magical blend of flavors and textures called tres leches. Along with flan, this cake is a dessert staple in many Hispanic countries. It’s basically a simple vanilla cake that has been soaked with a combination of evaporated milk, heavy cream and condensed milk and is topped with whipped cream.

Cake and milk... Doesn’t seem too exotic or complicated. What makes this dessert special though are the layers upon layers of awesomeness. First we have cake. Simple, yes, but we can all agree it’s always yummy. Now on top of that (or rather, seeping throughout) imagine the sweetness of condensed milk, the smoothness of evaporated milk and the richness of heavy cream. The finishing touch is a thick layer of homemade whipped cream on top. Just cool, barely there sweetness.


As for the ingredients, they were pretty cheap. I spent approximately $15 (and I had to get everything, including flour and sugar) and have plenty of leftover for other yummies. This recipe will yield at least 12 servings. Not bad at all. Keep in mind also that the recipe can be halved in order to make a smaller cake.

But anyway, let’s move on to the recipe.

2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp. of baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup water
Vanilla extract
1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
Whipped cream (to make at home, use two cups of heavy cream, 3 tsp. sugar and vanilla extract)

Start by cracking the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Mix well for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sugar and eggs are well blended. This can be done with a mixer. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt (ideally, sift it three times), and add it little by little to the mixed eggs and sugar. Add the water and the vanilla extract (to taste, I used 1 tbsp.). Now, mix well one last time with a spatula or wooden spoon. Pour the batter into greased and floured baking dish. A baking pan can be used, but with this dessert I prefer using a Pyrex glass baking dish. Ideally, you want to prep the dessert and leave it in the pan it was cooked. A glass baking dish just looks better for presentation.

Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes (make sure to preheat the oven).

Blend the evaporated milk, condensed milk and the heavy cream.

Once the cake is done, take out of the oven and, while it’s still hot, pierce its surface with a fork. You want to do this throughout the cake so that the milk mixture will seep through well. Now pour the blended milk mixture over the cake.

Let it cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least an hour. Finish up by covering the cake with the whipped cream.

The easiest way to make the whipped cream is with an electrical mixer and they key thing is the making sure everything is as cold as possible. You can even put the heavy cream in the freezer and take it out right before it freezes. It’s also a good idea to put the bowl you’re mixing the cream in and the beaters in the freezer for a while. If this is not possible, you can also put the bowl you’re using to mix the heavy cream into a larger bowl that has ice in it. Mix the heavy cream until it thickens to the desired consistency. While mixing add the teaspoons of sugar and vanilla. While I used 3 tsp. of sugar, this is to taste. Just keep in mind that this dessert is pretty sweet and you don’t want to ruin it by putting overly sweet whipped cream on top of it.

So, how did it turn out? Perfect, I’d like to say, but that wasn’t the case. While my whipped cream and milk mixture came out delicious, the cake didn’t quite rise as expected. While it’s edible and decent, but it wasn’t as spongy and fluffy as I wanted it to be. As a result, the milk mixture did not seep through as well as it should have.

In this case, I would say I made two mistakes. I should have sifted the flour three times instead of only once. I also over-mixed the batter (once I added the water, I used a mixer to mix it in, instead of a spatula). In order to avoid this, make sure to stop mixing once all the ingredients in the batter are well mixed and while it still has tiny bubbles in it. This is what makes the cake rise to fluffy goodness.

Ok, so my first made from scratch cake didn’t turn out as awesome as I had hoped. My fantasies of sending some of it to friends and neighbors were destroyed. I am not a Tres Leches queen. Still, this came out well for a first attempt and the flavor that can be achieved with this recipe is amazing. Just follow the instructions closely, don’t mix the little bubbles in your batter into oblivion and enjoy!

And thanks to my friend Marcela, for being a Tres Leches and heavy cream whipping sensei! All the tips for the whipped cream came from her. The recipe (same one I used) was translated from Spanish (para los hispanos que les interese). You can see it here.

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