Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pastel Tres Leches

Our friend Jess, who is also a native Californian living in the barren Wasteland of Mexican Food that is Boston, recently threw a potluck BASH featuring only Mexican delicacies. There were enchiladas, chile rellenos, pozole, tamales, beans and rice and my contribution to the fiesta - Pastel Tres Leches or Three Milk Cake. I've never made it before, never even eaten it before but I've longed for it for a very long time. Approximately 100 years ago I bought this amazing Mexican cookbook (Mexico The Beautiful Cookbook, Susanna Palazuelos) - it was one of those things you find in the lobby of a Barnes and Noble on sale for, like, a dollar. Its one of the best cookbooks I've ever purchased - the recipes are authentic and the pictures are gorgeous, not only of the delicious food but also of all the regions of Mexico, which is how the book is segmented. There is a Pastel Tres Leches recipe that I have been eyeing since I bought this book and I finally made it - and now I will make it whenever I can. It is a pretty dense cake that gets soaked with a combination of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and cream (the tres leches) and topped with a lime meringue. Believe me when I say this cake was refreshing...refreshing! Who ever heard of a refreshing cake? This is it. It isn't too complicated and it was actually pretty fun to make, a nice departure from your standard baking operation. I hope you try it and enjoy it!

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
7 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 can (12 fl oz) evaporated milk
1 can (14 fl oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brandy (optional, I didn't use it)

6 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 inch spring-form pan. Sift the flour and baking powder together.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites (I used an electric mixture as the recipe recommended, I'm sure a kitchen aid would be fine) until frothy. Add the sugar and beat to form stiff peaks, then add the egg yolks one at a time. Turn down the mixer to a slower speed and add one third of the flour and one third of the milk. Repeat until all the flour and milk are incorporated, then add the vanilla. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes and remove from the pan. Once cooled, cut the cake into 3 layers.

In a bowl combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream. Stir in the brandy, if you're using it. Pour one third of the milk mixture over the bottom layer of cake, set the middle layer on top, pour another third of the milk mixture over that, put on the top layer and pour the remaining milk mixture over it.

A couple things: 1) I cut off the very top of my cake before cutting into three layers so that it would be flat - I recommend this as otherwise the milk will slide right down the sides. 2) the cake will soak up the majority of the milk, but I definitely had some overflow, so make sure the cake is on a plate with sides so it doesn't spill all over your counters. I did have to pour some milk off that the cake didn't end up soaking into it. 3) as you can see, my layers weren't totally even - if you know how to do that, more power to you - but, you'll end up covering it with frosting anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

To prepare the frosting, beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a large bowl until the whites hold soft peaks and set aside.

Mix the water, sugar and lime zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-heat and cook until a candy thermometer registers 238 degrees or soft ball stage.**

**Guess what? I don't have a candy thermometer. I sort of got it to the soft ball stage - you know, where you drop some of the molten sugar syrup in a glass of cold water and it forms a soft ball...sort of. So, what I'm trying to say is, if you have a candy thermometer, great! Use it and I'm sure this step will be a lot easier. But if you don't, just go with it and I don't think you'll ruin it too badly, especially since I didn't.**

Remove from heat and add the syrup to the beaten egg whites in a thin stream. Beat for 6 minutes or until the mixture is stiff. It will get voluminous and although it started out a little yellow-y it will turn a snowy white.

Cover the top and sides of the cake with the frosting and refrigerate until just before serving. Its this last part (the refrigeration) that really added to the refreshment...nice and cool, moist with a subtle nutty-sweet flavor complimented by the lime in the frosting. Sorry there are no pictures of the inside - we ate it all up!

I garnished mine with lime peel, you could easily use some beautiful fresh flowers or just leave it as is!

1 comment: