Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rosie Makes Tres Leches Cake.

I'd heard about Tres Leches Cake and have always wanted to make one. Never got around to it until today and I really shouldn't have waited so long.
Where does this ethereal nectar of the Gods come from?
Tres Leches Cake, or Three Milk Cake,
is a sponge-type cake which is perforated after baking and doused in a mixture of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream - the tres leches - resulting in a rich cake with just the right amount of sweetness. The Tres Leches cake is a sponge cake - very light with lots of air bubbles. This distinct texture is why the cake is not mushy or soggy, despite being sopped in the milk mixture. After soaking up the creamy syrup, the Tres Leches cake is extremely dense and moist, almost like a custard. The history of this cake is disputed. It is thought to have originated in Nicaragua and is quite popular there as well as in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala. Some say the origin of this recipe came from the back of a condensed milk or evaporated milk can in Latin America to promote the use of the product. Sweetened condensed milk came into use in the mid-1850's as a way to preserve milk in cans without refrigeration. Evaporated milk became available during the 1870's when the milk companies were able to heat the milk so it would not spoil in cans, making the sugar unnecessary. Both became successful in areas where fresh milk was difficult to store and distribute. Both condensed and evaporated milk were sold throughout Central and South American and the Caribbean. This cake became popular in the early 1900's and even today, the use of condensed and evaporated milk is part of Latin American culture. The Nestle company also claims to have been behind the evolution of the Tres Leches recipe during World War II. Nestle established manufacturing plants in Mexico right around World War II and routinely published recipes on the can labels. The Tres Leches was indeed one of those recipes. The idea for creating a cake soaked in liquid is probably of European origin, as similar cakes - rum cake, trifle, zuppa inglese, bread pudding, tiramisu, and even French toast, use this method.
Now, in case you're wondering what exactly is evaporated milk and what is condensed milk, I'll tell you. Evaporated milk is fresh milk from which 60% of the water is removed before the milk is homogenized, fortified, canned, and sterilized. Condensed milk is a mixture of 55-60% whole milk and 40-45% sugar, heated until 60% of the water evaporates, resulting in a sweet, viscous milk syrup. Both products were developed in the 19th century as a means to deliver milk nutrients without refrigeration, and, like many now-common convenience foods, they were first adopted by the US military.
Tres Leches Cake
Cake: 5 large eggs, separated 1 cup sugar, divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup 1/3 cup heavy cream 1 - 2 tsp vanilla 1 cup flour 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp cream of tartar Milk Syrup 1 12-oz can evaporated milk 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk 1 cup heavy cream 1-2 tsp vanilla extract (to taste) 1/4 - 1/2 cup rum (to taste)
Heat oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. CAKE: Beat egg yolks and gradually add in 3/4 cup sugar. Increase speed and beat for about 5 minutes, until the yolks are light and fluffy and have changed color to a light yellow. Gently fold in the cream, vanilla, flour, and baking powder. Beat egg whites to soft peaks, adding the cream of tartar to after about 30 seconds. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating on high until the whites are glossy and firm, not dry. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Pour batter into buttered baking dish. Bake about 40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack. Unmold onto a large platter. Pierce cake all over with a fork. Milk Syrup: Combine tres leches, vanilla, and rum, whisking until well blended. Pour syrup over the cake, spooning the overflow back on top, until it's all absorbed.
My mise en place for the cake: 5 egg yolks 3/4 cup sugar 1/3 cup cream 1-2 tsp vanilla extract 1 cup flour 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 5 egg whites 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Slowly add in 3/4 cup sugar to the beaten yolks.
Gradually increase speed.
Beat for about 5 minutes until your egg yolk and sugar mixture looks like this.
Gently fold in cream ...
... vanilla extract ...
... and flour.
Fold until flour is incorporated into batter. Lastly, fold in baking powder.
Batter is ready for the beaten egg white mixture.
While I was working on the egg yolk mixture, I started on the egg whites so they'd be ready when the dry ingredients were completely folded into the egg yolks. Beat the 5 whites.
After about 30 seconds, add in the cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is a stabilizer for egg whites, increasing heat tolerance and volume. FYI, cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate, is a byproduct of winemaking. Cream of tartar is obtained when tartaric acid is half neutralized with potassium hydroxide, transforming it into a salt. Grapes are the only significant natural source of tartaric acid and cream of tartar is obtained from sediment produced in the process of making wine. Potassium bitartrate crystallizes in wine casks during fermentation. The crystals are collected, filtered, and purified to produce the acidic salt, cream of tartar, we use in baking. It has been reported that traces of calcium tartrate found in a pottery jar in the ruins of a village in Northern Iran are evidence that wine was being made more than 7000 years ago.
Increase speed.
Gradually add in remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
Beat about 4 - 5 minutes - until you have shiny, glossy whites.
Gently fold whites into yolk batter.
Spread evenly into prepared pan.
Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely before pouring the syrup.
I cut it in half so you can see the texture, plus I didn't have a platter big enough to put the whole cake in.
I lined my platters with wax paper, then placed the cake on top. Makes for a cleaner work area. This piece of cake pulls right out. Easily. After the syrup is all absorbed, you can pull the wax sheets out.
While the cake was still cooling, I started on my milk syrup.
Mise en place: 1 12-oz can of evaporated milk 1 14-oz can of sweetened condensed milk 1 cup heavy cream vanilla extract, to taste 1/4 - 1/2 cup rum, to taste Whisk all ingredients until well blended.
Evaporated milk in.
Sweetened condensed milk in.
Heavy cream in.
Prick the cake all over, being careful not to tear.
Slowly pour the milk syrup over top
allowing the cake to soak up the syrup.
Scoop up any excess and pour it back over the cake.
After all the syrup has been absorbed, pull out wax paper.
What, you say? Not much to look at? Then close your eyes ...
... which is what you'll be doing anyway upon the first mouthful. When you bite into it for the very first time. Moaning may be involved also, just to let you know.
Don't wait as long as I did to make this.
The texture is custardy. The cake is sublime. The cake is divine.
And the flavor is wonderfully sweet, and slightly vanilla-ey, and rum-ey.
In my researching (i.e. googling) recipes for Tres Leches cake, I found numerous variations on the basic theme. Some instructed me to make a stove top meringue and spread the top and sides with the meringue. Others suggested a whipped cream topping. Still others proposed drizzling a Dulce de Leche over top, essentially making this a Cuatro Leches Cake. I opted out of all those recommendations, because this cake was perfectly fine on its own.
Make this. You and your family will be so happy you did.
This is another one where you just need to trust Rosie.


zzzadig said...

Perfectly executed as usual. Ain't it grand?

Rosie Hawthorne said...

'twas, Zzzadig.

partyforevermore said...

How would I make this for a 11x15 sheet cake ? This looks delicious^_^

Rosie Hawthorne said...

partyforevermore, I don't know if this would work for a sheet cake. I would feel more comfortable using the baking pan since it's deeper.