Monday, January 21, 2008

Tres Leches and Miami

Mmm, this is what I had for breakfast this morning.  It was sweet, refreshing, and it brought back some wonderful childhood memories.  I grew up in Miami, where I often enjoyed the many Cuban pastries and sweets that were widely available in bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants there.  My favorite thing to do when I was small was to buy a few guava pastries (pastelitos de guayaba) on a weekend morning and walk along the beach eating them.  
After I left the city to go to university, I did not return for over a year and a half, which does not seem like a very long time, but in retrospect it was the longest time I had ever been away from the town I grew up in.  I finally returned for a very short visit (just 3 days!) the week before last, and I tried to make the most of this time to do all the things I could only do in Miami.  I saw some old friends, and I enjoyed the sunrise on the beach.  However, silly me forgot about guava pastries and other Miami desserts until it was too late.  So when I got back I decided that I needed to learn how to make two of my favorite Miami desserts.  I have not done the guava pastries yet, but I will!  But I started with something equally delicious instead!

While tres leches is not a Cuban-specific cake, and is actually popular in most Latin American countries, especially Mexico, all of my exposure to it involves Cuban households and restaurants.  So even though I know I can get it here in Los Angeles if I want, I think it just wouldn't feel the same outside of Miami!  So I decided to make my own; this way I could make it the way I remembered it, and leave no room for disappointment.  I love this cake so much because even though it is incredibly sweet and rich, it is chilled and packed with liquid, so I can eat it and feel as refreshed as if I had been drinking a cold glass of milk (except that the cake tastes way better).  
I had never made this before, so I searched online for a long time for recipes, and eventually decided to use one by Emeril.  Oddly enough, when I compared them, his recipe seemed like it would produce the most effective and authentic tasting cake.  The cake had so many eggs, and no added fat, so I knew it would work well to soak up all the liquid and not fall apart.  And the topping is an Italian meringue, rather than the whipped cream so many recipes called for; I think whipped cream would be way too sweet and rich for a cake that already has so much of that.  Well, it came out beautifully and was delicious - just how I remembered it.  The only modification I really made was to double the amount of the liquid, because I like my tres leches oozing.  
So here is the recipe, adapted from Emeril Lagasse's

For the cake:
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.  
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Then add the sugar gradually, while beating, until stiff peaks form.  
Add the egg yolks one by one, beating after each addition.  
Sift together the flour and baking powder, and add to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk.  Then add the vanilla extract.  Pour into the pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Using a serrated knife, cut off a very thin layer from the top of the cake, so that it will absorb the liquid better.  

For the liquid:
28 oz. evaporated milk
28 oz. sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream

Whisk all three ingredients together until well combined.  While the cake is still warm, slowly pour the liquid over it.  It will take a while for all of it to absorb, and it may seem like too much, but the cake should be able to take all of it eventually!  Once all the liquid has been poured into the cake, chill the cake for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight).

For the topping:
3 egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp water

Just before ready to serve, combine the water and sugar and a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Heat until the temperature reaches 235 - 240 F, and then remove from the heat.  Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  Then add the syrup slowly, while beating, until stiff peaks form and the mixture is completely cooled.  Spread the topping evenly over the cake and serve.  


Amy said...

mmmm your tres leches was so good

we definitely should make Gongs with the red bean paste. I have tons of mochiko flour too so we could try something with that. Maybe we could do a Japanese dinner? Oh my there's so much to cook! Let's get together soon and get to work :)

Gigi said...

This is one of those recipes that is constantly on my mind. I have never had this cake before, but have seen it many time. I will have to bake this cake soon, especially after seeing how yummy yours looks!