Tres Leches cake and Grandmotherly Advice
I’m sitting on the kitchen floor sniffling.
Yup, that’s a stand mixer full of egg whites. And tears. It’s like a little meteorological freak storm front hitting a low pressure system of feelings in a metal bowl. Global warming is real and it just melted the polar icecaps of my aorta.
Why is a bowl of egg whites making me sniffle? Okay, see, a friend asked me to make him a tres leches cake for his birthday. I really didn’t know what it was and the variations are rather endless though all with the same theme of cake doused in sweetened condensed milk. Also, I never make sponge cake. There are just too many ooeygooeycaramelmarshmallow things in the world to make to waste time with sponge cake. But who am I to say no to a birthday request?
I found this recipe from Ree Drummond. In her post she mentions her friend tasting the cake and bursting into tears.
Me thinking: Well, that must be some cake!
Me thinking again: It probably isn’t the cake, but that the cake had some greater cosmic significance. It was an authentic cake, for her.
But this cake needed to be special, authentic, for the birthday boy. So I puttered around on the internet some more and then asked another friend for her recipe, which, with her preferred modifications to another recipe, ended up being almost identical to Ree’s, (except using fresh berries instead of maraschino cherries)
It takes a village to make good cake. (And booze.)
ANYWAY, I’m whipping the egg whites to “snow’, as my grandmother used to say. In fact, I can hear her German/Franco accent cooing ‘make it like snow’, widening her eyes and pursing her lips, the face she’d pull to indicate surprise or revelation. As a kid, I really did believe it was snow. I’m smiling at the memory until I realize that my nose is quivering and that blurry vision is not the effect of my hangover but the waterworks welling up, about to spill over into my carefully watch egg snow. I hold back long enough to combine the batter and pop said cake in the oven. Then I sit on the floor and sniffle. I have a perfectly good couch 5 feet away.
The cake doesn’t have any cosmic significance. The cake is inconsequential. The cake is a lie. Cake is memory sweetened with frosting. It is the reward for another year of life lived well, but if we were supposed to repeat the past, we’d have a birthday kale salad or a protein shake: sustainable and sensible. Instead we get hopped up on sugar and fling ourselves into the new year with plans for awesomeness (this is the year I will start my own business, hike the Appalachian trail, eat my weight in cheese fries). Change in habit can be hard to accept at moments. The sugar haze makes it go down easy, and by the time we crash, we’re well ensconced in the new thing, halfway to Maine in hiking boots, swallowing seventy-five pounds of cheese fries with only forty more to go.
My grandmother passed away last December. It’s Sunday morning and I’m missing our Sunday morning phone calls. I have new Sunday morning habits, equally lovely but different. I barely even noticed the evolution of things until the loss of her was palpable. I’m missing the time when I thought I knew what path I was on and direction was simple. I’m missing her grandmotherly advice at a time when I would actually want to take it: I should run off with an artist. I should be a muse. I should write the story of her life. I should make cake.
The cake is delicious. But it is just cake (okay, really yummy cake).
Copied from thepioneerwoman.com, with some minor changes because that’s how we do.
Tres Leches Cake
for the cake:
- 1 cup All-purpose Flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1/4 teaspoon Salt
- 5 whole Eggs
- 1 cup Sugar, Divided
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup Milk
for the tres leches part:
- 1 can Evaporated Milk
- 1 can Sweetened, Condensed Milk
- 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
- 2 oz Dark Rum (optional)
for the icing:
- 1 pint Heavy Cream, For Whipping
- 4 Tablespoons Confectioners Sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan with parchment and butter parchment and sides liberally.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.
Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.
Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.
Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.
Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture—try to get as much around the edges of the cake as you can.
Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. To ice the cake, whip 1 pint heavy cream with confections sugar and vanilla until thick and spreadable.
Spread over the surface of the cake. Decorate cake with fresh berries. Cut into squares and serve.
Heading back to work Friday was tough – on one hand, there was no need to slather myself in SPF 100 – on the other, there was no sun, no catamaran, and no scheduled pineapple break. One way to remind myself of just how delightful Costa Rica was was to fix a snack my Tica dive master ate after time under the water. Arroz con leche, essentially tasty rice pudding, crosses multiple Latin cultures, and each is a little different. This recipe is inspired by the arroz con leche I tried sitting in a hammock chair last week, a taste that mimicked the happy union of horchata and a lime daiquiri.
Arroz con Leche
- 3/4 cup rum (in this case, Centenario from Costa Rica)
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- peel from 1 lime
- 1 Tbs lime juice
- 1 cup rice
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 teas ground nutmeg
Bring rum, water, cinnamon, star anise, lime peel and juice to a boil in a 3 quart pot. Add rice and stir. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add milks and nutmeg, Simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently until rice is soft and cooked through, about 20 minutes. Mixture should thicken slightly, but still be rather liquidy. Remove from heat and pour into serving bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours until cool. Enjoy!
While somewhat a grinch, I really do have a soft spot for the holiday season when it comes to food, fuzzy sweaters and that one Salvation Army guy who dances while ringing not one, but two bells and partying like its 1899 with wassel, toddies or spiced buttered rum to warm up the insides. They’re the perfect beverages to go with your monocle.
The problem with spiced buttered rum is that while delicious, there is only so much buttered rum one can drink. With these, you can eat all 36 and feel just dandy.
Spiced Buttered Rum Madeleines
Makes 3 dozen
Eggs should be room temperature. If not, soak them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. It adds volume to the batter.
For the madeleines
- 1/2 cup of melted unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 3 eggs
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 teas vanilla
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbs flour
- 1 teas baking powder
- 1/4 teas salt
- 1/2 teas ground ginger
- 1/2 teas ground nutmeg
- 1 teas cinnamon
For the glaze
- 1 Tbs dark rum
- 1 Tbs apple cider (also quite tasty with oj)
- 1 teas vanilla extract
- 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter over low heat. Brush madeleine pans with melted with butter. Set both aside.
In a large bowl, beat eggs; add sugar gradually and beat until smooth, about 4 minutes. Mix in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, sift flour with salt and baking powder and spices. Gradually add to egg mixture.
Fold in melted (not hot) butter with a rubber spatula until just blended.
Fill pans about 2/3s full and bake for 7 to 10 minutes until edges are golden and cakes spring back when pressed.
Remove immediately from pans and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, mix confectioners sugar, vanilla, rum and cider in a small bowl. Glaze should be thick. Spoon onto madeleines. Let glaze set at least 15 minutes before serving/packaging.
Erin had a birthday recently, and naturally I offered to make her boozy cupcakes. (One cannot make their own birthday cupcakes; its just not done. It is just not done.) Erin is a very special lady, so I wanted to make a very special boozy cupcake. But being me, I had to work late/take a final exam/have celebratory drinks the night before, my incredible indecisiveness and aforementioned flurry of activity left no time to ponder what kind of cupcake Erin would be if Erin were a cupcake.
So I made a batch of yellow butter cake mini cupcakes while waiting for inspiration to hit. While those baked I needed to shower/clean my apt/fight crime so good thing even minis take about 15 minutes and I had to do 2 batches because I don’t own enough mini tins. (Dear Mom…for Christmas I would like…)
I also decided that Erin would be something sweet/summery/awesome, which to me equals daiquiri. Also, birthdays make me nostalgic, and strawberry daiquiris are the best kind of virgin cocktail since essentially, they’re a smoothie. We were allowed to drink virgin daiquiris at our 8th grad graduation dance and we thought we were so cool. Who doesn’t want to think they are that cool again?
Since cupcakes were baked, I glazed and frosted with boozy. And tears. (While the cupcakes were cooling, a very evil hairdresser decided the thing I really needed in a time crunch was a fashion mullet.) So after some sniffling/a great number of bobby pins/a very carful subway ride, (I oddly do not own a cupcake carrier….Dear Mom…), the little pink happy swirls of frosting were able to toast a very happy birthday to a very wonderful Erin.
Strawberry Daiquiri Cupcakes
- 1 batch yellow butter cake cupcakes (recipe courtesy of Martha S tewart here) baked as mini cupcakes
For the glaze
- 6 oz frozen strawberries, defrosted and pureed in a food processor
- 2 oz white rum
- 1 teas lime juice
- 1/4 c sugar
For the frosting:
- 1 1/2 sticks butter (12 Tbs)
- 5-6 cups confectioners sugar
- 1 teas vanilla extract
- 1 Tbs white rum
- 1 teas lime juice
- 2 Tbs frozen strawberry puree (left over from the glaze)
- pink sugar spinkles for garnish (optional)
Set aside 2 Tbs of strawberry puree for the frosting. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan on medium high heat, combine remaining strawberry puree, rum, lime juice and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.
Poke holes in cupcakes with a skewer or fork and spoon glaze onto cupcakes. Use the back of a spoon to spread glaze into holes. Let cool.
Prepare frosting. Using an electric hand mixer, cream butter and 1 cup confectioners sugar in a high sided bowl until fluffy. Add rum, lime juice and strawberry puree. Mix in remaining sugar, adding more if necessary to reach desired consistency, if piping, it should be a little stiffer.
Sprinkle with pink sugar sprinkles.
Eat. Can be refrigerated up to 3 days.