birthday / cake / rum

Snowicane in the Stand Mixer

Tres Leches cake and Grandmotherly Advice

I’m sitting on the kitchen floor sniffling.

Why?  This:

photo 1(1)

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)

photo 2(1)

Tres Leches cake, covered in drifts of whipped cream

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).

the lady herself, and her charming husband

the lady herself, and her charming husband

Copied from, 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.


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