Monday, January 18, 2010

Two Cakes and a Vientisietera: Tres Leches and Strawberry Cakes

There's nothing like a viewing of Julie and Julia to revive my desire to cook! Earlier this week I watched it while sick at home, and as my head cold fades away, I am left suddenly without a voice, but still inspired to create beautiful food. Thankfully I had a birthday party to bake for, so my creative juices have had a place to flow.

This particular birthday party was a wanna-be quinceanera for my 27-year-old friend, who has always wanted to have a quinceanera and decided to just throw one for herself this year. I mention this, #1, because it is funny, and #2, because it puts these cakes in context. I've only been to one real quinceanera, so my experience is limited, but my impression of it was a traditional, family-oriented, and overwhelmingly feminine celebration. The cakes that emerged from the party scheming this week are very appropriate to the occasion: traditional Latin American Tres Leches Cake, and girly-pink strawberry cake. Pretty pink and white, and oh so sweet.

I ended up making the strawberry cake from a mix because I was still somewhat sick (don't worry, I didn't cough on the cakes, and wore food prep gloves while cooking), but I made Alton Brown's Tres Leches recipe, and it came out really well! Despite the fact that it was spelled "Tres Leche" on the Food Network website, which belies its authentic result. I'm not usually a fan of cakes or breads soaked in liquid, but I did like this cake - it was refreshing and moist, as one guest said, and not too sweet. I halved the original amount of sugar in the whipped cream, and added some Vietnamese cinnamon per the comments on the original recipe, and it was just right. Sorry I didn't get any photos of the Tres Leches cake, but I did decorate it with sweet peas just like the cupcakes.

You absolutely MUST make this cake a day ahead, because it takes that long for the cake to absorb the liquid. Don't freak out when the thing is swimming in the liquid at first - it will soak in. I haven't played with using reduced-fat milk products in this, but let me know if you do!

Tres Leches Cake

Vegetable oil to grease the pan
6 3/4 oz. (a little less than 1 1/2 C) cake flour, plus extra for pan
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 oz. (half a cube or 1/4 C) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 oz. (~ 1 C + 1 T) sugar
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half-and-half
optional: 1/4 tsp cinnamon

For the topping:
2 C heavy cream
4 oz. sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour a 13 by 9-inch metal pan and set aside.

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. This will appear to be a very small amount of batter. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

Remove the cake pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork, very thoroughly. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half (and cinnamon if desired) in a 1-quart measuring cup. Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake. Refrigerate the cake overnight.

Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk together on low until stiff peaks are formed. Change to medium speed and whisk until thick. Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve


  1. I love AB and thought this recipe looked delicious when I saw the episode the first time. I'm glad to hear it turned out well. The "after-the-fact" quinceanera party sounds like so much fun, too!

    Gorgeous decorating, as usual. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks, Ruth! Alton always gives me such confidence in his recipes through the thorough information he shares on his show - I figured that if anyone had worked out a good recipe, he had!

  3. yea veitnamese cinnamon! was it the penzys?

  4. yes, cushicushi! thanks so much for the spice gift - I wanted to give it back to you in your bday cake. Soooo aromatic and lovely.