July 19, 2012

Tres (Leches) Bien!

If you've never tried tres leches cake, then you're missing one of the most caketastic experiences out there! My favorite place around town to enjoy this delectable south-of-the-border treat is at Depot Nuevo in oddly enough, Wilmette, Ill. After years of living on Chicago's West Side and frequenting plenty of taquerias and Mexican food joints, I'm surprised I found the sweetest of all sponges here on the North Shore.

Soaked so perfectly in the infamous three milks (most commonly, whole milk or heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk) and topped with strawberries and cream, the folks at Depot Nuevo have it down pat.

There is some mystery surrounding its origins. Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and even Cuba have claimed to be the birthplace of it, and food historians have cited evidence of the recipe showing up on the backs of evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk cans in an effort to promote the product. Both types of milk offered manufacturers a way of getting dairy to the public in a more preserved way. And how brilliant a move to encourage folks to make dessert with these fabulous "canned milks"!

I recently came across a great coconut version, received from my good friend and former coworker, Chef S. No one makes pico de gallo like Chef S, so when he posted this mango tres leches cake on Facebook the other day, I knew I had to try it. The funny thing was, I had leftover coconut cake batter from a tried and true recipe I've always used, so I bypassed most of the New York Times cake recipe and made only the three-milk syrup and mango topping from it, using my cake batter for the sponge instead. So the following recipe is a hybrid of sorts--a bit simpler than the original from my friend, as you don't have to separate eggs and incorporate whipped whites separately. A much speedier version!

You can use any fruit topping you'd like, but I did maintain the mango puree in my version. I eliminated the brandy in the three-milk syrup and added Bacardi gold rum while processing the mango puree, which brings a nice-and-tipsy experience to the dessert. Serve this at your next taco party or burrito bash, and I assure you, it'll be polished off!

Coconut Mango Tres Leches Cake (adapted from the New York Times and Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes)

For the Cake

1 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 egg whites
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

For the Three-Milk Syrup

1/2 cup milk
1 cup coconut milk
1 can (15 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

For the Topping

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, very lightly toasted
2 cups diced mango
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup gold rum

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 9" x 13" baking pan with cooking spray, line with parchment and spray again.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In a separate small bowl or glass measure, whisk together the egg whites, milk, and coconut extract. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg white mixture and mix until combined. Add flour mixture alternately with coconut milk in three additions, beginning and ending with flour. Scrape down bowl periodically to ensure incorporation. Spread in prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes clean. Set aside and allow to cool while preparing milk syrup.

For three-milk syrup, combine milk, coconut milk, and condensed milk in a small saucepan and whisk until bubbly and steaming. Poke cake with fork all over and pour milk syrup over cake, allowing to soak through. You should be able to use all the syrup. Refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.

To serve, beat heavy cream with powdered sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Spread on top of cake and sprinkle with almonds. Puree mango in food processor or using a hand blender. Pour into small saucepan and add sugar, vanilla, and rum. Heat through until bubbly and sugar is dissolved. Drizzle over cake slices before serving. Makes 18 servings.

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