Monday, September 13, 2010

Tres Leches Cake for the Lazy Man

I'm not much of a dessert fan, but the other night while watching Alton Brown whip up a tres leches cake on Good Eats, I had such a burst of inspiration that I went to the store first thing in the morning to pick up the ingredients.  Maybe I'd like desserts better if I knew how to make them, but sadly, this is not the case.  I have quite the black thumb when it comes to anything involving exact measurements, and baking is a very unforgivable art.  I knew I didn't want to ruin my tres leches experience by mucking up the cake, so I bought a box of yellow cake mix, some condensed milk and evaporated milk, and tried to sit on my hands until I actually had occasion to make this sweet milky goodness.

You want this.  You want this now...

The end result wasn't absolute perfection, but it was far from a let-down, and it's something I'll definitely store in my recipe box to make again (and again!)  If you've never had tres leches cake, like me, it's essentially a sponge cake over which you pour a blend of three different kinds of milk ("tres leches" is Spanish for "three milks"), allowing the cake to soak up the liquid overnight.  It's very rich and sweet, yet is light enough for a warm summer evening, and is simple enough to complement almost any meal.  Best of all, if you make it the lazy way, it takes almost no effort at all and even the worst of bakers (points to self) can pull it off easily!

I started by baking a yellow cake in a 9x13" pan, according to the directions on the box.  When the cake was done, I used a couple of skewers to poke it full of tiny holes, which will allow the milk blend to soak in.

In a mixing bowl, I whisked together one can of evaporated milk, one can of sweetened condensed milk, and one cup of almond milk.  Alton Brown's recipe calls for one cup of half and half, but I didn't have any on hand, and I love the light, slightly sweet flavor of almond milk, which is also quite rich, so I thought it would be a suitable replacement (it was!)

I want this over my cereal.  For reals.
Pour the milk mixture SLOWLY over the perforated cake.  If the cake seems like it doesn't want to hold any more liquid, come back to it in a few minutes and you will be able to pour the rest.  Move the cake, uncovered, into the fridge to sit overnight or for at least 3-4 hours.  The cake will be so saturated that it won't be able to dry up... mine was in the fridge for nearly 18 hours before I came back to it and it was perfect.

Now comes the question of a topping.  The "proper" way to top this cake would be with some fresh, homemade whipped cream, possibly with a little tot of rum blended in, but remember that this is the lazy man's version... and the lazy man (or woman) uses Cool Whip.  Would I use Cool Whip again?  It depends on how much time I had, but probably not.  It melts too easily and has a tendency to want to join its brothers and seep into the cake.  Ideally, I would leave the cake unfrosted and simply top each individual serving with a dollop of whipped cream.

To jazz the cake up a little bit, give it a little pizzazz, I decided to drizzle a little dulce de leche over the top.  Dulce de leche, or "milk candy" is nothing more than caramelized sweetened condensed milk, and it is utterly divine over whatever the heck you can think to put it on.  The way my mother used to make it was to put an unopened can of condensed milk into a pot, cover it with water, and slowly boil it for about three hours.  Then she would let it cool naturally, without removing it from the water, until it was room temperature, at which point she would open the can, and the condensed milk would have magically transformed into a thick caramel.  This method can be dangerous, because if you forget about the pot and let the water boil away, the can could explode, leaving a sticky mess all over your kitchen ceiling.  Kitchen ceilings are about the only thing that are not made better by a blob of dulce de leche.

I was a bit pressed for time, so I did a little googling, and I came upon a post by Lydia over at The Perfect Pantry about how to microwave dulce de leche.  Whaaaat? It was a total life-saver!  Anyway, I followed her method, as described here, and she was kind enough to e-mail me with some modifications I might try in order to make a drizzly sauce out of this rather thick confection.  After I had made the dulce, I poured it (or rather, globbed it) into a squeeze bottle, added about 2 tbsp of almond milk (having no cream or even regular milk in the house), nuked it for about 10 seconds, and shook it like a shake weight for about three minutes.  Besides a decent workout, I got a nice, drizzly-yet-firm sauce that made perfect little swirls over the top of my cake.  Perfection!

Much thanks to Wanda for her help in preparing these shots, by the way!

I brought the cake to Scott's parents' house for dessert and everyone enjoyed it, even though I have traumatized them more than once with my less-than-edible desserts in the past.  I'll call this one a win, and let me know if you'd like a try, because BOY do I have some leftoveeeeeers!

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