Friday, May 11, 2012

Pastel de Tres Leches - Celebration Cake

Pastel de Tres Leches - the cake of three milks.  I have never been a big fan of Tres Leches cake.  I never heard of it until I moved to Texas and I've only had it a couple of times.  My issue with it has always been that the prominent taste is sweetened condensed milk; which I'm not super crazy about.

Also called Celebration Cake as it is, according to Rick Bayless, "..the special-occasion cake in Mexico". And what better reason to celebrate than Mother's Day? I'd say that's a pretty special occasion wouldn't you? It's also "For Mom" week at I Heart Cooking Clubs

I was intrigued by Rick Bayless' version that uses "cajeta" instead of sweetened condensed milk.  Never heard of cajeta before?  Neither had I.  It's goat-milk caramel.  And it's wonderful.  And it's sweet.  And it's easy to make at home.  Evidently, you can purchase it at the store, but I enjoy making ingredients myself.

It's made with goat milk, corn syrup, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and cream sherry.

Trying my hand at making cajeta was not the only reason I chose to make this cake.  There are wonderful things Rick did with this cake like use roasted almonds to add texture to the sponge cake; giving the 3-milk mixture a bit of a custardiness by using heavy cream in place of the standard whole milk; frosting it with whipped cream; and, perfuming everything with orange.

When you read through the directions for this recipe it can be overwhelming because there are so many facets within the recipe; there is the cake, the flavoring and the frosting.  There are a lot of things that can be done ahead for this cake and that would certainly make it easier.  Such was the case with me.

One evening I made the cajeta.

The cajeta takes the place of the sweetened condensed milk.  You can use whole milk to make this sweet reduction too but it just isn't the same as using goat's milk.  The reduction becomes this wonderfully sweet, thick caramel sauce.

After bringing the milk, sugar, corn syrup and cinnamon stick to a boil you add the baking soda that's been dissolved with a little bit of water.  The mixture is then returned to the heat to simmer until reduced to a caramel brown syrup.  There's a lot of stirring but it will be well worth it.

Your next step is to strain it into a large measuring cup. 

After it cools down a bit add your cream sherry, brandy or rum.

You should have 1-1/2 cups of the milky, syrupy concoction that you can put into a Mason jar and store in the refrigerator.  Cajeta will keep a month or more when refrigerated.

The next night I roasted the almonds.  Once they were cooled I processed them with the cake flour until they were finely pulverized.

The next evening I made the cake. 

One of the first things you'll do is to brown your butter.  And before I go any further, when I opened my box of butter I actually was taken a-back by these cute little things that fell out of the box.  They are 4 tablespoon half sticks.  I personally don't see the purpose but they're cute aren't they? 

OK, back to the browning the butter you are adding some really special flavor to the sponge cake.  Rick credits this sponge cake method to Rose Levy Beranbaum in her book The Cake Bible.  (If you want to really learn how to learn any and all things about cake baking I recommend this book---it is one that I reference all the time).

After your butter browns and it cools a bit, add the vanilla and set aside.

Bring the 1" of water in the bottom of your double boiler to a simmer and whisk the eggs, part of the sugar and the orange zest until they are foamy and very warm.  At that point, transfer to the bowl of your electric mixer and beat for a full 5 minutes.

When the egg mixture is very thick turn the mixer to the lowest speed and add 2 tablespoons of the flour-almond mixture at a time and mix until just incorporated until all the flour-almond mixture is added.

Add a good 1/4 cup of the batter to the cooled butter and whisk until completely incorporated.

Next you'll pour the butter mixture into the batter in two additions, folding each addition with a whisk.  Pour it into your prepared cake pan.  Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is springy and the sides begin to pull away from the pan.

While the cake is baking, mix up your 3-milk mixture and stick it in the fridge.  Tres Leches !!!!!  Can you roll the 'r'?  I don't do it very well.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pan then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Once the cake has cooled completely, and is still upside down on the cooling rack, slowly brush or spoon 1/2 of the 3-milk mixture onto the cake.  It's a slow process so be patient.  Let each addition soak in before you add more.  It is amazing how this sponge cake soaks up this mixture! 

When the cake has absorbed 1/2 of the mixture, place your serving plate over the cake and carefully turn over.  Now you can slowly apply the remaining milk mixture to the top of the cake.

Prepare your frosting by beating the heavy cream, sugar and orange liqueur (I used Cointreau) until very stiff.

Spread the frosting over the cake.  If you like, pipe some of it through a decorative tube.  I didn't because I took it to work and frosted it there.

Lovey and I can’t eat a whole cake and we really don’t eat a lot of sweets anyway. I can always count on my co-workers to take care of anything I bring to office for them to eat.  Not only are they brave to try something I've never tasted myself, I appreciate their feed back.

This is a cake where you will really thank the Lord above if you practice the mise en place method. It will be so wild if you don't. It's one of those recipes that benefits from reading through several times and having everything ready to go.

Now -- with all of this information overload on how I made Pastel de Tres Leches, I give you Rick's recipe.  Own it.

Cajeta - Goat Milk Caramel
Adapted from Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen
Makes 1-1/2 cups

1 quart goat's milk
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 inch cinnamon stick (preferably Mexican canela)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cream sherry, brandy or rum

Mise en place
  • Measure out milk, sugar, corn syrup and cinnamon into a 4 quart heavy pot or Dutch oven
  • Measure out baking soda and mix with 1 Tbsp of water
  • Measure out liquor or your choice
Stir together your milk, sugar corn syrup and cinnamon stick in a medium-size (4 quart) heavy pot or Dutch oven.  Bring to a boil.  Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the baking soda mixture, having a spoon ready to stir the mixture down if it bubbles up.  Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until the mixture thickens into a pale-gold syrup, about 25 minutes.  At this point, begin stirring very frequently as the mixture thickens into a caramel-brown syrup that's the consistency of maple syrup, about 10 minutes longer.

Strain the cajeta through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large measuring cup.  Let cool for a few minutes, then stir in the sherry, rum or brandy (plus a little water, if necessary, to bring it to 1-1/2 cups).  Refrigerate covered.  When coled, the cajeta should have the consistency of thin corn syrup.

Celebration Cake - Pastel de Tres Leches
Adapted from Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen
Serves 12 - 15

For the Cake -
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) whole blanched almonds
1 cup (3-1/2 ounces) cake flour, sifted before measuring
10 Tbsp (5 ounces) unsalted butter
1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
finely grated zest (colored rind only) of 1 orange

For the Flavoring -
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2/3 cup cajeta

For the Frosting -
1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur

Mise en place:
  • preheat oven to 325°F. 
  • prepare the cake pan
  • measure out almonds
  • sift flour & measure out into food processor bowl
  • cut butter up and place in small saucepan
  • measure out vanilla
  • crack eggs into a bowl
  • measure out sugar
  • zest the orange
  • fill bottom of double boiler with 1" of water
  • mix all ingredients for the flavoring in small bowl and store in refrigerator
  • measure ingredients for frosting
Grease a 2-inch deep, 10-inch round cake pan or springform pan.  Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then grease the paper and flour it all - pan and paper.  Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring them occasionally, for about 12 minutes, until aromatic and golden.  Cool, then transfer to a food processor along with the flour.  run the machine until the nuts are pulverized.
In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring and swirling until nut brown, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat, cool a little, then stir in the vanilla.  Raise the temperature of the oven to 350°F.
Bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a simmer.  Combine the eggs, sugar and the orange zest in the top of a double boiler (you'll need to regulate the heat so the water no more than simmers), and whisk for several minutes, until the mixture is very warm to the touch and foamy, and the sugar is completely dissolved.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for a full 5 minutes (the mixture will be as thick as whipped cream that almost holds peaks). 
With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the almond-flour mixture a couple of spoonfuls at a time, letting one addition just disappear before adding the next.
Thoroughly mix 1/4 cup of the cake batter into the butter mixture.  Then, in 2 additions, use a whisk to fold the butter mixture into the remaining cake batter.
Immediately and gently scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the cake feels slightly springy on top and the sides just begin to pull away from the pan, about 35 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
Remove the bowl of the three milk mixture from the refrigerator and slowly brush or spoon half of the mixture over the cake while it is still on the cooling rack.  Carefully invert your serving plate over the cake and flip the two.  Remove the cooling rack from what is now the top and slowly brush or spoon on the remaining mixture.  (Soaking the cake will take 10 to 15 minutes, letting each addition soak in before adding more.)
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the 1-1/4 cups of the whipping cream, 2 Tbsp sugar and the orange liqueur until very stiff.  Spread the whipped cream over the sides and top of the cake.  Save a little to pip a border around the top and bottom edges of the cake.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.
I'm sharing this at IHCC


  1. Glorious! Tres Leches is my hubby's all-time favorite cake. I've never made this version with the cajeta, though...yum! Fabulous, just fabulous.

  2. I have not tried Tres Leches before, have seen recipes of it though. The Cajeta looks lovely! It would be difficult to find Goats milk over here! Would love to have a slice of this delicious looking cake!
    Happy Mother' Day!

  3. Such a pretty cake and I love the idea of using the cajeta in it. Any mother would be happy to get this for Mother's Day. ;-)

  4. This is one of my absolute favorite cakes, and yours looks beautiful! It's making me want a piece right now!

  5. I've never had this before - fascinating steps to it!
    I'm with you - do everything you can ahead of time. (Then drink a bottle of wine for the hard parts ;-)
    Looks wonderful!

  6. I also like to do as much of the work ahead of time as possible. This looks like a beautiful version of pastel de tres leches. I bet everyone at work really enjoyed it!

  7. I still have some cajeta left, so maybe i could try this tres leches cake cause it looks wonderful.

  8. I have tried the cake twice and it turns out completely flat and egg-dense. Anyone have any ideas what I could be doing wrong? Rick's other sponge cake recipe has baking powder - without that in this one, what is there to make this recipe into a cake rather than a thick, rubbery omelet? Thanks in advance if someone can help!