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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Third time's a charm!

The cake part of the Tres Leche cake finally turned out! The recipe called for a 9 inch springform pan. I only had a 10 inch springform which I was afraid to use for fear of another cake with no height. So, I used a regular 8 inch non-stick cake pan. This cake rose so much, that I was afraid it was going to drip over the pan on to the bottom of the oven or rise until it hit the heating elements on the roof of the oven. It did neither but it did rise enough to look like a giant popup muffin! Anyway, you want a light airy cake for this recipe so that the three milk concoction can be appropriately soaked up. Due to the "popover" appearance of my cake, it was necessary for me to do some trimming around the edges providing us with some cake tasting samples...also a good thing since this was the first time I made this specific sponge cake recipe and planned to serve it guests.

The cake is going to be drenched/oversaturated in the milk mixture. I included the first picture above (prior to frosting), to illustrate that it is necessary to use a little bit of a deep serving dish as the milk mixture will pool a little at the bottom of the cake. Oh, and I added a tiny bit of cinnamon to the milk mixture as well. When Victor and I had this cake at La Seranato on Pico Blvd here in LA, there seemed to be a hint of cinnamon which I liked.

Tres Leches from

1 cup of white sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 pint heavy whipping cream

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bottom of 9 inch springform pan.
Beat egg yolk with 3/4 cup of sugar until light in color and double in volume. Stir in milk, vanilla, flour and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Beat until firm but not dry. Fold egg white mixture into prepared egg yolk mixture. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40 - 50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes.
Loosen the edge of cake from pan before removing cake from pan (or removing sides of pan if using a springform). Cool cake completely.
Transfer cake to a serving plate which has some depth. Using a 2 prong meat tester or fork, pierce the surface of the cake many times, all over.
Mix together condensed milk, evaporated milk, and 1/4 cup of whipping cream. Slowly pour over cake allowing the cake to absorb the mixture. Don't feel obligated to pour all of the mixture over the cake if it seems like too much but do be generous as the cake is meant to be overly saturated with liquid (liquid will be visible around the bottom of the cake). Cover cake and refrigerate. Check the cake in about an hour or so and pour any remaining milk mixture if necessary.
Whip the remaining whipping cream until it reaches spreading consistency and spread over the cake. Feel free to garnish with fresh berries or cherries, etc. Keep cake refrigerated until serving.

I've got the Buttermilk Blues

Actually, I don't have the blues; these turned out pretty well.

After last week's Fluffy Yellow Cake, I had some leftover buttermilk. My "Cookie and Biscuit Bible" by Catherine Atkinson had a recipe entitled Buttermilk Cookies that I thought might be a good way to use it up. Although called "cookies", these were basically just biscuits. As is true for all biscuits, they are best if served warm with a bit of preserves or jam. When I first made them, we ate them fresh from the oven...but since there was no (healthy) way that Victor and I were going to eat 24 biscuits in one sitting, I threw the rest in the freezer. We have been taking them out here and there, warming them up in the toaster oven...and they taste just as good.

Buttermilk Cookies (Cookie and Biscuit Bible, p. 72)

1 1/2 cups of flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup buttermilk

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees and grease baking sheet (I used Olive Oil spray).
Sift the dry ingredients into large bowl. Rub butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Gradually pour in buttermilk, stirring constantly with fork until mixture comes together and forms a soft dough. Roll out dough to about 1/2 inch thick, then stamp out rounds using a biscuit cutter (approx 2 inches but whatever size you want to make them). Place on prepared baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Serve warm or cool to room tempeture.

There's always room for jello cake!

Since I had made 3 terrible cakes in a row (2 Tres Leches attempts and the culinary disaster-piece also known as the flourless chocolate cake), I really needed a baking ego boost.    Another cake that Victor likes is the classic "Jello Poke" cake (poke holes in the cake, pour jello over it and then refrigerate).  I have made this cake successfully multiple times in the past but always with a box cake.    

My inability to make a good scratch cake was really starting to irritate me. I was a mission to find a guaranteed-to-rise scratch cake recipe. I scoured the internet, googling such things "No Fail Scratch Cake" and "Easy Homemade Cake". Finally, I turned to the one source that admitted a good scratch cake is elusive: Cook's Illustrated magazine. I love this magazine because they will make a recipe several different ways in their test kitchen until they get the best results from a reasonable number of steps and easy to find ingredients. They also go into detail on why certain techniques must be used. This is essential for me as I frequently need to be convinced a short cut should not be taken. The March/April 2008 issue contained a recipe called Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (I can't believe I forgot to try "fluffy" while googling!). I decided I would make that, poke and jello it, and then cover with Cool Whip.  

When making this cake, I did something that I rarely do: I (pretty much) followed the recipe to the letter. If the recipe said transfer to a clean bowl, I transferred; if it said to line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, I did despite the fact I knew my non-stick pan + greasing and flouring the pan would most likely be fine. The place I deviated was not using a stand mixer.     Yes, having one would make life easier, but the $350 price tag is a bit of I used my $20 Cook's (JC Penny) brand hand mixer. All of the hard work and attention to detail were rewarded by a nice fluffy yellow butter cake. It's then I realized I had no jello...however, I did have some gelatin sheets (can't remember what I had bought them for) and OJ.  I found a recipe on the web (which I modified) to make homemade orange juice jello, poured that over the cake and then (finally) covered with Cool Whip.     The cake you see above may look basic but it is the result of a lot of hard work, research and ingenuity! Luckily it did turn out as this was Victor's actual birthday. Recipes below....

Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (Cook's Illustrated March/April 2008)

2 and 1/2 cups (10 oz) cake flour + extra for dusting pans
1 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 and 3/4 cups (12.25 oz) sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 and 1/4 sticks), melted and cooled slightly
1 cup buttermilk, room temp
3 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used applesauce) 
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
6 large egg yolks plus 3 large egg whites, room temp

1. Adjust rack to middle of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 inch x 2 inch round cake pans and line bottom with parchment paper. Grease paper rounds, dust pans with flour and knock out excess. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, 1 and 1/2 cups sugar together in large bowl.  In 4-cup liquid measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, buttermilk, oil (or applesauce if you used that as a substitute), vanilla, and yolks. 
2. In clean bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment (I used hand mixer), beat egg whites at medium-high until foamy, about 30 seconds.  With machine running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks form, 30-60 seconds (whites should hold peak but mixture should appear moist.  Transfer to bowl and set aside. 
3. Add flour mixture to now-empty mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment.  With mixer running at low speed, gradually pour in butter mixture and mix until almost incorporated (a few streaks of dry flour will remain), about 15 seconds.  Stop mixer and scrap whisk and sids of bowl.  Return mixer to medium-low speed and beat until smooth and fully incorporated, 10 to 15 seconds. 
4. Using rubber spatula, stir 1/3 of whites into batter to lighten, then add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans.  Lightly tap pans against counter 2 to 3 times to dislodge any large air bubbles.
5. Bake until cake layers begin to pull away from sides of pan and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 22 minutes.  Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.   Loosen cakes from pan with small knife, then invert onto wire rack and peel off parchment.  Invert cakes again (so the top is now up again) and cool completely on rack about 90 minutes. 

Orange Juice Jello (my recipe....modified from one I found on the web in a food chat room) 

1 and 1/4 cup OJ
4 sheets gelatin (note 4 gelatin sheets = 1 package of Knox powdered gelatin)
6 oz boiling water (1/2 cup + 2 oz)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
Soak gelatin sheets in cold water to allow it to "bloom".  Pour 1/2 cup OJ into heat proof bowl. Add gelatin sheets (remove them from the cold water first) to OJ and let soften for 5 minutes. Don't stir.  Add boiling water, sugar and stir until gelatin and sugar are dissolved.  Cool to lukewarm and then stir in remaining OJ and lemon juice.  Pour over cake (or into bowl if you just want the jello) and refrigerate.

Un pastel de tres denso

A few years ago on Victor's birthday, we bought a Tres Leches cake from a Cuban bakery in Burbank called Porto's ( For those not familiar with Tres Leches, it's a light sponge cake soaked with a combination of 3 different milks: evaporated, condensed and whipping cream topped with either meringue or whipped cream. The cake is kept in the fridge, so it's a nice cold treat on a summer day.

When Victor's birthday was coming up this year, I decided to learn how to make the cake at home. The picture above is my first attempt...or my second. I am not sure as I made this cake twice this same weekend and it turned out exactly the same both times: extremely dense. I even went out and bought new baking powder before the second attempt thinking that my expired in 2006 baking powder just might be an issue...but no, it was the cook's technique which was letting the air out of the cakes! The recipe said to "mix" in the flour to this pretty wet egg/butter/vanilla mixture, so I thought using my electric mixer would be ok.  Turns out this method of combining the wet and dry ingredients seemed to over mix the batter and resulting in my incredible deflating cakes.

Here is a link to the recipe I used ( I am not posting the recipe since the key to making a successful sponge cake (based on my experience SINCE this cake), in addition to not over beating, is separating the eggs which this recipe does not do. Luckily, this was a practice cake prior to his actual birthday, so I didn't end up ruining his day with this science experiment gone wrong.

Victor and I did eat some of each cake despite the fact it was like slicing into marzipan. I never bothered to put the whip cream topping on it...the 3 milk mixture you pour over the top (to which I sprinkled in a little cinnamon) was so tasty that we basically used this "cake" as an excuse to eat the soaking mixture.