Monday, May 4, 2015

A Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake

Quite a few years ago, I found a recipe for a Tres Leches (Three Milks) Cake and decided to try it out for a dinner for two of my sisters and their husbands. I am a very good cook, but no matter, there is always something that just doesn't come out right. I don't know where I got the recipe. Certainly it was from one of the cooking magazines I have been getting for years and years. Obviously though, something went terribly wrong with the cake I made. It tasted okay; that was not the problem. When the cake baked, in a round pan (springform, I believe), the center fell. And when I say "fell", I mean to like a quarter of an inch in the center! It is rather difficult to get a cake shaped like a lake to actually absorb the three milks.
Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake

And so it was that with that total fiasco, it left me completely unimpressed. I learned to cook in Guatemala, and I love Guatemalan foods and flavors. I had never heard of Tres Leches Cake. It was no difficulty to just forget the thing ever happened. . . until yesterday when I came upon a recipe for a Cafe con Tres Leches Cake, or Coffee with Three Milks. Now this made me sit up and take notice. I love coffee. Until yesterday, I am not sure I had even seen a recipe for this cake since that one way back when that first attempt failed. I saved the recipe yesterday, and then sat down to research what, exactly makes a Tres Leches cake.

Three Milks

The three milks involved, no matter where I looked, are Sweetened Condensed Milk, Evaporated Milk and Cream. These three seem to be in the exact same ratio, no matter where I found the recipe and no matter whose recipe it was. The milks are combined and poured over the baked cake. The cake is then left to absorb all this liquid, and refrigerated. Some recipes call for milk in the cake batter part of the recipe also, making it Four Milks, actually. What intrigued me about the recipe I found was the way the coffee was incorporated. Using 1/2 cup of strong coffee in place of the part of the heavy cream in the three milks part of the recipe. This sounded wonderful. I wanted to add a little zip to the equation, so I used mostly coffee but substituted a little Kahlua liqueur for part of it.

Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake
The topping for this cake is most often whipped cream. While that seems fine, it does seem to me that whipped cream would begin to deflate if the cake is not all eaten within a day. The other option I found online was an Italian or Swiss Meringue. This would certainly hold up better, but it would not be the right texture. Most recipes that come from Mexicans have the cake topped with whipped cream and then fresh fruit on top of that. It would seem the fresh fruit would be a great way to cut through the fattiness of all that milk and cream. In the case of the use of coffee however, I think the fruit would offer the wrong mix of flavors. In the recipe I had found, instant coffee was mixed with the cream before whipping it for the topping.

Coffee Flavored Topping and chocolate bits
As I read all these recipes, I found that in most of them, there is no butter or oil added to the cake batter. Essentially, this comes close to a Genoise style of sponge cake. Others add in butter or oil and then it is more a regular sponge cake. Most of the leavening is done by whipping the eggs. Some add baking powder and some do not. I did use baking powder, as insurance! In my version of this cake, I also added some melted butter. I feel that though the cake did rise and seemed quite nice, it might have risen higher. I had planned to do things one way, and last minute went for the easier way and just mixed in the melted butter with the mixer running. Then I added the flour mixture still with mixer running. This essentially deflated the pretty, fluffy batter. The plan was to fold in these ingredients. The butter would likely still deflate all the whipped eggs anyway, but for now, whether that really made any difference is out there to be determined at another time.

As for the topping, I really did not want to try the Meringue on this cake. What I have done in past is to incorporate Mascarpone into already whipped cream. The Mascarpone stabilizes the whipped cream, keeping it lofty and lovely for days. Once the cake was out of the oven and cooling, I walked down to the grocery and, GASP! There was no Mascarpone. The shelf was bare! To my knowledge, this is the only place in town that carries Mascarpone. For a time, Wal Mart did carry it, but they have not for a long while now. In the end, I opted to use cream cheese instead of the Mascarpone, thereby keeping the stabilizing properties but with less tang than would come from Mascarpone. In essence, with the addition of cream cheese, it is a Four-Milks Cake.

At least, this cake did rise, with no sinking in the middle. The three milks absorbed beautifully. The topping is in place. It is resting peacefully in the fridge. This is my spin on the cake recipe:

Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake

Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake
makes one 9 x 13-inch cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons strong coffee
2 tablespoons Kahlua

1 cup heavy cream
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon powdered instant coffee
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

              Eggs beaten, left                |      with sugar added, light and fluffy
FOR THE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Melt the butter and set aside. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the whole eggs until very creamy and light colored (no longer the strong yellow). Begin adding in the sugar slowly while continuously beating. The mixture will fluff even more. Stir in the melted butter, and then gently stir in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake the cake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a crumb or two, but is no longer wet. Allow the cake to cool to just warm before pouring on the topping.

FOR THE TRES LECHES: In a bowl (preferably with a pouring spout), stir together all the ingredients until the condensed milk is completely incorporated. Once the cake is just lukewarm, poke holes all over the cake. Pour the Tres Leches and coffee mixture over the cake to cover. Allow the mixture to absorb. Once it is mostly absorbed, cover the cake and refrigerate for 24 hours, for best results. 
Left 2 photos: Pouring the three milks over cake     |    Right 2 photos: Cake quickly absorbing all the milks

FOR THE TOPPING (and 4th milk): First, in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl stir together a small amount of the whipping cream with the instant coffee powder until it is dissolved. Add the remaining heavy cream and begin beating, to soft peaks. Add the sugar gradually and beat to stiff peaks. Make sure the cream cheese is very soft before beating it in, dividing in about 4 batches. Once smooth and creamy, spread over top of the cake. Sprinkle with cocoa powder, or mini chocolate chips, or chocolate curls, if desired.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.