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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Coconut Tres Leches Cake (Pastel de Tres Leches con Coco)

Coconut Tres Leches Cake
The single thing that I am asked to bring along or make for any party, gathering, or potluck is a Tres Leches Cake.  "My" Tres Leches Cake.  None of that store-bought stuff.  There really is a difference.

I think it's a bit ironic, seeing as how I have zero cake decorating skills.  As far as the style of cakes you'd normally think of for an event - fancy lettering, beautiful piping skills, fondant frills.  Should I go on?  Let me say it again - I have absolutely zero cake decorating skills.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Thing is - I'm okay with that.  While I think "those" cakes are gorgeous, unique, and sometimes mind-blowing to look at, I usually don't think they taste all that good.  Don't get offended professional cake bakers/decorators - I think you've got mad skillz.  I really do.  I'm in awe.  I could look at your creations...your works of art...all day long.  I'd even love to take classes to learn how to do what you do.  But I usually find the taste and texture of the cakes to be disappointing.  Dry.  Overly sweet.  You get my drift.

But I'm going home and eating cake at my own house.

Okay, where was I?  I seem to have lost my train of thought for a moment.  Tres Leches Cake.  I make it often.  We're talking once a month.  Thing is, I rarely eat it.  Not because I don't adore it.  I do.  But because I'm always making it for somebody else.  I have to bake and (let's call it...) rustically decorate my cakes and then wave goodbye to them as they walk out the door in somebody else's hands.

Fortunately we had a birthday in the house last month.  It was the hubby's.  And, it just so happens that Tres Leches is his favorite.  So I was going to get to make my cake - and eat it, too.  I'd been craving a coconut version, so that's what I decided to go with.  And since it was probably going to be our only Tres Leches for our own enjoyment for at least another six months or so, I made it a double.
Coconut Tres Leches Cake
He was happy.  I was happy.  But I'm not greedy (much).  I still packaged up about a third of it and sent it along with him to work.  It never hurts to share the love.  Especially in the form of an extra-milky, coconut-laden, fruit-topped birthday cake.  Mmmmm.

I have an order for one bound for somebody else's enjoyment next week.  Single, though.  I wonder what the next occasion I can get away with making one for myself ourselves again is?

Coconut Tres Leches Cake (Pastel de Tres Leches con Coco)
Mexican sponge cake soaked in three types of milk, with lots of coconut.
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Coconut Tres Leches Cake
by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: up to overnight
Cook Time: 35-45 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert vegetarian coconut birthday Easter cake Mexican

Ingredients (serves 24)
    for the sweetened condensed coconut milk
    • 2 medium-sized coconuts with LOTS of liquid inside
    • 2 c. heavy cream
    • 1⅔ c. sugar
    for the cake:
    • 2 c. all-purpose flour
    • 3 tsp. baking powder
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • 10 eggs, separated
    • 2 c. sugar, divided
    • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
    • ⅔ c. coconut milk (withOUT gums or stabilizers)
    for the tres leches (three milks):
    • 1 can (12 fl oz.) evaporated milk
    • 1 c. coconut milk (canned is fine)
    • 1 recipe sweetened condensed coconut milk (see above)
    for the whipped cream:
    • 2 pint (4 c.) heavy cream
    • ¼ c. + 2 Tbs. sugar
    • splash of pure vanilla extract
    for filling and garnish (to taste):
    • unsweetened coconut (freshly grated or bagged), toasted until golden
    • fresh fruit
    to make the sweetened condensed coconut milk:
    Poke the eyes of the coconuts out using a corkscrew (I use the one on my wine key). Set a fine-mesh strainer that has been lined with cheesecloth over a medium-large, deep pot. Pour the water from inside both of the coconuts through the strainer and into the pot. You should have just the liquid (no shells or fibrous strands) in the pot. Add the heavy cream and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook at a steady simmer, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced to 2 cups. This will take about 15-25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

    to make the cake:
    In a large, deep bowl eat egg yolks and 1½ cups of the sugar with an electric mixer on high speed until yolks are thick and pale yellow. Carefully add milk and vanilla to bowl and beat on low speed until combined.

    Pour egg yolk mixture over flour mixture and beat quickly until combined. Mixture should be thick, yet look fluffy.

    In another (or the same, cleaned out first) large, deep bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer on, pour in remaining ½ cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.

    Fold egg white mixture into yolk mixture in thirds. Add the first third and whisk to incorporate, as gently as possible. Then, using a rubber scraper/spatula, add the remaining thirds, one at a time, folding in as gently as possible. Basically, you don't want to deflate your whites. This is what gives the cake its lift.

    Pour into prepared pans and spread to even out surface.

    Slide into your preheated oven and bake for 35-45 minutes (begin checking at 35) or until toothpick comes out clean. Cake will be very high and thick at this point and will have pulled away from the edges of the pan.

    Turn cake out onto a wire rack or a rimmed platter and allow to cool completely. The cake will drastically deflate while it's cooling. Dont' freak out. It's supposed to do that.

    When cakes are cool, pierce the surfaces all over with a skewer or toothpick being sure to get the edges. Transfer one layer to a rimmed serving platter (hole side up). Let the other one sit in pan or on a sheet of parchment for now.

    adding the tres leches (three milks):
    Combine reserved sweetened condensed coconut milk, evaporated milk, and coconut milk in a jar or pitcher.
    Slowly drizzle about half of the mixture all over the top of the bottom cake layer (this is why you want it sitting on a rimmed platter), being sure to soak the edges as well as the center. Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes.

    for the whipped cream topping:
    Whip the heavy cream, sugar, and a splash or two of vanilla until thick and spreadable.

    finishing the cake:
    Spread ⅓ of the whipped cream over this layer. If you're using toasted coconut, scatter as much as you like over this layer. Heck, throw some sliced or chopped fruit in there too, if you like.
    Coconut Tres Leches Cake
    Carefully place the second layer (holes up) on top of this layer. Repeat the soaking drizzle with the rest of the milk mixture. You don't have to use it all if you don't want to. (You could use what's left in a milkshake or something.) We like it fairly milky, but the top layer is a bit tricky - you'll want to go a bit slower.

    Once the milk is absorbed, spread remaining whipped cream on the top and sides of the cake.

    Transfer the cake to the refrigerator and let it set up for at least 8 hours, or up to overnight.

    I like to decorate the cake close to service, especially if I'm using fresh fruit (this keeps fruit from bleeding into the whipped cream). Spread more toasted coconut over the cake and scatter some fresh fruit (whole, sliced, chopped...whatever suits you) over that. Cut into slices and serve.

    Cake will keep for a couple of days, well covered in the refrigerator. Cake gets noticeably wetter the longer it is stored.

    If you are unable to find coconut milk without any gums or stabilizers in it, substitute whole milk for the coconut milk in the cake part of the recipe.

    This sweetened condensed coconut milk (a technique I learned from Rick Bayless) really IS the secret weapon in this cake. It is SO good. It has to be made with fresh coconut water, though - it will not work if you try to use canned coconut milk. Pick up those coconuts and shake 'em. Choose the heaviest two that sound like they have the most liquid inside. This will give you the most coconut flavor.

    Of course, if you can find coconut water already out of the coconut without any additives, then use that. And if you absolutely are not able to make it, you can substitute regular sweetened condensed milk.

    Since you have fresh coconut anyway, you may as well peel it and shred it, then toast it carefully over the stove or in the oven until golden to use as garnish.

    This cake batter has a LOT of volume once you've whipped the egg whites and folded them in. If you do not have bowls large enough to hold the batter comfortably, divide the ingredients in half and do it in two batches. Fill one pan and then start over and fill the other. You can still bake them together.

    You could half this recipe and make a single layer cake.
    Coconut Tres Leches Cake