I seem to be hitting a roadblock when it comes to describing things I really, really like, other than to say that I really, really like it, and that it’s really, really delicious! But it’s the truth. Believe me. This is REALLY, REALLY GOOD!
This dessert is best when it’s served chilled. It’s a̶l̶m̶o̶s̶t̶ a crime if you serve it at room temperature, in my opinion.
For those of you who might not know what “pastel de tres leches” is, it’s basically a cake (pastel) that is spongy (usually a chiffon cake recipe) and soaked in a three-milk concoction (three milks= tres leches.) A popular dessert all over Central and South America.
Over the years, I’ve made a fair amount of tres leches cake recipes, and some are pretty complicated. And some are not too complicated. I would rate this somewhere in the middle, in terms of complicated-ness, but only because you have to separate egg whites from yolks, and whip them to stiff peaks, and that you have to do it twice; once for the cake part, and again for the meringue topping. The rest of the recipe is pretty easy. There’s no layering of cake layers, and no fresh fruit to cut up. Plus, you can use a ready-made jam or jelly of your choice. I love it with a jam that is slightly tart, like raspberry, or my favorite jam lately, cherry jam! My favorite part of this recipe is pouring the tres leches soaking liquid into the cake, and coming back hours later to find the cake has soaked it all up. Some people like extra liquid to serve on the side, but I prefer it with just enough of the liquid for the cake to be moist, but not dripping. But that’s just me.
Pastel de Tres Leches
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, separated into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup measurements
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs, separated, room temperature
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
tres leches soaking liquid (see recipe below)
meringue topping (see recipe below)
Cherry jam, roughly 3/4 cup (feel free to substitute with strawberry, or raspberry jam, or even cajeta.)
Prepare 8 x 8 square pan by lining with parchment paper, letting two sides overhang with the paper. Set aside. Spray only the bottom with baking non-stick spray oil.
Separate eggs into yolks and whites into two separate bowls. Leave for 30 minutes to get each to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon, and stir with a whisk.
Whisk together egg yolks, orange juice, oil, and vanilla. Make a well in the flour mixture, and pour the yolk mixture into the center. stir with a spoon or rubber spatula until mixed with no lumps. Set aside.
In a clean medium bowl, using electric beater, mix on medium the egg whites until frothy, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice and continue mixing on medium, gradually adding the 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form.
Fold 1/3 of egg whites into the flour/egg mixture, then fold in gently but swiftly until most is incorporated, then add the rest of the egg whites and continue to fold in gently but swiftly.
Pour into prepared pan and level with small offset spatula or bottom of a spoon. Bake for 45 minutes or until cake springs back when you push a finger gently down in the middle of it. Or use toothpick test.
Cool for 10 minutes on wire rack, then remove from pan by running a thin knife along the sides of the cake, if needed, then lifting both sides of the parchment paper. Cool completely right side up.
Some shrinkage may occur. Not to worry, because adding the three milk concoction will make the cake appear fuller.
When cake is cool, prick holes all over the top using a fork or skewer. Place on a strip of plastic wrap about the size of the parchment paper that was used while baking and lower back into pan using the plastic wrap as “handles” on two sides of the cake pan.
Add the tres leches mixture slowly over entire surface of cake to soak gradually. Spread jam of choice over entire surface of cake. Place another piece of plastic wrap on top and refrigerate for at least four hours to overnight. When ready to serve, transfer cake to a platter and remove plastic, and top with meringue topping, toasting the surface and sides of meringue, using a blow torch if desired.
For tres leches soaking liquid
Mix together 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup condensed milk, 1/2 cup whipping cream, 3-4 Tablespoons dark rum, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Refrigerate until ready.
For meringue topping
2 or 3 egg whites
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
Place egg whites in clean medium-sized bowl and beat with electric mixer and beaters, on medium speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice and continue to beat, gradually adding sugar, a little at a time. Beat to stiff peaks. This can take several minutes. Be sure to mix on medium, as the air bubbles making up the meringue would be smaller, making the meringue sturdier. One sign that it is ready to be used is when it gets shiny looking on the surface, and is very stiff and holds it’s shape when the beater is lifted from the meringue.