Friday, November 11, 2011

Dulce de Tres Leches

Each year, I celebrate Dia de los Muertos (also called Araw ng mga Patay) with a fondant draped calavera cake (see previous years' cakes here and here).

This year, I'm also celebrating the birth of my son, and decided to do something different. In our home, cake is identity, and everyone has their own. I do this with my Mr., who gets a Strawberry White Chocolate Cake, and my daughter, who can claim a decadent Chocolate Truffle Cake, so I knew my son's would have to be comparably fabulous.

Have you ever had Pastel de Tres Leches? It's Mexican sponge cake, soaked with three milks (tres leches): sweetened condensed, evaporated, and heavy cream.

What about Dulce de Leche? It's sweetened condensed milk, cooked long and slow until it caramelizes into a transcendent sort of richness.

These are some of my favorite flavors, so combining them is only natural.

And so, my Dulce de Tres Leches Cake is born: layers of milk-soaked Vanilla Sponge, spread with Coconut Caramel and topped with Whipped Coconut Cream. The three milks I use are coconut, almond, and rice, but keep the coconut milk, and any other two will work fine.

Dulce de Tres Leches
One 6" cake
Make the sponge cake a day in advance, and the caramel up to a week in advance, and assembly is easy.

I bake the cake into two or three 6" layers, but you could also use a single 9" pan, and simply spread the one layer with caramel and cream after soaking it.

For the Vanilla Sponge:
1 ¼ cups non-dairy milk
¾ cup evaporated cane juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I use coconut)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apple cider or coconut vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Heat oven to 350ºF. Oil and flour two or three 6" round pans, line them with rounds of waxed paper, and set aside.

In a medium bowl or 2-cup measure, combine non-dairy milk, evaporated cane juice, oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract.

Melting coconut oil into the other liquids

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour in the liquid mixture, and gently whisk until combined and nearly free of lumps. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, and transfer to oven. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until the tops are golden and spring back when pressed.

Cool 5 minutes in the pan, and run a thin metal spatula around the cake to release it. Invert onto a wire rack, then cool completely, top-side up. If baked in two pans, split the layers crosswise just before soaking.

For the milks:
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup rice milk
1 tablespoon evaporated cane juice

Whisk together all ingredients until the sugar is dissolved.

When the cakes are cooled, place them in a large pan, and liberally brush the tops with the liquid.

Pour additional liquid over, allowing it to flow over the sides. Let the cakes sit and absorb the remaining liquid.

To Assemble:
1 recipe Joy's Coconut Caramel
2 recipes Whipped Coconut Cream

Gently--because it will be soaked and a bit fragile--place a layer of Vanilla Sponge on a cake plate.

Spread with caramel, and about a quarter of the Whipped Coconut Cream. Repeat with remaining layers, finishing with a mound of whipped cream on top, onto which you can drizzle more caramel, or sprinkle with toasted coconut curls, if you like.

Vanilla Sponge is my very favorite cake for celebrations. It's right for just about any occasion, making perfect cupcakes (bake it a few minutes less), and withstanding the rigors of stacking.

Also my favorite? Not apologizing that the last three posts have all been ridiculously decadent sweets. It's how I roll.

Z, finding the idea of a smash cake positively unsuitable, insists on the appropriate utensil with which to demolish his slice

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Joy's (New! Thick!) Coconut Caramel

I make this caramel a lot. It's perfect for drizzling over desserts and mixing smoothly into drinks. But sometimes I want something thicker and more substantial, so I've created a just-as-simple version that yields a richer, more spreadable sauce.

The original post goes into the technical bits of making caramel, so I'm reposting it, with the amounts for the thicker version, here.

Caramel is generally made by adding butter and cream to caramelized sugar. Not vegan, but the usual substitutes for dairy can impart an odd taste. After many experiments with soy creamer and Earth Balance, I scrapped the idea and started from scratch. Here, coconut milk adds a barely discernible taste and provides necessary fat, and since there are really only two ingredients, the flavor notes stay very pure. The resulting caramel is perfectly smooth, with a bit of elusive smokiness.

About Caramel
Although this recipe is fairly simple, it does require some understanding of the caramelization process. When sugar is heated to the point of melting (with or without water), it begins to color and caramelize. If left as is, it will solidify into a hard mass. If water is added, it becomes a thin sauce. If water and fat are added, the caramel develops body and a satiny texture.

Since crystallization is the enemy of a good caramel, preventing it is important. There are several ways to do this:

-Incorporate an acid into the sugar/water mixture (lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar); this keeps the sugar crystals from joining together.
-Once heated, do not stir the sugar mixture, and don't touch it with anything (like a candy thermometer).
-Cover the pan until the sugar mixture is completely dissolved; the steam will wash any crystals into the pan.

Caramel can burn very quickly. But for a proper caramel, do take it to the closest point before it actually does. It should be the color of an older penny, and should smell a bit sharp. It might take a few tries to muster the courage, but it's worth it. The color can be tested by carefully dipping strips of white paper into the caramel.

Adding the water will make the caramel bubble up--use a pan with high sides and stand back. Caramel is extremely hot and can do serious damage, so you might consider wearing plastic gloves while making it.

The caramel is perfect for spreading on desserts, like the Dulce de Tres Leches Cake I made for my son's first birthday. You'll see the recipe here soon.

Joy's Coconut Caramel
about 1 cup

1/4 cup cold water
one pinch cream of tartar, or a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar (I prefer cream of tartar, as it doesn't impart a taste)
1 cup evaporated cane juice
3/4 cups full fat coconut milk (not light), at room temperature

Add the cold water, cream of tartar or lemon juice, and evaporated cane juice to a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Avoid Teflon, as the coating can be damaged by extreme temperatures. Stir the mixture briefly with a clean finger to dissolve any lumps.

Cover and cook over medium heat, swirling to dissolve, 3 to 7 minutes. When the syrup is completely clear, uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until deep brown. Be patient; this can take around 10 minutes.

This is the color you're looking for. Darker than most finished caramel, but not quite as red as an old penny.

Immediately remove from heat and slowly whisk in the coconut milk; stand back, because it will bubble up and spatter violently. Allow to cool slightly before serving or storing. Keep in the refrigerator in a glass jar for up to a month.

A kombucha bottle or old jar is just right for storing a batch of Coconut Caramel.