Tuesday, May 30, 2006

just go to the bakery

Yesterday, I attended the requisite Memorial Day BBQ. Sunday night, W. suggested we make tres leches cake. Why? Neither of us had actually had tres leches cake, but we'd both heard about it, and something about sponge cake soaked in a bunch of milk just seems delicious. I looked for recipes and found one in an old issue of Everyday Food (which meant it would probably be easy) and one in the Gourmet Cookbook (which meant it would probably be difficult). I picked the one from Gourmet. Why? why? I was tempted by the addition of coconut milk to the standard combo of condensed milk, whole milk, and cream. It may have also been that the Gourmet recipe included rum.

I won't recount the various failures of this cake--it's just to painful. But instead of a spongy cake full of milky goodness, I ended up with a panful of cakey slop. It was hideous, too hideous to picture here. I think that since I got croissants right on my first effort I have an inflated sense of my baking prowess. This effort has convinced me that I have no idea what I'm doing. Did I not beat the eggs long enough? Did I get the oven temperature wrong? Did I misread the amounts? I'm not sure where I failed, but I most definitely failed.

Today, I was working with a group of ESL students to put together a collection of recipes. Since we were talking about food and many of the students are from Mexico and one of them owns a restaurant, I was certain that someone would know the secrets of pastel tres leches. No one had ever made it and someone replied to my query with a suggestion to "just buy it at the bakery." Very good advice indeed.


Blogger Lisa B. said...

When you have a true kitchen disaster, Laurie Colwin says, it's a sort of monumental occasion--memorable in a bad, yet somehow salutary, way. It keeps you humble, plus it reminds you to be grateful when food turns out to be good. I have had many, including the first time I tried using both tofu and dark sesame oil in the same recipe. Oy! Too horrible to offer any details.

On a related note, I ate my first bit of tres leches cake at a splendid Mexican restaurant in Austin. It is truly wonderful, and probably worth another try. In fact, your horrible experience has enticed me to make the making of a tres leches cake a summer project.

Lastly, on the coconut milk point: I once made a coconut cake from James Beard's American Cooking, which allowed one to soak the coconut in coconut milk. That cake was divine. Deeeee-vine.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Cooking at Home magazine (which Mr. Tart and his entire family swear by) had a recipe last summer for Tres Leches cake, which my mother-in-law made for us. The general consensus--I think--was that it was pretty good (and very moist) but not spectacular.

8:46 PM  

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