Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sweet & Southern: Coffee Tres Leches

I'm a baker at heart. Although I went to culinary school and not pastry school, there is something so gratifying about the process of baking. It's like an edible form of chemistry, and whereas with cooking you usually can see your progress as you go along, with baking it really does come down to the anticipation of seeing the final result (or peeking through the window of your oven). I always feel like baking is kind of magical. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true.

I recently received yet another baking cookbook to review. You would think with so many in my arsenal I'd be passing on more baking books, but nothing could be further from the truth. I think if you're an avid baker, there is always room to learn more from other bakers. There is always someone pushing the envelope and I want to be there when they do!

Sweet & Southern is a lovely cookbook released by Rizzoli (one of my favorite publishers) and written by Ben Mims, a former associate food editor at Saveur magazine. Mims takes a really unique approach to Southern desserts (and non-Southern desserts) but really twisting many traditional recipes on their axes. I love perusing through the pages of this book and seeing comforting sweets through a whole different lens. I have bookmarked many recipes throughout, including the likes of Peanut Butter Cup Smith Island Cake, Pineapple Tarte Tatin, Peanut Butter-Apple Tart, Pure and Sinful Trifle (uses angel food and devil's food cake... and peanut butter mousse!), and Old-Fashioned Peach Ice Cream to name a few.

Pure and Sinful Trifle!

I've actually made two different recipes from this book so far and both have been delicious. First (and this is the recipe I will be sharing today) I made the Coffee Tres Leches. Imagine the most decadent tres leches cake (that means three milks in Spanish) with a tiramisu inspired twist. I'm shocked no one's thought of this before (or have they?). Making the cake itself is quite easy and basically starts with a meringue to which you add the egg yolks and milk, then fold in the dry ingredients.

A mixture of heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cooled espresso soak into the finished cake after it cools. The result is utterly sublime. I made this cake for guests and decided to try and serve it out of the pan on a platter. I used parchment beneath the cake that came up the sides and allowed me to remove the cake from the pan quite easily. I don't think I would do this again in the future though, because after removing the cake from the pan the "milks" started to seep out of the cake. I think this is inevitable even when you just cut into the cake, but it's worse when you don't have the sides of the pan to at least hold in most of the liquid.

The resulting cake was still incredibly moist and delicious. Guests swooned over this Coffee Tres Leches and I would definitely make it again (mainly because it's so easy AND impressive). It's not super pretty, just brownish squares to serve your guest with perhaps a dollop of whipped cream. It's not as stunning as some other desserts, but it tastes amazing. I would also only make this if I were feeding a crowd because the liquid does start to seep out once it's cut, and you can get A LOT of pieces of cake from this pan since it's so rich. Leftovers are still tasty, though!

One final note, when making this cake, be careful about how you wrap it with plastic wrap. My plastic wrap accidentally touched the surface of the wet cake and took a little bit of the cake with it, leaving a kind of ugly surface on one portion of the cake. It's nothing that can't be covered with whipped cream when serving, but just beware.

The second dessert I made was the Coconut-Lime Cornmeal Pound Cake. The reason I picked this dessert? I had extra coconut milk I wanted to use up. It turned out to be a great way to do that, and yielded a fairly dense texture (a cross between corn bread and pound cake) that was studded with coconut and had an intense citrus glaze. This cake basically a tropical spin on cornbread in the shape of a pound cake.

The cake itself isn't too sweet, so the glaze really adds an extra bit of sugar. To be honest, I think you could cut the glaze recipe in half since about half of my glaze ended up on the tray beneath the cake and not on the cake itself.

I would happily make either of these recipes again; both were incredibly easy and used basic ingredients I already have or could easily obtain. I would also recommend this cookbook to anyone who loves to bake and is looking for some less traditional variations on some Southern favorites (as well as fun desserts in general).

I think the next recipe I'm dying to make is the Pure and Sinful Trifle, but that's another one that requires a crowd to feed, with a few more steps than the recipes I've already made. Maybe with the holiday season approaching I will find that perfect opportunity to make a non-pie dessert to feed my hungry family. Stay tuned!

Coffee Tres Leches
Makes One 9-by-13-inch Cake
(Adapted from Sweet & Southern)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (I actually used regular cocoa power and also added 1/8 teaspoon baking soda)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream, plus more cream, whipped and lightly sweetened, for serving
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1/2 cup brewed espresso, cooled

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan evenly with baking spray.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until soft peaks begin to form. Gradually add the sugar while mixing, then increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk in the egg yolks, then the milk, then remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the dry ingredients until evenly incorporated and no pockets of flour remain. Pour in the prepared pan, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool completely.

In a pitcher, whisk together the 1 cup cream, the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and espresso, then slowly drizzle the mixture over the cake until all of it is used (don't worry, the cake may look like it's drowning in too much liquid, but it will absorb it eventually). Wrap the cake in plastic and refrigerate until it absorbs all the cream, at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Cut into squares and serve chilled with a large dollop of whipped cream on top.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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