Tres Leches – A brief history

Tres Leches

Being the self-described foodie and aspiring chef that I am, I could not accept that the very “Mexican” pastel de tres leches that I grew up eating in my hometown of El Paso, Texas came from within a box of conveniently premixed yellow cake mix.

I was baking a tres leches for my very own going away party at work (yes I did this by choice and with a very enthusiastic disposition) and I needed a recipe that would wow everyone. I wanted to share a little slice of my heritage with my fellow co workers because the world speaks in food. Anywhere you go, this is a truth! So I called my mother and discovered that two generations of women in my family had given in to the efficiencies of the boxed cake mix. Bummer!

I started to look for my own recipe but the internet is overflowing with tres leches recipes claiming to be Mexican, European, Nicaraguan….etc. Confusion ensued.

Theory of Origin #1: There is a very confounding theory online which traces the origins of Tres Leches, as it is know to Latin American countries, to the corporation Nestle. Nestle distributed its canned milk products throughout Latin America during WWII when it set up manufacturing plants in Mexico. A quick call to my grandmother confirmed that she did indeed use recipes from the canned milk labels., although she couldn’t confirm the tres leches recipe was one of them.

Theory of Origin #2: Other stories tell of tres leches originating in Europe (think desserts like the popular tiramisu, which is another dessert that is soaked in sweet liquid before serving).

All in all, identifying the exact origin of this popular dessert proved to be a very difficult task. So I decided to start my own version with bits and pieces taken from different sources.

The Recipe : Sponge Cake from my prized America’s Test Kitchen Baking book 

If you want to step away from the boxed cake mix, this is the perfect cake recipe to use for tres leches. Soft with a springy feel, this airy cake will not get overwhelmingly mushy when I soak it with milk. Instead, it will absorb just enough to give it a crumbly and moist texture.

  • 1/2 cup plan cake flour (I substituted with AP flour without a problem)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, room temp
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  1.  Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 8 inch cake pans and cover the bottoms with parchment paper cut into rounds.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt  together in a large bowl. It is recommended that you sift it to break up any lumps.
  3. Heat milk with butter in saucepan, add vanilla and keep warm and away from heat.
  4. Separate 3 eggs and place the whites in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Place the yolks in a bowl with the other 2 whole eggs.
  5. Beat the whites at medium speed until they become foamy. Increase speed gradually and add 6 TBS of sugar until the whites form soft peaks. Move the egg whites to another bowl
  6. Add the whole egg + yolks mixture to the now empty mixing bowl, add the rest of the sugar and beat at medium high speed until they are thick and a pale color.
  7. Add these beaten eggs and sugar into the egg whites.
  8. Carefully sprinkle the flour mixture into this egg mixture and fold gently with a rubber spatula until all of the flour is thoroughly combined. The original recipe suggests 12 times but it may take slightly more.
  9. Pour the milk and butter into a well made on the side of the bowl. Mix until there is no trace of dry flour.
  10. Pour the batter into prepared cake pans and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the top appears to be a golden color and a toothpick inserted to the center of the cake comes out clean.
  11. Run a knife along the perimeter of the cakes. This will loosen them up so that they can be turned over and removed from the pans.
  12. Place cakes on a baking rack and place in the refrigerator until fully cooled.

Three Milks - For this one I just kind of played it by ear (remember I am creating my own recipe). I used heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and half and half at a ratio of  1 – .50 – .50. So I used 2 cups of liquid altogether and wanted to avoid an overtly sweet milk blend. I grated a bit of cinnamon into the milk. Many people like to spike it with some kind of liquor. I will definitely do that next time.

Divide the milk into two equal portions. Poke holes throughout the cakes with a fork and slowly drizzle the milk blend into each cake. Pause while the cake absorbs most of it, then come back and continue to drizzle more in. You will find that the milk will start to ooze out of the bottom as the sponge becomes more and more saturated. You could  probably take that milk and reuse it if you wanted to.

Decoration  - This calls for a standard whipped heavy cream topping. I grated some lemon zest (1/2 tsp) and added honey to taste until it was sweet enough for me. Whipped the cream to stiff peaks on a stand  mixer.

Before spreading it on the cake, I spread a thin layer of raspberry jam on top of one cake, then topped it with the other cake layer of equal size. Then once this was set in place, I spread the whipped cream evenly throughout until smooth. This is a blank canvas now, ready to be decorated with fresh fruits, pecans, almonds, or anything else that you may have available!

Portland Oregon Inspiration

Deciding what to leave behind when the moving day comes is very difficult and stressful. I know I should not be so attached to objects but I cannot help but think that that I may need that mandolin that I have not used in 3 years. Then I end up putting it in the keep pile instead of throwing it out…..

So I have decided to remain focused! These are some of my favorite Portland Oregon photographs found around the internet.  They help me stay on top of my packing and keep me striving to make it there in 2015!

St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, U.S (by Russell Flynn Photography on Flickr)

St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, U.S (by Russell Flynn Photography on Flickr)

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Burnside Bridge & Cherry blossoms

Snow in Portland, Oregon

Snow in Portland, Oregon

Oh the Markets!

Oh the Markets!

Packing up & going far….

As I write this, we are trying to consolidate 6 years of Florida life into the 2 -door VW Golf that will drive us three thousand miles across the country in an attempt to escape the increasingly backwoods conservative mentality of Florida folk and the heat induced stupor that strikes without fail every summer.

We have decided to move to the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Oregon) where the public transportation is abundant, running trails exist, and bike lanes are a convenient reality. Often rumored to be the land of craft beer, bohemians, and grass fed chickens, Portland seems like it will be an affordable foodie mecca for an aspiring chef and her tattoo artist husband – yet again,  who knows, we may have watched too many episodes of Portlandia! I am willing to take my chances…

To drop everything in one place and start from scratch in another is a rather daunting thought, we are seriously shitting bricks here…..So, in an effort to save as much money as possible, we have decided to sell almost everything we own (not much) and haul our most valued possessions; cats, le creuset, kitchen aid, bikes, computers, & books in our cute little hatchback!

So we have started to throw out, donate, and sell stuff! If anyone is a relocating expert, please do share best practices and tips! I will be ever so grateful!!

The adventure begins! Countdown: unknown (we do not have a date set in stone yet).

 

What I learned from baking a loaf of bread in 2013

I baked this

I baked this

For me, the process begins very randomly. On any given day, the sudden urge to create will overwhelm me and I am instantly urged to search the pantries, bookcases, and the refrigerator for  baking opportunities. I have three cats that lay on my cookbooks, against their will, they are pushed away so that I can be in search of my next creation. They hate it.

I have never been a professional baker, but I HAVE dabbled into the bread making realm with many disastrous outcomes.  I try to look beyond the failures….. There will always be another loaf.

Baking demands a very high degree of patience. Without it, a magnificent loaf will instead become a hockey puck. With it, an otherwise plain loaf will radiate with flavor and a hearty texture. Patience, which I begin to notice applies to all things in life, is the very first ingredient needed to make bread.  It helps that I am now the proud mother – ahem – owner of a beautiful sky blue Le Cruset that is probably the best baking vessel that I have ever used for bread. I don’t like to admit that I love some things; My Le Cruset is one of them…..but I digress….

I usually make a starter for my bread. This is a spongy gray-like blob that sits on my counter for at least an entire day and bubbles and ferments. If you know what the fermentation process does to food, then you are probably pretty grossed out at the fact that this gooey blob sits in my Florida kitchen for a precariously long period of time. However, if you know anything about how amazing fermented food begins to taste the longer it sits there, then, like me, you are probably jumping with joy at the anticipation of a delicious loaf of tangy sourdoughy bread.

Time is key when baking bread. Time for the dough to rise, time for the flavor to develop, time to pre heat the oven. Without time, the final product suffers. Then, the greatest lesson to be learned from bread is that having the will to start is just the beginning. Investment in time and a big portion of love are two ingredients that will pay off when the aroma of freshly baked bread emerges from the oven.

In 2014, at the foot of a new year full of unknowns, maybes, ifs, and perhaps, only one thing is for sure; I’ve got to have the will, and invest the time, this I learned from baking bread in 2013.

The food I ate in Montreal

The stop signs in Montreal read, “ARRET”. Really! Of course, it obviously means “STOP” because the bright red octagon is a dead give away. That is the purpose for a universal red octagon as a stop sign. unfortunately, sometimes blonde moments take over ( not to insult any blondes) and in a flash of excitement, you concentrate solely on the words inside that octagon and completely ignore the actual meaning of its red color……..which is to stop. Now! Before you run the stop….too late! And that was my first traffic violation in Quebec.

6 months ago I never even thought I would ever step foot in Canadian territory because quite frankly, I don’t fancy the idea of perpetual blizzard conditions and Paul Bunyan. And yet, as I completed my Internship at America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, rumors about the delicious food scene in Montreal started to make their way to me. Several of the cooks had been to the legendary Aud Pied De Cochon and had come back fascinated by Martin Picard’s monstrous yet delicately prepared meat offerings. With all the talk about the city’s perfectly flaky croissants , artfully prepared charcuterie, and beer, I just had to make my way up there.

The eating adventure actually began with a beer tasting tour through the 2013 Mondial de la bière. This is an annual beer festival which showcases beers from around the world. Craft beers from Brazil, Belgium, France, and the US were available for sampling. We even took part in a beer and cheese pairing class. We signed up for the class in an act of impulse upon hearing the phrase “free cheese”. Never did we imagine that it would be completely in French.

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Later that evening we made our way to the hip and sprawling neighborhood of Le Plateau where we found countless cafes with outdoor terrace seating and a vibrant nightlife. But there was only one thing in my mind; Aud Pied de Cochon.

The epic portions here are no joke. We shared a starter of bison tongue in a decadent yet smooth tarragon and mustard sauce sprinkled with finely diced mirepoixe. A melange of craft-fully fabricated house sausage, boudin noir ( blood sausage), and pork belly over a mountain of fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy came in as our second course. Finally, we could not over look the veal liver with bacon sauce. It was explosive in flavor. There was definitely no room for dessert. As we headed out we though we had seen it all, and yet, as we were walking out the door, I saw a server carrying a behemoth of a platter with a lobster INSIDE a roasted pig head. This is certainly an experience in excess and abundance. For me, a once in a lifetime experience that I am lucky to have experienced. Will I come back? Not really. Although Martin Picard is elevating the art of charcuterie to a worldly level, and for the quality of his food he is celebrated internationally, there are many others in this city who offer noteworthy charcuterie. Determined to find other talented chefs we headed over to a food mecca located in the eastern part of the city, the Marche Jean-Talon, a permanent market that supplies the eastern most side of the city with an ever flowing supply of fresh meats, local cheese, and seasonal produce.

Jean Talon Market is one of 4 major permanent market spaces in Montreal and a goldmine of cultural experience for us. The first thing we procured here was the coveted Canadian Maple syrup. No trip to Canada will ever be complete without indulging in its rich buttery taste and aroma. We also tasted several honey samples. Buckwheat and wild flower honey were the winners. As we made our way through stalls upon stalls of fresh Quebec strawberries and wild mushrooms, we got inspired to create a DIY lunch picnic. Our epic picnic experience began with a visit to a humble stand with an old refrigerated display case. In it were succulent rows of cured meats, sausages, pates, and terrines. The guys at les cochons tout ronds made wonderful recommendations and we bought provisions of Figatelli sausage and pork Rillete. Next, we headed out in looking for the obvious accompaniment to our charcuterie; cheese. Not just any cheese, but one that embodied the unique cheese making traditions and flavors of Quebec. We did not know precisely what it was that we were searching for, but when we spotted an old black board with the words Tomme du Marechal playfully written in fancy cursive, how much cuter can the situation get……When it comes to cheese, I am daring, adventurous, and adopting of the never-a-dull-moment philosophy. I want my cheese to leave an everlasting impression in my memory. We didn’t know what Tomme Du Marechal was all about, until the “fromagier” ( I learned some French) shoved a wedge into our anxious little fingers in an effort to make us stop asking questions in English. All we had to do was nod our heads in eager excitement and hand him some bills and soon enough we were in possession of the greatest culinary treasure i’ve held in a while. To this day, how this cheese is made eludes me, yet all that I know and matters is that the nutty, hay-like taste was perfectly creamy and went down well with some walnut bread which we later found in a random bakery next to the market.

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Other farm market findings:

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The picnic was a delightful success. The fresh Canadian breeze swayed the trees back and forth as we laid on the grass, full bellied and all, gazing up at the blue sky……not a care in the world…..

Eating Boston: exotic spices

Boston’s diverse cultural fabric becomes evident from the moment one steps foot inside any subway station. The hustle and bustle that is found throughout its intertwined sidewalks continues underneath the earth as hundreds of commuters make their way to and from home. Deep within the entrails of the city, one can hear a cacophony of intermingling voices spitting out words in all accents and languages imaginable. There’s an unmistakable Russian accent on the phone next to me. And when I look to my right to catch a brief glimpse of the Boston skyline as the red line travels across the Charles river, I see a group of Asian teenagers speaking in their native language. This experience is new to me. I decide that the best way to soak up all of the cultural diversity of a big city such as Boston is to start eating Boston.

Because food nourishes the body and soul, the best way to remember a far away home is by preparing the meals that will bring back all of those moments of nostalgia. They will rekindle images of kind, wrinkly grandmas placing firewood in the stove as they get the fire ready for the next meal. Moments later, I step out onto the sunlit Central square district. Sources have told me this is a mecca for diversity, and that becomes very clear from the restaurants surrounding the station. I can see Indian food, several Thai restaurants, and a couple of Mexican taquerias. What I am looking for is an urban cafe that boasts vegetarian, organic, and healthy cuisine. Life Alive calls itself an Urban Oasis/Urban Cafe, and I want to sample this emerging trend of food that is a healthy vegetarian fusion that borrows from all cultures. Unfortunately, it seems myself, as well as half of Boston decided to eat here today, and so I turn away from the 40 minute line and resolve to come back another day.

At this point, I am hungry, and so I make the best decision that has been made in a while, to go to Sofra. Ana Sortun has made quite a name for herself in the Boston culinary scene. She is the executive chef at Oleana and Sofra Bakery and Cafe. Both have been recommended to me on multiple occasions and judging from the crowds of patrons that packed the small, exotically decorated space that is Sofra, it may very well be a fantastic brunch experience worthy of the long 40 minute walk to get there. Inside, I feel a warm welcome as I look around and notice the bustle of the kitchen, the simple menu, and the artsy pastries that decorate the ordering counter. The embellished decorative pillows on the seating area lining the walls only serve to make me feel like a princess inside her middle eastern golden palace. Little do I know then that 20 minutes later, as I take my first bite of Borek, the special for the day, I will be upgraded to queen. Or at least it will sure feel like it.

I’d never heard of Borek before today when i learned that it is a thin and flaky phyllo dough that is filled with cheese and meat. It is then baked and served, as is the case in Sofra, with a tangy tomato curry sauce. It is topped with a dollop of labne. Labne is a thick, rich style of greek yogurt. The meat inside of the phyllo dough was a braised, then shredded lamb. The flavors created a delicious harmony in my mouth. The lamb had an earthy flavor that was appeased by the tangy greek yogurt. The tomato curry sauce served as a supporting role for the entire dish, making sure everyone got along together. The first bite was heavenly and delicious, unlike anything Ive had before. And so, with the simple act of eating the food created by another chef, I was able to distinguish and understand Sortun’s interpretation of the experiences that she had during her time studying in Turkey. Most importantly however, was that her food brought Turkey to me, and for that meal, I was a queen.

Below are a couple of pictures taken inside Sofra Bakery and Cafe.

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Eating Boston: St. Paddy’s Day

The waves of people walking up and down Broadway Ave. this morning grew increasingly larger, greener, and drunker, as the annual Boston St. Patrick’s day parade got ready to march on down South Boston, or as I soon learned from all the locals, Southie. Surprisingly, Bostonians not only celebrate Irish-American heritage on March 17th every year, but they also celebrate what is know as “Evacuation Day”. Evacuation day commemorates the day during the Revolutionary War in which George Washington forced the British to evacuate Dorchester, which is now a neighborhood adjacent to Southie. That day was March 17, 1776.

I trekked alongside the parade route, dodging droves of happy drunk people and often kicking many Sam Adams beer cans out of my path in search for a famous corned beef on rye sandwich. After about at hour of searching and still no sandwich in hand, i decided it was too cold to continue. I turned back around to my starting point, got in 20 minute line for hot coffee and headed back, defeated. On my way back to the train station, I witnessed the extravagant attempts of those who wanted to be the most “Irish”, which was such a fun experience. A girl was covered in green makeup, a green wig, and bright green glittery tights. Others were simply trying to get the most green beer into their system to proven their Irish-ness. But I leaped with joy as I saw the ubiquitous green man (from the series “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia” ) make an appearance in his clover green body suit and complete Irish attire. Capturing him in photo was enough to make my trip to Southie worthwhile.

Just as I had lost all hope of tasting the famous corned beef on rye, I wandered into a small cafe next to the train station and saw, to my delight, their special board. On it read: Corned beef on rye. Joy!

I sat on a sunny corner inside the quaint cafe to enjoy every bite of the salty, fatty layers of beef tucked inside two loafs of fresh rye bread. There was drunken chaos outside as gusts of frigid wind drove the the drunk hoards away and to their homes. Yet, I remained in a state of bliss as I observed the unrest around me and peacefully ate my sandwich.
Later, I learned that corned beef is primarily an Irish-American dish which probably originated when the Irish in America decidedly substituted the pork for beef. In any case, St. Patrick’s day is also a celebration that is observed mainly in America, and so in the spirit of America and its diverse cultural heritage, I had a famous corned beef sandwich in South Boston on St. Paddy’s day. I am living the life.

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