In Munich, the tradition continues. I find that more and more, I look forward to evenings spent with my girlfriends, sometimes in the form of an official girls’ night gathering, which most likely includes wine or cocktails, a potluck-style evening, a favorite TV show or movie, and definitely lots of conversation. But sometimes it’s also just a quick dinner and catch-up with a girlfriend whom I haven’t seen for a couple of weeks, and who I can spontaneously invite or drop-in on for a throw-together meal that is just as satisfying as the best-planned dinner party. I appreciate that so much.
There’s something about cooking with someone, isn’t there, that brings you closer together? My brain is sensory-wired to associate memories with food. Weird how that works isn’t it? A friend once mentioned to me that it is bizarre and uncanny how I can remember exactly what we were eating where and when, even if it was something entirely unremarkable. I must somehow focus my energies intently in the moment on enjoying – or not enjoying, depending upon what it is – that sensory experience, because otherwise my memory is really quite crap. Honestly, I can’t remember names, faces, important dates, or even (apparently) seminal moments in my own life (my sister is constantly astounded that I don’t remember particular events that supposedly should have scarred or transformed me for the rest of my life), but I do remember that we had that amazing roasted red pepper soup with just a hint of paprika… I believe that if I had a superpower this would be it. Sadly, it would probably also be the world’s least useful superpower- one can't exactly save lives with instant food recollection. Superpowers aside, the point is that because almost all of my memories are interwoven with culinary exploits or experiences, it’s natural that I bond with people in the kitchen.
All of this was meant to be a lead-in to the discussion of this cake. It came out of a recent girls’ night gathering. The theme was meant to be Mexican (on its own a worthy reason to gather when you live in a land that is almost barren of all things truly Mexican, or Tex-Mex, or Californian), and I wanted to bring a fitting dessert. I settled on Tres Leches Cake, even though I had never made it before. But I trust my abilities in all things cake, and Tres Leches is actually a very simple concept: a classic sponge cake soaked in a combination of milks. So I did a little research, and voila!, seriously fantastic results. It’s not a cake I would have intuitively considered writing-up as a must-bake-this-and-add-to-your-regular-rotation-list, but now that I’ve made it, I’ll be making it again.
Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Adapted from the Pioneer Woman
Sweetened condensed milk can be a bit difficult to find in Germany. The key thing to know is that evaporated milk is actually called condensed milk in German, and condensed milk just has the additional word "sweetened" (Zucker) on the can. A little complicated, but not impossible to sort out... I've had good luck finding sweetened condensed milk at Karstadt, and evaporated milk is available pretty much everywhere. Also, those sweetened coconut flakes - brought them from the U.S. So in the absence of that ingredient, you could top the cake with toasted unsweetened coconut, or alternatively toast the coconut with a bit of sugar. That would be great. I'm also guessing that almond extract would be an excellent substitute for the vanilla extract in this recipe. One last thing: this cake gets even better after a couple of days in the refrigerator. So don't throw out those leftovers.
1 cup (125 g) white flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (200 g) white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup (80 g) milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup (60 g) heavy cream
For the Topping:
Fresh whipped cream
Sweetened dried coconut flakes
1. Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.
2. Butter and flour a cake pan (I used a round springform pan).
3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
4. Separate eggs.
5. Beat the egg yolks with ¾ cup of the sugar on high speed with a mixer until the yolks are pale yellow.
6. Stir in the milk and vanilla.
7. Pour egg yolk mixture into the flour and gently stir to combine.
8. Beat the egg whites on high in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Add in the remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks.
9. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until everything is incorporated.
10. Pour batter into prepared pan, and spread with a spatula so the surface is flat.
11. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
12. Remove from oven and let cake cool slightly. In the meantime, mix together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and the ¼ cup heavy cream.
13. Using a fork, poke holes all over the cake and then pour the milk mixture all over the cake, letting it soak into the holes.
15. When cake is cool and ready to be served, mix up some fresh whipped cream and spread a thick layer of the whipped cream all over the top of the cake.
16. Last, sprinkle a thick layer of coconut on top of the whipped cream. Slice and serve.