Pastel de Tres Leches – a la canadiense

Every semester, I like to close my language classes with a fun activity. Years ago, I used to arrange for a field trip to a local Mexican restaurant. However, times have changed and such field trips now require reams of paperwork and releases… even for adult education classes. So now we have a pot luck in class. This week, my adult education Spanish class wraps up and I decided to make my pastel de tres leches.

If you’ve never had it, then “three milk cake” or “cake soaked in 3 milks” could sound kind of disgusting, I guess. But once your taste buds have experienced the beauty that is pastel de tres leches you never forget it.

There are loads of food blogs out there and don’t worry, this blog is in no danger of becoming one of them. But every now and again, you need to do something different. Since “language” is in the title of the blog, and teaching culture is an important aspect of teaching the language, I’m taking a one-dime detour to include some Latin American culinary culture (with a Canadian twist, just because we’re so obsessed with multiculturalism here.)

This post is dedicated to my adult education Spanish students this semester and to all the language teachers around the globe who are also wrapping up the end of a semester. Many of you, no doubt, will also be making some kind of dish to share with your students. (Feel free to leave a comment and share your dish with us!)

Pastel de Tres Leches

Background and Culture

The first time I heard about pastel de tres leches, it was from an Argentinian friend who raved about it. With eyes rolling back in his head and drool dripping from his mouth as he described it, he said it was famous in Argentina.

Central American friends vehemently deny that claim and assert that it originated much further north.

I’ve worked in Venezuela, Honduras, Cuba and Mexico and personally, I’ve never seen this pastel in any of those places! I’m sure it exists, but I’m not certain who has the real claim to its origin.

Step 1 – Plan ahead

Decadence comes with a price. In this case, the price is time. Ideally, your cake will need to rest for about 24 hours to soak in the goodness of the tres leches.

Step 2 – Prepare and bake the cake

Here is the recipe I use for the cake:

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) all-purpose flour

1 Tbs (15 ml) baking powder

1 Tbs (15 ml) cinnamon

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) sugar

1/2 cup (125 ml) milk

For the topping:

1 12-oz (335 g) can evaporated milk

1 14-oz (390 g) can sweetened condensed milk

2 cups (500 ml) milk

1 cup (250 ml) sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract

Sift the flour with the baking powder.  In large bowl beat the egg whites until frothy.  Add the sugar gradually, beating to form stiff peaks.  Add the yolks one at a time.  Slowly add the flour and milk.

Pour the batter into a grease and floured 13x9x2-inch (33x23x5-cm) baking pan and bake in a preheated 350F (180C) oven until edges are golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

For the topping, combine the three milks with the other ingredients, stirring until smooth.  Pour the topping over the cake and let sit until all the mixture is absorbed (at least 3 hours, but a full day is better).  Serves 8 to 12.

Pastel de Tres Leches

The recipe calls for a 9 x 13 pan. This is a 9 x 9 pan... and I made a smaller cake with the extra batter.

Step 3 – Add a cranberry compote to make it “a la canadiense”

I was inspired by this recipe. I adapted it this way:

Cranberry Compote

This, for me, is what makes this recipe “a la canadiense”. I remember when I was about 11 years old, growing up in Halifax one cold Saturday in November we went cranberry picking near the beach outside off town. It was one of the coldest, dampest days I ever remember. Our fingers froze. Our buckets seemed to take forever to fill. I’d filled buckets with blueberries loads of times during the summer, but picking cranberries along the beach, with icy wind whipping around you in November is a different experience entirely.

I’m sure my mother and her friends thought it would be a wonderful experience for us kids to know where cranberries came from and to experience picking them ourselves. But even the mothers decided that once was enough and we never repeated the experience.

Now, whenever I buy a cranberries, I always make a mental note to thank whoever picked them. It’s a thankless job, really.

1 bag of frozen or fresh cranberries (about half a kilo or 1 lb.)

1 – 2 tsp of cinnamon

1/2 cup water

1 to 2 cups of sugar (depending how sweet you like it)

rind of 1 orange

1 Tbsp of cornstarch, diluted in about 1/4 cup of warm water

Cook the cranberries, sugar, cinnamon, water and orange rind in a saucepan until it reduces in to a nice compote. Add the cornstarch in water at the end to thicken it up a bit. This is what it looks like as you’re cooking it:

Cranberry compote

And this is the final version:

Cranberry compote - finished

Step 4 – Serve and enjoy

Serve the cake with the compote and enjoy.

Variations on this recipe include serving it with a meringue topping or whipped cream.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

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