Brazilians Really Got Milk

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The finished product: gorgeous and luscious. Leticia Schwartz/JW

Don't hold back on Shavuot, the only holiday that celebrates dairy over meat.

Sweetened condensed milk. Coconut milk. Evaporated milk. All of these ingredients used to be considered exotic; now you can find them in any supermarket because of the popularity of Latin cuisine, where they are common in everyday cooking.

Who better, then, to consult for a Shavuot recipe? Tradition tells us that Jews did not eat any meat during the time they were waiting for Moses to bring the Torah, but lots of cheese and milk. This is probably the only holiday where Jews play in the kitchen with a bonanza of dairy foods. This recipe for the tropical classic, Tres Leches Cake, gives you ample permission to play.

It was always present on the Shavuot tables of my childhood in Rio through the Moroccan side of my family, who were from Tangier. Most traditional Latin cakes come from the sponge cake family, and are direct descendants of a very old Spanish recipe called pan di españa, which is also typical of Sephardic Jewish cooking. Tres Leches is no exception.

This cake is a wonder: simple to make, impressive to serve and full of harmonious flavors that seduce the palate. The basic premise of the recipe is that a sponge cake is soaked in 3 different types of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and coconut milk, hence the name.

I like to prepare a whipped cream to top the cake, but you don’t have to. You can serve with dusted powder sugar, or some berries or some caramel ice cream. More dairy to celebrate Shavuot! More!

Servings & Times
Yield:
  • Serves 14-16
Active Time:
  • 1 hr
Total Time:
  • 9 hr
Ingredients

For the cake:

10 eggs

1 cup (200g) sugar

1 1/8 cup (175g) flour

For soaking the cake:

1 (12-oince) can evaporated milk

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

1¼ cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon coconut extract

For the whipped cream:

1 cup (250ml) heavy cream

1 tablespoon (8g) powdered sugar

Steps
  1. Grease a 9 X 13 baking dish (glass or porcelain). Pre-heat the oven to 325˚F.
  2. Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water (bowl should not touch water) and heat just until lukewarm to the touch, whisking constantly with a long whisk to prevent curdling. Bring the bowl to the mixer and attach the whisk beater. Start beating on low speed, gradually increasing to high speed. Beat on high until mixture has thickened, whitened, and tripled in volume, about ten to 12 minutes.
  3. Sift the flour over the mixture and gently fold to combine. The eggs will naturally deflate a little but they will still be fluffy. Carefully pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake until the cake is lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the three milks and cream together. Add the vanilla and coconut extracts and whisk again. Pierce the cake all over with a toothpick or skewer. Carefully and slowly pour the liquid, one ladle at a time over the cake. Add another ladle only when the previous one has been completely absorbed. This process will take about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, until the liquid is completely absorbed.
  5. Bring the cake to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it starts to thicken. Sift the sugar over, and continue to whip until it reaches soft peaks. Pour on top of the cake and use a spoon to make swirl moves. Serve immediately.