Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Let me tell you about the first time I ever tasted a piece of tres leches cake.  My best friend is Puerto Rican, and has close family living on “the island,” as his mom likes to call it.  My mother, brother and I went to visit with them when I was 8, and then I had the privilege of going back solo during the summer before my junior year of college.

Many, many tiny holes for maximum milk absorption.

Yeah, I know, Puerto Rico in July…a heat and humidity haters dream right?  Can I mention that my junior fall semester was the one I spent in Taiwan?  That was the longest half-year of my life (and also one of the most exciting.)

Spread that cream.

Anyway, back to Puerto Rico.  When I was there last, we stopped at a little bakery near the apartment we were staying at in Luquillo, on the northeast coast of the island.  This hole-in-the wall bakery had the most amazing pastries I had ever seen; delicate puffy shells stuffed with guava paste, mango cream tartlets, huge loaves of pan de agua and sheets of tres leches cake three feet across.

I was intrigued by this large, thin cake, and bought myself a piece.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  My friend’s mother asked me for a bite and I actually said no.  Then felt guilty and let her have one in the end.

See the glaze?

The sweet sponge cake sopping up the ethereal nectar of the three milks, topped with fresh whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.  I was in heaven.

The first time I ever made a tres leches cake on my own, it was a dessert Luke and I brought when we had dinner with one of his former high school teachers.  It wasn’t quite as amazing as that piece I had on the island, but it was close.

This was taken at the office.

When I needed something to pair with the chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes (and didn’t feel like making another layer cake), I immediately thought of tres leches cake.  And since the cupcake recipe required coconut milk, I thought working the leftover into the tres leches cake would be awesome.  I was soooo right.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Adapted from A Farm Girl’s Dabbles

Makes one 9X13” cake

For the Cake:
1 ¾ cup cake flour (or all-purpose)

1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla

For the Soak:
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup coconut milk

For the Topping:
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
cinnamon, for sprinkling on top

For the cake: preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 13″x9″ pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until fluffy.  Very slowly add in the sugar and mix to combine.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla and mix again. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three batches and mix until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. It will seem like a small amount of batter for a cake. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a rimmed platter.  I used a small cookie sheet.  Poke the top of the cake all over with a fork. Poke it a lot, the more holes, the more opportunity for the cake to absorb the milks.  Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

For the glaze: whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut milk in a medium bowl.  Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake.  Take your time and let it keep soaking in as you pour. The cake will not completely soak up the glaze until it has sat overnight. So, pop it into the fridge and finish it the following day.

For the topping: combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla into a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, mix together until stiff peaks form. Increase mixer to medium speed and whisk until thick. Spread the topping onto the cake, sprinkle with cinnamon, and allow it to chill in the fridge until ready to serve.


German Chocolate Tarts

Holy fish sticks, how is it already almost May?  This month has really flown by, leaving in its wake both joyous moments and disappointments.  But it’s almost May, and May means sunshine, and sunshine means sundresses, so I’m happy.

I didn’t start wearing sundresses until last year, and it’s still a big deal for me, so please bear with my excitement.  I can’t wait to move to the new house where I can be out in the yard, spread out on a blanket, reading.  Our apartment doesn’t have much by way of a yard, and every time we go outside, the new neighbor’s dog starts howling like a tone-deaf yodeler.

So I’m staying inside for now, and since temps are only reaching the mid 50s in MA right now, I’m ok with it.

I’ll just have to channel my warm weather frustrations into making some kitchen magic.  Take these tarts for example.  Pure. Kitchen. Magic.

KA and I made these back when she was visiting, since I was driving her home (which also happens to be my hometown) and wanted to bring something special to my dad.  You know, because I’m a good daughter like that.

I had some leftover filling from these cookies, so these tarts seemed like an appropriate vehicle for using it up.  Luke liked them so much he asked me if I really had to take them to my dad.  I mean, I don’t blame him.  My dad asked if it were possible for the tarts to mate, thereby replenishing the ones he ate overnight.  I think that means they’re good 😉

German Chocolate Tarts

Adapted from Scientifically Sweet

Makes 12 muffin sized tarts

For the pastry:

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

3 Tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, very cold and cut into cubes

1 large egg

For the filling:

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

2 large eggs

2 Tbsp sour cream

½ tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup all purpose flour

For the topping*:

2/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut

¾ cup evaporated milk

½ cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

pinch of salt

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped

3oz semi sweet chocolate, for drizzling (optional)

To make the pastry, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Add butter and use your fingertips to rub it into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  The butter should be well dispersed with some larger, oat flake-sized pieces remaining.  Beat egg well with a fork in a small bowl until very fluid and drizzle into flour mixture while gently tossing with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened and it holds together in clumps.  Turn dough out onto a work surface and bring it together in a ball with your hands, turning it frequently and pressing in loose bits until it is cohesive.  You may need to add a little water if your dough is too dry.  Add water 1 Tbsp at a time with dough comes together.  Fold the dough over itself a few times so that the dough is evenly hydrated.  Shape dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

After the dough has chilled, roll it out to a 1/8 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.  Use a 3.5 to 4 inch round to cut out 12 circles (re-rolling scraps as necessary) and fit each round into the greased base of each well in a standard 12-cup muffin pan.  Press pastry into the bottom and up the sides of the muffin cups.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the filling, stir together chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pot with ½ inch of barely simmering water until completely melted and smooth.  Remove bowl from heat and stir in sugar and salt.  Stir in eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.  Stir in sour cream and vanilla extract.  Fold in flour until batter is smooth and set aside.

Prick bottoms of chilled, unbaked tart shells a few times with a fork.  Spoon the batter into tart shells, filling them about halfway and bake on the bottom third rack of the oven until batter puffs up and pastry is crisp, about 15 minutes.  Let cool in pan at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Use a small offset spatula to help release them from the pan.  Reduce oven to 325 degrees F.

*I used leftovers from this recipe for the topping, so I didn’t actually make this part.

Spread coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until lightly golden, about 5 minutes, stirring once.  Transfer coconut to a bowl and let cool completely.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, whisk together evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks and salt over medium low heat.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens considerably and reaches the consistency of sweetened condensed milk or pouring custard, 10-15 minutes.  Stir in butter until smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in toasted coconut and chopped pecans.  Let mixture cool for 5-10 minutes before spooning about 1 tablespoon of it over each tart.

If you’re making the chocolate drizzle, place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot with ½ inch of barely simmering water and stir completely melted and smooth.  Using a fork, drizzle warm chocolate over tarts as you wish.

German Chocolate Cookies

My dad’s favorite dessert is German chocolate cake.  I remember my mom made him one for his 40th birthday, and there’s a lovely picture of the whole family crowded around this layer cake with beaming faces.

I wanted to recreate that cake for my dad, but I was too concerned that a cake would not be as tasty two days after being made and assembled, and transported over 100 miles.  So I went with something that is very portable, and is almost as good.

I really like the idea of stuffed cookies, so I was thrilled to find this recipe.  It was perfect.

My dad thought so too.  Nom Nom.  Hopefully next year I’ll be able to make him a real cake.

My seat got sniped by a kitty while I was tending to Izzy.  Grumble.

So I played with her tail in retaliation.  Kitty moustache.

German Chocolate Cookies

Adapted from Baker’s Royale

Makes about 20 cookies

1 ½ cups flour

½ cup cocoa powder

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp espresso powder (optional)

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp of salt

½ cup butter (1 stick), melted

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

2 tbsps light corn syrup

For the filling:

 3/4 cup heavy cream

½ cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

3 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

½ tsp salt

3/4 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped

1 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted

For the filling: Put the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan.

Place the butter, salt, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly making sure to scrape the bottom as you stir. Cook until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon, about 5 minutes (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

Pour the hot mixture immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture bowl and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. Filling will thicken will upon standing.  I recommend making the filling the day before and letting it cool and thicken in the fridge overnight.

For the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, espresso powder (if using), baking soda and salt in bowl and mix together thoroughly with a whisk. Set aside.

Combine the warm butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg and light corn syrup in a large bowl and mix together thoroughly. Slowly add flour mixture and stir until just incorporated.

Measure out a teaspoon of filling and roll into a ½ inch ball. Pinch off a tablespoon of the chocolate dough and flatten into a 1 inch disk in your palm. Then place German chocolate filling on the center of the flatten disk. Fold sides up and roll into a one inch ball.

You can roll the dough balls in turbinado sugar or granulated sugar if desired. Place on a lined/greased cookie sheet one inch apart.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Note: You’ll probably have extra filling, feel free to reuse it by spreading it upon other baked goods.  To toast pecans, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant.  You can use the same method to toast coconut.  I toasted mine in a frying pan because I only had sweetened coconut which can brown unevenly and I wanted to keep a closer eye on it.

Keema Chicken Curry

I cannot apologize enough for the poor quality of the photos in this post.  It was a tasty dish, really, even if the photos don’t convey that very well.  I am working really hard to make sure that I shoot in natural light, because my apartment’s lighting is horrible for taking photos.  Especially at night.

But that’s when you eat dinner, so I’ve had to make do.  I’m starting to make dinner while it’s still light out, shoot it, then reheat it when I’m actually hungry/Luke gets home.  This may work out well, since I don’t cook (or do anything) really well when I’m hungry.  Luke calls me “Hanna,” which stands for hungry Anna because my personality changes so much under the influence of hunger.

I hope you never meet Hanna.  Apparently she is not a very nice person.  Anyway, another new initiative I’ve started is keeping a spreadsheet of recipes I want to make from the various food magazines I get.  This way, I don’t dog-ear something and then completely forget about it.  Plus, I can make notes on the spreadsheet to remind myself of spicing changes, or just the overall outcome.

I’ve also done it for my cookbooks, and it’s been working well, since it’s much easier to search an electronic document for an ingredient than an index, especially when some of the recipes the index takes me to might contain other things I don’t like.  Plus I’m on my computer all the time anyway…so it works out.

Keema Chicken Curry

Adapted from Food & Wine January 2012 Issue

Makes 4-6 servings

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 pound ground chicken meat

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ tablespoons curry powder

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice

1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth

One 14oz can unsweetened coconut milk

One 14oz can diced tomatoes, with their juices

In a large deep skillet, heat the oil.  Add the ground meat and cook over high heat, stirring to break up the lumps (my grandma recommended using a potato masher, which works well to get the big chunks apart, sadly I didn’t have this knowledge yet when I made this dish), until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Add the onion, ginger, garlic and curry powder and season with salt and pepper.

Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, about 3 minutes.

Add the potato, broth, coconut milk, and the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until potato is tender, about 15 minutes.  Serve over rice, with or without naan.