Sunday, August 15, 2010


For the last five summers friends of mine have hosted an annual barbeque, each one uniquely themed to pay tribute to a particular style of cuisine. Last year it was Jamaican Me Hungry, the year before Dirty South, and well, you see where I'm going with this...
This year it was Viva La Pig! An ode to the whole roasted pig, Cuban-style, thanks to "La Caja China", or Chinese box, a must-have cooking device for roasting a whole hog. The unusual contraption designed by a Cuban-American father and son team in Miami is basically a metal-lined wooden cooker on wheels covered by a tray of hot charcoal. It somewhat resembles a wheelbarrow. The process took up to four or more hours but the results were divine - tender, succulent, and unbelievably delicious. Thanks to the boys for another fantastic feast!

Pastel Tres Leches, or "Three milk cake" is a light airy sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Although not Cuban in origin, this 'to die for' dessert is popular in many parts of Central America and Mexico. Although my offering wasn't home-made like so many of the other dishes at the BBQ, it was appreciated and quickly devoured by all. I purchased my pastel tres leches from Gigi's Bakery & Cafe located on Temple Street near downtown Los Angeles. Here's a simple recipe.

Tres Leches Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 whole eggs
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cups milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1/4 cups heavy cream

For the icing:
1 pint heavy cream, for whipping
3 tbsp sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Spray a 9x13 inch pan liberally until coated.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.
  3. Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.
  4. Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.
  5. Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.
  6. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.
  7. Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture - try to get as much around the edges of the cake as you can.
  8. Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. To ice the cake,whip 1 pint of heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable. Spread over the surface of the cake. Decorate cake with whole or chopped maraschino cherries. Cut into squares and serve.