Tropical Tres Leches Cake

A pan of Tropical Tres Leches Cake with fresh fruit

 

To be alive at all is to have scars.
– John Steinbeck

How beautiful you are
He said
A tapestry of scars
– Atticus

I couldn’t help staring at him, transfixed. His perfect Dutch face – high cheekbones, full lips, mutable blue-grey eyes, alabaster skin – dissected diagonally, from his left eyebrow, across his nose, to the right of his chin – by a jagged, pink scar.

He. Was. Beautiful.

I blushed when those eyes caught me looking.

Thirty years later and scars still fascinate me. Rather than flaws, I see them as character, turning unremarkable symmetry into something unique, exquisite. In addition to their visual interest, each scar carries a story – nature’s version of a tattoo – without any say from the owner in the final artwork. This particular scar, this story, was the result of smashing through a windshield.

I find the invisible scars just a beautiful – the ones carried on the inside. We hide them from the world, afraid we’ll appear disfigured, imperfect, damaged. However, they’re what make us truly remarkable. A smooth cabochon is lovely, but a faceted stone, with its 1000 cuts, is much more precious and shines with fire. There’s no need to hide your scars from me – they’re what I like best. I won’t love you in spite of them; I’ll love you because of them. Scars, both the visible and unseen, tell the world we have lived…and survived.

– written July 2019

As is often my style, what I’ve written above has absolutely nothing to do with the recipe below, except that they were both birthed by me.


Tropical Tres Leches Cake

  • Servings: 12-16 servings
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Ingredients

    Tres Leches Milk
  • 10 oz. dulce de leche or 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (see note below)
  • 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Cake
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Topping
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup coconut, toasted
  • Assorted chopped tropical fruit (strawberries, mangoes, kiwi, or berries)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together dulce de leche, evaporated milk, heavy whipping cream and vanilla. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325⁰ F. Grease and flour a 9”x13” pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. Whip eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until frothy. With the mixer on medium, gradually add the sugar until incorporated, then beat on medium high until the mixture is pale yellow, thick and glossy, 8-10 minutes.
  3. While the mixture is beating, heat the milk and butter in a small pan over low heat until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. When the eggs are ready, reduce the mixer to slow and add the milk. The milk can be fairly warm, but not hot to the touch.
  4. Add the flour mixture in three parts with the mixer on medium speed and beat just until combined. Scrape down the sides as needed.
  5. Pour the mixture into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. The cake is done when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon handle or chopstick, poke holes in the cake surface, spacing them about ½” apart (a skewer is too small). Pour the tres leches liquid slowly over the cake and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to overnight (the longer the better).
  6. A few hours before serving, whip together the cream, corn syrup, and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread the topping over the cake, garnish with fruit and coconut.
  7.  

    Note: If you can’t find dulce de leche, you can make your own by slowly reducing sweetened condensed milk in the microwave. Pour the milk in a microwave safe bowl and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on medium power for 3-5 minute intervals until milk begins to darken, uncovering and stirring between intervals. Once milk begins to color (about 10 minutes total), reduce power to low and continue heating and stirring until thickened and light brown. This process can take 30 minutes or longer.

    Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.


Raspberry Bakewell Mini Tarts

A platter of Raspeberry Bakewell Mini Tarts

The woman you seek does not exist, but someone more profound and exquisite (and real) would willingly stand beside you, clasping your hand. Place your impossible ideals of chaste Madonna by sunlight and sinful whore at nightfall aside and truly see us. We are angel and devil in equal measure and cannot hide one trait away depending on your desires or the time of day. Sometimes our licentious tongue yearns for daylight; sometimes our crooked halo still hovers above us in the night.

Our femininity is not determined by our willingness to compromise our light and dark selves for your sake. We are more complex, unpredictable,  and surprising than you could ever imagine. See us for who we are, love us for this dichotomy, and we will shower you with myriad delights.

Some of us will bear your children, some of us will dance naked in your moonlight, some of us will cradle you and gather up your tears, some of us with strive for heights greater than yours, and some of us will fill you belly with devilishly divine delicacies.

Raspberry Bakewell Mini Tarts

  • Servings: 32 Mini Tarts
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Is it a highly complex cookie or the smallest tart you've ever seen? Whatever you decide, the combination of tender crust, tart raspberry jam and rich almond filling are sure to delight.


Ingredients

    Raspberry Jam
  • 7 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 7 oz. sugar
  • Shortbread Crust
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Frangipane (Almond Crème)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 egg
  • 1 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 2 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • Glaze
  • 2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 Tablespoon water
  • 32 sliced almonds, toasted

Directions

  1. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Transfer to a small container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 32 mini muffin cups. Make crust by beating together butter and sugar. Add vanilla, flour and salt and combine until fully blended. Divide dough into 32 equal pieces, pressing dough along bottom and up sides of each muffin cup. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until just beginning to brown. If crust rises too much after baking, gently press back down into cups.
  3. While crusts are baking, make frangipane by whisking together butter, confectioner’s sugar, egg, almond flour and cornstarch. Spoon frangipane into a piping bag.
  4. Dollop about ½ teaspoon of raspberry jam in the bottom of each cup. Pipe frangipane over jam, covering jam completely. Bake tarts for an additional 20-25 minutes until tops are puffed and slightly golden brown. Cool completely
  5. To make glaze, mix confectioner’s sugar with water. Drizzle over cooled tarts. Garnish each with a sliced almond.

Hazelnut Mocha Cannoli

A plate of 4 Hazelnut Mocha Cannoli

I started a gratitude journal. Corny, I know, but I’ve found myself, like many people, struggling to stay on track during the pandemic. There’s too much time spent watching Tiger King, not enough time hiking or baking or gardening. On one such evening, splayed on my couch with blanket and Netflix and feeling low, my cat, Mochi, jumped up on my chest, gave my tummy a gentle knead, curled up and soothed me with his motor at a steady rumble. I scratched his head and thought, “THIS is contentment. This is all I need tonight.” The first entry in my gratitude journal:

Mochi, sleeping on my chest, purring

On today’s walk, the birds and their new babies were a choir of song, warming sunshine shone across my back while the lightest breeze kept the heat from being unbearable, Jacaranda trees Jackson Pollocked the sidewalks in a lavender explosion, and the air smelled sweetly of star jasmine. “THIS,” I thought as I traversed the neighborhood, “is all I need.”

I’m also grateful that my local Italian Market, Claro’s, stocks a pretty decent Cannoli shell.


Hazelnut Mocha Cannoli

  • Servings: 12 Cannoli
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Ingredients

    For Cannoli
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2.25 oz. chopped hazelnuts, toasted
  • For Filling
  • 8 oz. Nutella
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 10 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 teaspoons instant coffee
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

  1. Melt the bittersweet chocolate in the microwave by heating it at 30 second intervals and stirring until melted (about 90 seconds total). Dip both ends of cannoli shells in chocolate then in the hazelnuts. Set aside to set.
  2. Lightly beat together Nutella, mascarpone, ricotta and instant coffee. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with filling. Pipe the filling into both ends of the cannoli, filling completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

Rows of Apple Spice Muffins

“How often do you blog?” he asks.

“I try to post twice a week,” she unthinkingly replies, “Every Monday and Wednesday.”

Her answer was honest…albeit, incorrect. She USED to post twice a week, yet she hasn’t done so in a year. In December, Mardi Gras for most dessert bloggers, her fingers didn’t type a word. In 2019, her unique views didn’t surpass the previous year’s count, a first.

It’s not only about the statistics.

She compares her dull flat-lays to the avante-garde images in her head – a bowl of soup precariously teetering on a see-saw (quirky and unexpected), a slowly melting chocolate truffle on a tongue (sexy, gothic and moody) – and is chagrinned. Her intros are stilted and forced – telling, rather than showing. Her words only seem to flow when in the midst of upheaval – not a sustainable situation. Unsatisfied with her results, she wonders if she’s stuck in a pattern that doesn’t suit her anymore.

But who is she without her blog, her constant companion for the past 11 years? She considers her options and decides, before killing it off completely, to seek CPR – her first remedy – a writing course to revive words that have flat lined.


Apple Molasses Spice Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 Cupcakes
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Moist cupcakes with the unexpected flavors of cardamom and 5-spice garnished with walnuts and rich cream cheese frosting, if desired.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ¼ teaspoon clove
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 ” pieces
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • Cream cheese frosting (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350⁰ F. Line cupcake tins with papers.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, soda, spices, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, sugar, egg, oil, ginger and water. Add molasses mixture to flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Fold in apples.
  3. Pour batter into tins, sprinkle with chopped walnuts (if using) and bake until toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely and decorate with cream cheese frosting.

Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

A gingerbread cupcake drizzled with salted caramel

I’m a list keeper. I keep shopping lists, lists of books to read, lists of desserts I want to make, lists of writing topics, and my never-ending to-do list. Of all my lists, my favorite is one I’ve entitled “Things I Love” and it captures some of the things, from the silly to the sublime, that put a smile on my face. If you want to know what makes me happy, you can read my list here.

Looking back, I can’t recall why (or even when) I started this list. Remembering how crazed my work world used to be, I was likely attempting to bring a little contentment into my life. By reminding myself what truly brought me happiness, I could remember to appreciate these simple delights.

Christmas light displays didn’t make the list, but they’re a much-loved part of my holiday season. When I was little, my siblings and I would squeal from the station wagon’s back seat, “Pretty lights! Pretty lights!” whenever we’d drive by a festively lit house. As adults, we road trip to other neighborhoods – and other cities (Portland!?) in search of flamboyantly adorned holiday houses. If Jesus, Santa, Snoopy, AND a giant snow globe all make it into one tableau, our holiday is complete!

I’m thinking about Christmas light displays today because I’ve had a request to bake a few treats for a neighborhood holiday light stroll next month – a request I happily accepted. These sticky, spicy gingerbread cupcakes are my first contibution, adapted from Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread. My coworker, John, took a bite and said, “This is dangerous.” He then took a second bite and said, “This is really dangerous.” By his third bite, the cupcake was gone. Others agreed.


Sticky Gingerbread Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Servings: 24 cupcakes
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Dangerously sticky, spicy, not-too-sweet cupcakes topped with lashings of cream cheese frosting, salted caramel and candied walnuts.


Ingredients

    Gingerbread
  • 1 cup Guinness Stout
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • Salted Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ⅓ cup good quality salted caramel, plus more for drizzling (It’s worth making your own!)
  • 24 candied walnuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 muffin tins. Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, and then cool to room temperature.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
  3. Fill muffin tins ¾ full and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 25 minutes. Cool completely.
  4. To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salted caramel. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy. If frosting is too soft, refrigerate for 15 minutes before piping.
  5. Frost cupcakes, drizzle with additional salted caramel, and garnish with a candied walnut.