Oh, you know me, I love a flourish. Sometimes it’s a rose crown on a bundt cake or a ruffle of gossamer apples topping a tart or maybe, just maybe a crazy swirl of toasted meringue on anything! But, sometimes simple is best. A summer snack at the lake, a slice of cake in a lunchbox or a midnight treat with a glass of milk. Those are the cakes we’ll make at the last minute, after a long day of work, just because we want a treat and cake makes everything good. Odette Williams wrote Simple Cake, a book about those cakes; the simple ones that are pure joy. Her book is filled with lots of delicious cakes and simple toppings that are great for a special occasion, but just as good if nothing in particular is going on. This simple chocolate cake is elegant and warm and makes me want to eat all the cake.Read More
This is a mashup of a classic Mexican cake and the Vietnamese ice coffee I am so addicted to. The connection is the sweetened condensed milk that is the foundation for both. Tres Leches (three milks) is a cake soaked with cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Vietnamese ice coffee is made with the strongest coffee on earth mixed with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice.
I made a coffee caramel milk syrup to soak the cake with and then topped it with a coffee whipped cream. Tres Leches by nature can be a bit sweet, but the coffee cream toned down the sugar and added a slight bitterness, which I found to be perfection. My family ate half the coffee caramel Tres Leches cake while I was at pottery class and then polished it off for breakfast the next morning, which just happened to me Cinco de Mayo.
I fell in love with a little Vietnamese restaurant when I was pregnant with my first son. I craved salty, spicy, big, fat flavorful foods and Quang delivered on all of it. I would have eaten every meal for the nine months there, but I knew my husband just couldn’t take it, so I limited myself to 3 days a week. Once my son was born I’d bring him in to the restaurant and the servers would carry him around, so I could have 2 minutes to slurp up my pho (soup) and suck down a Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese ice coffee with sweetened condensed milk). The coffee was a bit of a ritual in those days. They poured hot water over coffee grounds in a little metal filter, which fit perfectly over a glass with sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. It was like sweet torture waiting for the slow drip to finish and yet I loved the anticipation. Once the hot coffee was done dripping over the milk I’d stir it all together and pour it over ice. The first sip, because I was too impatient to wait another second, was the slightest bit warm and cloyingly sweet. As the ice melted and the coffee chilled the flavor was perfection. Sadly, Quang now brings the Ca Phe Sua Da to the table already made and in sealed plastic cups, which is hardly as romantic, but it is still delicious and I manage to drink at least one, or two, or three a week. They don’t come in decaf, so unless you are planning to be up late, you may want to save this for lunchtime.
The strong bite of the coffee, mixed with the sweet creaminess of the condensed milk is like a perfectly balanced dessert, so I hardly worked to get this one right. I like my panna cotta with as little gelatin as possible, just enough to keep it together. This version requires even less, because I leave it right in the glass. I suppose you could invert it, but the stripes are so lovely, and it would be hard to get it to look so crisp and clean as it wiggled on the plate.