One Cake, Two Stories

My Mother’s Day was very nice, this past May 13th.  At church, flowers were given to all the women in attendance, after the service (mine shown in this post.)  At home, I enjoyed a nice lunch, followed by a slice of homemade old-fashioned cake; I could not make up my mind between two flavours I wanted, so when my daughter was assembling the cake, she cut it in half vertically, and divided a large batch of buttercream icing, to create a “half-and-half” cake:

tres leches and matcha cake
She flavoured one half of the buttercream with vanilla and matcha (powdered green tea), the perfect complement to the Japanese tea that I had in mind for that afternoon:

matcha cake and Japanese tea
In Japan, desserts are very sweet and often have bold flavours, to contrast the unsweetened Japanese tea, but are served in very small portions, so as not to diminish the appreciation of a good cup.  Serving ware generally does not match the rest of the china, because it is chosen to enhance the beauty of the particular food it is holding; in the photo above, pink Japanese carp (koi), and swirls on the plate, contrast with the green icing and light cake.

The white side was our own version of “Pastel de tres leches” (“Three-Milk Cake”).  The original recipe is from the Mexican state of Guerrero (according to Susanna Palazuelos et al in “Mexico, The Beautiful Cookbook”, 1991.)  Traditionally, it was very popular to make this cake at home, and serve it at afternoon gatherings with coffee or tea.  Equal parts of evaporated milk, heavy cream, and condensed milk were mixed together and poured over a large vanilla cake split into layers; the layers were assembled back together, and covered with white meringue.  In our version, the “three milks” were: 1% milk, yogurt, and cajeta (Mexican caramel, similar to dulce de leche), which provided some colour and a more complex flavour; for the icing, the other half of the buttercream was flavoured with vanilla.  It turned out as a delightful and very rich cake, so just a thin  slice from this side was enough for a treat the next day, perfect with a nice cup of Orange Pekoe:

tres leches cake and tea

In the 1980s, a bakery in Mexico City started selling tres leches cakes, coated with sweetened whipped cream instead of meringue. It became very popular; cafés and restaurants offered it in their menus, and many couples even started ordering tres leches cakes for their weddings.  One of the wedding cake trends I remember in Mexico from those days, was a huge one-tier rectangular slab instead of several tiers; I wonder if the very moist and heavy cake – from the addition of the three-milk mix – had anything to do with that trend, because it would have been impossible to build a multi-tiered cake.

Printable recipe – Old Fashioned Layered cake

Old-Fashioned Layered Cake –
Pastel tradicional de capas


4 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
10 eggs, separated
3/4 lb (300 g) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Prepare two eight or nine-inch round cake pans by greasing bottom and sides with butter, then sprinkling with granulated sugar; reserve.  Sift flour and baking powder together, reserve.  In a large bowl, beat egg whites at high speed until firm and completely white.  Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and continue beating, until smooth and shinny; reserve.  In another large bowl, beat butter until fluffy, then add the rest of the sugar and continue beating until sugar dissolves.  Continue beating at high speed while adding the egg yolks, one at a time.  Reduce to low speed and incorporate flour mix, alternating with milk and vanilla.  Using a spatula, add egg white mix, folding lightly until the batter is uniform.  Divide between the two prepared pans, and bake in pre-heated oven at 350°F (180°C) for about 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes clean when inserted at the centre of the pan, and cake tops are golden brown.  Let cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before removing from the pan, then allow to cool completely. Trim both cakes with a long serrated knife, to remove domed tops and achieve flat surfaces. The layers are ready for assembling, and decorating.

Printable recipe – Buttercream Icing

Buttercream Icing – Cubierta Cremosa de Mantequilla


3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
6-8 cups powdered sugar (icing sugar)
1/3 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla

In large bowl, beat butter with electric mixer at medium-high speed until very smooth. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar. Add milk and vanilla, also gradually, alternating with another cup of sugar. Reduce speed to medium, and continue adding sugar until desired consistency is reached.

Old-Fashioned Cake with Green Tea Icing –
Pastel Tradicional con Cubierta de Te Verde

Prepare one batch of cake.  Prepare one batch of buttercream icing, adding 1 tbsp matcha (powdered green tea).  To assemble, place one layer of cake on serving plate, coating top and sides with half the icing.  Place second second layer on top, and finish icing top and sides with the rest of the icing.

20180510_203323 (2)

Printable recipe – Pastel de tres leches con cajeta

Pastel de tres leches de cajeta – 

Three-milk Cake with Cajeta

Prepare one batch of cake.  Prepare one batch of buttercream icing.  Mix 1/3 cup of 1% milk, 1/3 cup of plain yogurt and 1/3 cup of cajeta (dulce de leche may be used instead) in a small bowl.  Place cakes on a tray with rim, cut side up, and prick with a fork.  Pour cajeta mix evenly and slowly over cakes.  Let soak for 30 minutes.  To assemble: place one layer, cut side up, on serving plate, coating top and sides with half the icing.  Place second layer on top, and finish icing top and sides with the rest of the icing.

Note:  the more piercing with the fork, and time allowed to soak, the darker and more moist the cake; the slice shown below was from the half-cake in the story, assembled next to the matcha half, so it was not pricked at all to avoid contamination, and most of the cajeta mix remained near the top of the layers (centre of the cake):

slice of tres leches cake

3 thoughts on “One Cake, Two Stories

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