tres leches cake. I decided to make a whole meal around it, inspired by having my first real day of summer vacation to indulge in a marathon cooking session. The menu, all recipes taken from the Three Guys from Miami website: skirt steak marinated in mojo criollo with chimichurri sauce, black beans, fried plantains (tostones), and the piece de resistance: tres leches cake.
I started out by making the mojo marinade for the steak: tons of garlic cloves, salt, black peppercorns, sour orange juice (a good use for our tree that bears sour oranges), minced onion, oregano, and olive oil. I put that aside, with the meat soaking in its tenderizing bath. Then I made the black beans, which were pretty delicious-- I saved three tablespoons of the marinade, sauteed finely chopped onions and green pepper in olive oil, added garlic, the marinade, 3 tsp. of cumin, and once everything was translucent, a cup of canned black beans that I mashed up. I then added the remainder of that can and another can, both drained, and cooked this for 20 minutes. It was very flavorful-- this could have been from the added kick the marinade gave it.
The chimichurri sauce was a nice accompaniment-- a sauce composed of vinegar, fresh cilantro, olive oil, garlic, lime juice, onion, and cayenne pepper, all whirred together in the food processor. I cooked the steak on our tiny Weber grill and it sizzled and browned and came out delicious... The fried plantains didn't turn out to be quite so delicious-- they had a curious preparation, whereby you cut them into 2 inch chunks, deep fry them, take them out and drain them, smash them with the bottom of a coffee mug, and deep fry them again, adding salt and pepper at the end. They were just okay-- not nearly as good as some of the different kinds of tostones I've had at restaurants.
But the tres leches cake lived up to all expectations. I was really pleased with it, no, knocked out would be a better word. I didn't think somehow that it was possible to prepare this delight on my own. I compared two recipes ahead of time and decided on the Three Guys recipe because the other one involved slicing a cake into three layers and coating each with syrup, which I thought I probably didn't have the tools to do. (I could just envision the cake breaking up into a million pieces.)
Making tres leches cake basically involves three steps: first, preparing a delicious golden layer cake, redolent of vanilla. No mix will do-- this cake is terrific, and it puffs up golden brown because the egg whites are whipped up to a froth and folded in at the end. I cooked mine for exactly 35 minutes, as the recipe said, and it was perfect.
Step two involves the syrup-- the three milks that make this so unique-- mixing together a can of condensed milk, a can of evaporated milk, and a cup and a half (!) of heavy cream. I followed the timing of the recipe and waited until the cake had cooled twenty minutes before doing this. Then you poke lots of holes in the cake with a fork, spooning the syrup slowly over the cake and helping it to absorb by poking more holes in it before you add more syrup. It pools around the bottom of the plate and then sits in the refrigerator for three hours, waiting to be iced.
The icing was a meringue of sorts, egg whites, sugar, water and hot corn syrup beaten together. I didn't use the entire recipe of meringue-- it was an acceptable icing, but it wasn't the icing that blew me away (In restaurants, I remember whipped cream on top). It was the final product, which did give the full experience of having the cake in a good Cuban restaurant. Amy, who helped me prepare the icing, and Nour, who helped with grilling and eating, agreed.
The full recipe is here. I definitely would make this recipe again, but maybe sleuth around a little bit to find out a different version of the icing. I would also certainly use the marinade for steaks again, and the black beans were terrific... After these experiments, buying the actual Three Guys cookbook, advertised on the website, looks tempting as well. Pictures of the whole belt-busting extravaganza appear below.