Cajeta and Tres Leches Cake

I’m a big fan of Mexican cuisine. This doesn’t mean burritos, tacos, or fajitas- while I’ll happily eat those every day, I mean more of the traditional Mexican cuisine: stews, beans, flours, and spices. When the missus and I holidayed in Mexico a few years ago, we went on a ‘sustainable tourism’ day, part of which was going out to one of the small rural villages, and tasting some of their traditional cuisine for lunch. What we had was not complicated cuisine- a spicy chicken stew with black beans and rice- but boy was it good: rustic, wholesome, and filling. Ever since, I’ve been a fan, trying to reproduce the cuisine at home. Whilst the flour that is used to make tortillas and tamales, masa harina, is not easy to get hold of, chipotle peppers, which are smoked jalapeños, have just started appearing in UK supermarkets, so cooking traditional Mexican food at home has become a little easier as well.

Cajeta, also known as dulce de leche in some parts of the world, is one of the flagship Mexican desserts, being declared the ‘Bicentennial Dessert of Mexico’ in 2010. It is essentially a sweetened milk syrup, heated to produce caramelisation and Maillard browning. Poured on ice cream, combined with custards, or made into candy, it’s not that far off a thick caramel sauce. To make a traditional cajeta, goats’ milk is used sometimes mixed with other milks- here I’m using 50-50 of cows’ milk and goats’ milk to balance the sweetness of the cows’ milk with the unique flavour of the goats’ milk. After a friend gave me a couple of cajeta treats she bought from Mexico to the UK, I thought it was time to give making cajeta a go.

One approach to making cajeta seems to be to place a can of condensed milk into a saucepan with some water in, then leaving it for a number of hours over a medium heat. The base of the saucepan provides the heat for the caramelisation of the sugar in the condensed milk, and the boiling water, ironically, cools the can to prevent it exploding. However, it seems strange to make it this way- not only do you run the risk of exploding can and caramel on the ceiling, but you lose the important Maillard browning- but making the real thing is so easy. By combining milks, sugar, and a little baking soda, you can just leave it on the hob and let it do its thing; the end result for me, given the effort it took, was impressive.

Whilst spooning copious amount of cajeta into my mouth looked like an afternoon well spent, I thought I might find a Mexican dessert where the flavours and texture of cajeta are used. Enter tres leches cake. It’s a genoise sponge soaked in tres leches (three milks)- cream, evapourated milk and condensed milk. Here, though, to make a cuatro leches cake, I could add dulce de leche. The genoise sponge is made without butter here to keep the cake dry, so that soaking the cake in the milk mix won’t make the texture soggy, but nicely moist instead. The end result is a rich, dense cake, but full of milky, caramel flavours. Combined with a Grand Marnier topping, this cake was great to bring out as something different from the usual Victoria sponges, coffee and walnuts, or carrot cakes.

Cinnamon Cajeta

This recipe is taken from a great food blog I read, Joe Pastry. Makes approximately 750ml, and should keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

1 litre cows’ milk
1 litre goats’ milk
450g caster sugar
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 stick cinnamon

1. Make the milk mixes. In one bowl, put 100ml goat’s milk with the baking soda. Stir until dissolved. In a large pan, place all the other ingredients, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
2. Make the cajeta. Bring the large pan to the boil, and simmer for approx 30 minutes. When it is beginning to brown, add the baking soda milk. The mixture will begin to froth, so move off the heat if necessary. Continue simmering and reduce down to approx 750ml.

Tres Leches Cake

Again, this recipe is taken from Joe Pastry.

For the cake:
85g flaked almonds
140g plain flour
Zest of one orange
1/2tsp salt
4tbsp butter
6 eggs
200g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the syrup:
120ml dulce de leche
180ml double cream
60ml evaporated milk
60ml sweetened condensed milk
For the icing:
250ml double cream
2tbsp sugar
2tbsp Grand Marnier

1. Toast the almonds. Spread out the almonds on a greased baking tray and cook in an oven at 200°C for approximately 15 minutes until lightly toasted. Put the almonds in an electric mixer and whizz until they are in small crumbs.
2. Prepare the sponge. Sift in the flour, orange zest, and salt into the almonds. In a small pan, melt the butter. In an bowl you can put in a saucepan, beat the eggs with the sugar. In a large saucepan, pour in about 1″ of water, and bring it to the boil.
3. Make the sponge. Put the sugar and egg bowl into the pan, and heat until the egg mix is warm to the touch. Incorporate the melted butter, and fold in the flour mixture. Pour into a 9″ cake tin, and cook for approximately 30 minutes at 170°C, until a knife comes out clean. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.
4. Soak the sponge. Make the syrup mixture by combing the milks, cream, and dulce de leche. Place the cake on a plate, the pour a little of the syrup on top, using a pastry brush to spread it around, until the mix is soaked up. Repeat until half of the syrup is used. Then, putting another plate on top to assist you, turn the cake over, and repeat the syrup soaking with this side.
5. Ice the cake. Whip the cream until hard peaks, then add the sugar and Grand Marnier and mix well. Spread on top of the cake.

Spreading the dulce de leche syrup mix onto the cake.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joe Pastry
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 13:11:54

    Thanks for the links, James! Your cake looks fantastic. You’re reminding me I haven’t made one of these in ages. Shame on me! Cheers,

    – Joe


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