May 2012

Nacho’s Kitchen: A Battle of the Cakes

Every year, ritual goes, that for our birthday, the birthday boy or girl requests whatever cake their heart desires.  The only requirement is that it must be made from scratch.  No pre-mixes or jars of frosting are permitted.  No problem.  I love making Brad cakes.  There are numerous reasons why, but who am I kidding, the main reason is because I have an insanely strong addiction to eating batter.  No, raw eggs don’t deter me.  I will take my chances with salmonella any day.  A deep contention lies in our relationship around this one idea.

It all stems from differences in how Brad and I were raised.  When I was a young girl, after helping my mom make the batter for cookies or banana bread, she always made sure to leave an excessive amount of batter in the bowl, just for me.  I was never too interested in the finished good.  Sometimes we’d even save more and stick it in the fridge.  And here is where the problem lies.  Brad’s Mom always scraped out every last smudge.  Only then was the bowl handed over to the three brothers, whom licked it clean like baby kittens.  Brad insists this is how it should be.  I on the other think differently.  Which tradition will live on when we reproduce in the future?  Well, let’s just say that Brad is the barbeque guy in our relationship and I, the goddess of the oven.  Just try and stop me from bringing that kind of joy to our future offspring.

For my birthday one year I requested from Brad nothing other than a Tres Leches cake.  What I got was a 8″X12″ rectangular mass of sponge that, instead of absorbing the “three milks”, floated and bobbed about in a pool of liquid.  We tried to save it, and in the end pierced so many forks holes in the top that it ended up looking like a wall caught in between a shoot-out.  We drained the liquid and ate what remained.   I vowed to one day take the reins and make it myself.  This day did come, and what should have been a cake that leaked a creamy concoction from every pore, once again floated instead of absorbed.  I guess you can’t always get what you want…at least North of the Mexican border.

This year the idea of baking cakes was scratched.  No oven, no cake.  Instead, back in February, Brad bought me a  Tres Leches cake.  It was a proper Tres Leches cake, except for the fact that while hiding it from me, over the course of a winding mountain road, a shoe bin fell on top of the flimsy cardboard box, denting the cake inward.  No biggy.

A few days before Brad’s birthday, we were wandering the grocery aisles in Playa Coco, Costa Rica.  It was like no other store we had seen in four months.  The selection was outrageously good and we left with a massive quantity of food, including all of the ingredients to make tiramisu for the birthday boy.

From the store, we headed South down the Nicoya peninsula to the neighboring beaches of Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra.  After snaking through a field of mangroves and popping out at the intersection of the ocean and a river mouth, Brad hopped on the surf board.  Soon the waves were dominating.   As a present to himself before leaving the waters, he got a surfboard fin to the shoulder, producing  a long cut across the front of the chest.  It sucks getting older.   Luckily, that is what birthday cakes are for.

Included below is the best tiramisu recipe in the world.  We’ve made it over a dozen times and it has never failed to impress.  Also, in honor of one of my favorite desserts (yes, I am heavily promoting), here is the Tres Leches recipe that was made for Brad and me by Chacho and Ulysesses’ aunt in Mazatlan, Mexico.  It still stands strong as the best Tres Leches I’ve had on the trip.  Chacho was kind enough to get his aunts tried and true recipe for me.  Since then, I’ve translated it to English.  I’d love to know if making this particular dessert North of the Mexican border is truly possible, so please give it a go.

Tres Leches

  • Ingredients for the CAKE:
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cups of sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • Ingredients for the MIXTURE:
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 can of condensed milk
  • 1 can of evaporated milk
  • 1 can of heavy cream
  • 1 small cup of rum (1/4 cup)
  • Ingredients for the MERINGUE:
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 bottle of corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • Preparation for CAKE:
  • Beat the whites of the eggs until stiff. Add the yolk, sugar, milk, sifted flour, baking soda, and vanilla. Grease the pan. Empty the mixture and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Chop (poke holes) with a fork and add the following mixture: Beat 3 eggs yolks and add a can of condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream, and rum. Refrigerate.
  • Preparation for MERINGUE:
  • Beat 3 egg whites until stiff.
  • Boil sugar and water and add corn syrup until clear. Continue beating and poor into egg mixture until it thickens.



Cooks in   
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup espresso, strong brewed
  • 1/4 cup brandy (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 lb mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 lb ladyfinger
  • cocoa powder
  • For the SYRUP, combine water and sugar in a small saucepan.
  • Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.
  • Remove from heat, cool.
  • Add coffee and optional brandy.
  • For the FILLING, whip cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.
  • Fold cream into softened mascarpone.
  • ASSEMBLE a layer of the ladyfingers (or sponge cake slices) in the bottom of a shallow 2-quart baking dish or gratin dish.
  • Sprinkle with half the syrup.
  • Spread with half the filling.
  • Repeat with remaining ladyfingers, syrup and filling, spreading the top smooth, using a metal spatula.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before serving.
  • Immediately before serving place cocoa in a fine strainer and shake a light coating on surface.




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    Pingback by  Central America Overland Travel - Nacho’s Kitchen: A Battle of the Cakes on May 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm

  2. Osvaldo

    hello friends, if re-passed by Costa Rica and especially near Greece. I invite a good tres leches cake . just call me and i wait in my house

    Comment by Osvaldo on May 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

  3. Barb Wieber

    Your Dad and I miss your mouthwatering desserts. Your meals exceptional!!! Hey Sheen do you remember you and Brad of course were at a Mountain bike race somewhere up North and I told you that I brought some chocolate chip cookie dough for you just a thing we normally eat privately and hover over it so nobody gets any. You sat in the back of your Dad’s pickup truck and I believe it looks like you were somewhere in heaven. Oh those traditions will always keep going!!! What memories. I think I feel like baking!!! Luv you both Mom

    Comment by Barb Wieber on May 21, 2012 at 7:45 pm

  4. Dude that pic of Sheena and the cake is one of the best pictures I have ever seen

    Comment by James on May 22, 2012 at 3:09 pm

  5. Sheena

    @ Osvaldo – I wish we were still in Costa Rica and then we’d stop by for sure for some Tres Leches!! What is this about Greece?

    @James – haha, thanks James! Messy gluttony is so fun when you are a child. Not a care in the world.

    Comment by Sheena on May 29, 2012 at 11:59 am

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