Tres Leches.

January 18, 2012

During one particular trip to Honduras many years ago, I arrived on a rainy day. Not to be deterred, I made a beeline for the cafe as my first order of business. I claimed a gigantic piece of tres leches for myself, and exited out the back door to eat my sweet confection in the house.

As I descended down the wet tile steps, attempting to shelter my precious dessert from the elements, I suddenly slid and in one cartoon-like swift motion slipped backwards as if I had stepped on a banana peel. Limbs went flailing and I achieved lift-off.

Also launched into the air was the poor piece of tres leches, which propelled off the plate, rolled up my leg, and went flying. When gravity completed its number, I slammed painfully back onto the stairs and winced in amazement as the tres leches came tumbling down, settling perfectly back on the plate still in my hand.

The black bruise on my butt that marked the remainder of the trip, though extremely painful, still did not ruin tres leches for me. This dessert is that good.

Over Christmas break, I apprenticed an informal class with my pastry chef aunt to learn the ways of her magical tres leches. The above photo documents my very first attempt (and a successful one at that, if I may say so myself) to create the dessert on my own.

Currently stuffing my face and rejoicing over the significant yield of the recipe because, let me tell you, tres leches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is the life.

Cheers!


Cake:

5 eggs (separate yolks and whites into two big bowls)

¼ cup sugar + 1/3 cup of sugar (separate_

1/6 cup (2 2/3 Tbs.) orange juice

1/6 cup (2 2/3 Tbs.) vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup cake flour, sifted

1 ½ tsp. baking powder, sift with flour

½ tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add sugar to egg yolks. Beat until just mixed. Mix in orange juice and oil. Beat until just mixed. Add sifted flour and baking powder in two batches. Beat until just blended. Mix in vanilla.

Add 1/3 cup of sugar and cream of tartar to egg whites. Beat on high until semi-stiff (peaks should not bend). Add half egg white mixture to egg yolk batter in large bowl. Mix well. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold gently to retain volume. Pour into 9”x13” pan and smooth top. Bake for 17-20 minutes.

Leches: (12 servings)

4 cups of milk

½ can condensed milk

1 can evaporated milk

Whisk milks together and blend well. Poke cake with chopsticks (lots of holes; don’t forget edges). Pour milk mixture over cake evenly.

Meringue: (12 servings)

3 egg whites

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup water

½ tsp. vanilla (clara)

Boil sugar and water until mixture becomes the consistency of honey. (Best in an aluminum pot.) Whip egg whites. Once they start to become puffy, keep whipping on high and drizzle in sugar mixture. Add vanilla. Whip until light and fluffy. Frost cake. Refrigerate cake overnight before serving.

Meches.

January 9, 2012

The realities of living in Latin America necessitates the high white wall crowned with broken glass and barbed wire that surrounds our compound. And although Tegucigalpa used to be significantly safer than it is now (which is not safe at all), we kept mean German Shepherds that would patrol the courtyard by night just in case. These ferocious beasts–always named some saccharine variation of Prince, Princess, or Duchess (total misnomers if you ask me)–only answered to my grandfather and Meches, the ever-present gatekeeper/gardener/jack-of-all-trades.

Every night, I would stand at the window overlooking the garden, clutching the iron grates to watch as the dogs were let out. I remember the mixture of fascination and sheer terror that would course through my veins, particularly when the dogs would see me and come barking hungrily at the window cracks.

One morning, my little three or four-year-old self was wandering around the house as I often spent my summers. I am the oldest grandchild, so it was a few years before there was anyone else to boss around play with. Thus, I had to entertain myself, and I decided to take my adventures out into the garden.

I pushed open the screen door and about fifty feet to my right was an enormous canine. I saw a chain around its neck, and since I assumed the dog was tied to the wall, I thought I was free to exit the house safely. I dared to step out, but frightened nonetheless, I started running toward the garden located on the opposite side of the house, away from the beast.

Well. The dog wasn’t chained, and as we all know, running is the last thing one should do in front of a mean dog. Naturally, it started chasing me, hungry for blood. I hadn’t lived that long, but that was undoubtedly THE scariest moment of my life. Everyone else was inside the house, tucked away upstairs, and therefore impervious to my screams.

I turned the corner, desperately racing on my little legs, wondering where exactly I was going to go, and thank the sweet Lord, Meches was standing in the middle of the garden watering the plants. I took a champion leap worthy of an Olympic medal and pounced on him.

Then I looked down and saw that the bloodthirsty carnivore had completely demolished my plastic flip flops and was itching to get at my feet. I don’t remember anything else after that.

That is my most prominent memory of Meches.

He worked for our family from the days that my grandpa was young–yet another permanent fixture in my archive of Honduran memories to be sure. He always wore cowboy hats, had kind crinkly eyes, and called me Lorenita. And he saved my life, so I liked him a lot.

On this last trip back to Teguc, I was informed that he had retired and was dangerously ill. I was saddened to think I would likely never see him again.

The day after Christmas, I was sitting in the funeral home, reflecting on the many ways this era was ending in Honduras. I wondered how many stories would remain without opportunity to derive personal closure.

I saw movement in the doorway out of the corner of my eye, and felt myself gasp aloud before my brain even fully processed what my eyes were seeing. Slowly limping in was none other than Meches himself, looking aged but very much alive, cowboy hat and all.

Here was someone who essentially plucked me from the brink of death and clearly had himself pulled through a near-fatal experience, appearing at a gathering where we were simultaneously celebrating life and mourning death. Ultimately, I didn’t get to say all that much to him, but there was still something so profound about how full circle this scene felt.

And for that, I was grateful.

My First Christmas.

January 1, 2012

Me as a five-month-old super chub in Honduras with Chat Tai Tai.

Best. Grandma. Ever.

December 26, 2011

“Yun Yun [my Chinese name], what do you like to drink? What do you want to drink? Go take a look in our liquor cabinet and choose something.”

“It’s okay. I’m not really interested in drinking alone…”

“Aiya. You’re only going to be here for a few more days. Open whatever you want. I’ll drink with you.”