On a Hot Summer Afternoon

Made a tres-leches cake Saturday and it was not bad. Not bad at all. Been a bit of a challenge comin’ up with things to do in this long stretch of heat and storms, and baking a cake might seem a bit silly, but it was a new recipe from a friend, and I had a free afternoon, so why the heck not. Sometimes it’s nice to stop everything and focus on one thing awhile. Kind of a centering thing, standing there measuring and mixing, pouring and leveling and scraping. It’s good time for thinking, there in the kitchen on a hot summer afternoon. Summer is more than half over. School starts in three weeks. So much has changed. So much is changing. The summers of my childhood are long gone, and the word “grandma” has come up more than once in past months. The Prairie Home Show has a new host this fall. The election is coming up. Kids are chasing imaginary creatures in parks, and word is there’s not much value in flossing after all. So much to remember. So much to long for. So much to talk about. Things to let go of and things to embrace. Of course we need to find our center now and then. Nothin’ wrong with that, and there are a thousand ways to ground yourself. For me it’s baking, and walking in the fields and the forest, and trampolines and swings. And conversation, good conversation with people I love.

Take a breath, a deep breath, in the heat of the day. Find a tire swing or a footbridge, a fishing stream or a rowboat and leave the world behind awhile. Autumn is not long off, but it’s still summer, and we’re here, and thank goodness for that, and for you, and for the days without much of anything but the long afternoon and all the beautiful possible things.

Don’t let this recipe scare you away. One step at a time, and it’s not so difficult, and – frankly – worth the details. And, my gosh, it’s wonderful on a summer evening. A fine sunset and a piece of homemade three milks cake. Yep.

Three Layer Tres-Leches Cake

For the Cake:

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1T baking powder
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
6 large eggs
1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup whole milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the Soak and Assembly:

½ cup evaporated milk
½ cup coconut milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 pint heavy whipping cream (or a tub of whipped topping)
¼ cup powdered sugar

More condensed milk, optional

Preheat the oven to 325°. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a medium bowl; set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until they’re light, fluffy and nearly double in size, 6-8 minutes. Using a spatula, gently fold in flour mixture until just blended (some streaks of flour are okay). Combine the milk and vanilla extract and gently fold into the batter, mixing just to blend. Spray or grease three 8-inch cake pans and divide the batter among them.  Bake until the cakes are golden brown around the edges and spring back slightly when pressed in the center, 18-20 minutes.

While the cakes are baking, make the soak: combine the evaporated milk, coconut milk and condensed milk in a measuring cup and stir to blend; set aside. Once the cakes are done, immediately remove them from the cake pans and invert them onto separate plates. Poke the cakes all over with a fork and drizzle the condensed milk mixture over all the cakes, letting it soak in. Let cakes cool completely. Using an electric mixer, whip heavy cream and powdered sugar together in a medium bowl until they’re at a stiff peak. Spread a thin-ish layer of whipped cream onto one cake. Place another cake on top and repeat, going a bit crazy with the last layer of whipped cream. If you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and drizzle another can of condensed milk all over the top.

Serves 8-10.

Enjoy!

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