Coconut Mango Tres Leches Cake

A wheeled cornucopia goes down our street every day, with vendors selling everything ripe and local out of the backs of their trucks. In the summer, I can step out of the gate and buy mangoes by the kilo. Until then, I have to walk a block to the nearest store for mangoes coming from further south.

Until we moved to Mexico, I never knew the aroma and taste of mangoes picked ripe and juicy. And the variety! The common Tommy Atkins, known familiarly as “Tommy” in Mexico, the luscious Ataulfo, also called the Champagne mango, the large, firm Haden, the Keitt, still green when ripe, and the Kent mango, almost fiberless. These are the common mangoes of Mexico, exported by the ton, maybe coming this summer to a supermarket near you. When you find some, eat them raw and fresh, standing over the sink — or better yet, in the surf — so as not to drip the staining juices on your shirt. If there are any left over, make Mango Coconut Tres Leches Cake.

Tres Leches cakes are the cake of Mexico. Probably of European origin, this cake is known for its high moisture level, due to its saturation with three milks — condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream. Some think it is too wet. Well, that is part of its charm. If it wasn’t wet, it wouldn’t be a tres leches cake, just another white frosted cake. My cakes are hardly ever white, nor are they overly sweet. As in many of my baking recipes, this one has whole wheat flour and decreased sugar. It also has coconut oil instead of butter and coconut milk instead of dairy milk. The inspiration came from a recent recipe in the New York Times for Mango Tres Leches Cake. Its addition of Spanish brandy is a touch of genius.

This was one of those rare times when I actually had an uncommon ingredient on hand, thanks to Costco. If you don’t have Spanish brandy, cognac is fine. If you don’t have cognac, the cake will still be very good.

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Coconut Mango Tres Leches Cake

  • 1  1/2 cups (6.5 oz./185 grams) sifted whole wheat flour*
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz./100 grams) plus 1/4 cup (1.75 oz./50 grams) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3.5 grams) salt
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 5 tablespoons ( 2.25 oz./63 grams) melted coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 cups (17 oz./240 grams) cubed mango
  • 2 cups (473 ml.) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 can (14 oz./397 grams) condensed sweetened milk
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60ml.) Spanish brandy or cognac (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml.) very cold heavy cream (called crema para batir in Mexico)
  1. Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch (23 cm. x 33 cm.) baking pan; heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.).
  2. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together egg yolks, melted coconut oil, 3 tablespoons coconut milk and vanilla.
  4. Beat egg whites until frothy, add cream of tartar. Before peaks form, add 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until slightly stiff.
  5. Whisk half of flour mixture into yolk mixture. Whisk in 1/4 egg whites. Carefully fold in another 1/4 egg whites with a large spatula or balloon whisk.
  6. Sift half of remaining flour mixture into batter, and fold in. Fold in 1/4 egg whites. Fold in remaining flour mixture. Fold in remaining egg white. Do not over-mix.
  7. Spoon batter into prepared pan, smooth top,  and bake 25 minutes, or until center tests dry with a wooden toothpick. Cool on a rack.
  8. In a small pan, heat coconut milk, condensed milk and brandy until hot. Pour over cake. Cover and chill cake for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  9. Puree mango in a food processor until smooth. Add additional sugar to taste if the mango is not sweet.
  10. At serving time, whip cream until stiff. Fold in half of mango puree.  Spread mango cream over the cake. Spoon remaining puree on top and swirl into whipped cream with a spatula.

Notes

~  * After sifting, you should have 1 1/2 cups of flour; save bran for muffins or bread.

~ When whipping cream, especially in the summertime, use very cold cream, and pre-chill the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer. This will prevent you from unexpectedly making butter instead.

~ Use organic ingredients when possible. This minimizes our exposure to pesticides and herbicides, as well as lessening contamination in water and soil. The Coconut Mango Tres Leches Cake was made with organic coconut milk, organic coconut oil, organic sugar, eggs from free-range chickens and locally grown, unsprayed mangoes.

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Empanadas de Atun ~ Tuna Empanadas

Our first empanadas de atun left a big impression. Who would have thought of combining tuna and canned peas in a Lenten empananda? But it was so good, we would look for tuna empanadas again and again in panaderías during Cuaresma (Lent). Repeating that empanada taste proved illusive, like a childhood memory of a favorite food or place that doesn’t measure up when experienced again years later. We thought we remembered a distinct tuna flavor that blended together in a moist, generous filling, encased in crispy dough. What we found, again and again, was a doughy pocket with such a small smear of tuna, it was not worth the few pesos it cost.

Walmart’s empanadas de atun were especially dismal. All dough, with an orange smear inside that was so miserly, there could not possibly be any flavor of tuna, no matter how hard my taste buds tried. Mega Comercial’s empanadas were better, with more filling, but still shy on the tuna. Look at all that flaky pastry and healthy veggies in their empanada (below). Beautiful empanadas, but little tuna. As this quest was getting us nowhere, I knew it was time to make them myself.

The first time we had empanadas de atun, they were made with only canned tuna, canned peas, and a bit of chile. I stayed true to the original recipe, more or less, but the addition of corn and carrots in Mega’s makes a colorful filling. More veggies means less tuna and there is only so much you can fit into a small pocket of dough. And I was after the tuna taste.

Super Mario, our great yard guy and general handyman, was here today replacing a toilet. (Can you write about toilets in a food blog ?) When we heard the first flush, we knew we were back in business. The least we could do was give him a cold Pacifico and a few warm empanadas. I must have done something right, because he took one home to his wife, saying he wanted her taste it.

Muy Bueno Cookbook inspired the empanada dough recipe, though I used whole wheat flour, and extra baking powder to lighten the dough, which was surprisingly light and easy to handle, given its whole wheat-ness.

Empanadas de Atun ~ Tuna Empanadas makes 14-15 empanadas

Dough

  • 3 cups (13.5 oz./383 g.) cold whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz./115 g.) cold butter
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz/63 ml.) cold milk
  • 2 cold eggs plus 1 beaten egg to brush on empanadas
  1. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a food processor, pulsing 3 or 4 times.
  2. Add butter and process for 10-15 seconds, or until butter is cut into very small pieces, but still visible.
  3. Add milk and 2 eggs and process just until a ball of dough forms. Do not over-mix.
  4. Handling as little as possible, roll into a ball and divide into two pieces. Refrigerate while mixing tuna filling.

Tuna Filling

  • 7 oz. ( 200 grams) drained canned tuna
  • 2/3 cup (129 g. can) drained canned peas
  • juice of 1/2 small lime
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 ml.) drained, home made cooked salsa

Lightly blend all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Empanadas

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.) Oil large baking sheet.
  2. Roll out one ball of dough on a floured surface to 1/8″ (.32 cm.) thick.
  3. Use a 5″ (12.7 cm.) round shape as a cutter and cut out circles from rolled dough, then do the same with the second ball of dough. Roll out scraps and cut more rounds of dough.
  4. Spoon one heaped tablespoon of tuna filling on one half of dough circle.
  5. Overlap dough, forming a half circle.
  6. Moisten lower edge of dough with water.
  7. Press with a fork to seal edges. Place on baking sheet.
  8. Brush empanadas with beaten egg.
  9. Pierce crust with a fork to allow steam to vent.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Seasoning a New Molcajete — It’s a Grind

It’s still birthday month, and I’m looking forward to using the present Russ gave me, a new molcajete. This is the third one to come into my life. I’m not sure what happened to the first one. The second one, a cute little piggy shape, is now Chucha’s dog food dish. And now my third one, ample enough to grind a salsa or guacamole without spills.

Before I use it to make guacamole, it needs to be seasoned to smooth the surface and remove rock grit. According to Diana Kennedy’s book, From my Mexican Kitchen, this is done by three grindings of raw rice, each handful ground to a powder. By the third time, there should be no visible rock bits, and the ground rice should be white, not gray. If you try this, be ready for a work-out, or turn to your strong-armed mate for help as I did.

I really tried to grind the rice myself, but after ten minutes, I didn’t have much to show for my efforts and my hand and wrist were getting tired. I found Russ in the middle of his own project. After a bit of haggling, we agreed that if I made him a cup of espresso, he would grind the rice for me. It took him about three minutes to grind it to a powder, and about five minutes for me to make a cup of espresso. He thought he came out ahead.

He started out grinding on the kitchen table, but it was rocking and rolling under the exertion, so he switched to the kitchen counter for more stability. Then he smelled sulfur. He asked if the stove was on. “No.” I could smell it, too. “Are you sure you aren’t cooking something?” “No, and I haven’t even turned the espresso machine on yet.”

The smell was being given off by the volcanic rock of the molcajete! He held out the tejolote — the stone pestle —  for me to smell. The aroma of sulfur was obvious. All the more reason to give it several grindings of rice to work out the ancient aroma.

After each grinding, Mrs. Kennedy says to scrub, rinse and dry the molcajete. I bought an escobetilla for the job. This common Mexican pot scrubber is made of  fibers from an agave plant, and its tiny, stick-like ends are perfect for getting ground rice out of the porous surface. After a good scrubbing, the molcajete was put on the patio to dry.

Molcajetes are three-legged bowls carved from a solid piece of black or gray volcanic rock. Their use dates back to pre-Hispanic times, to the Mesoamerican eras of the Mayans and Aztecs. The food processor is an excellent appliance, but it can’t grind pumpkin seeds or almonds to a smooth paste the way a molcajete and tejolote can, as it is really cutting with blades, rather than grinding. My recent efforts of making torta de garbanzo and sikil pak made this shortcoming clear.

If you buy a molcajete, either at a market here in Mexico or a Mexican grocery store north of the border, look for one that is big enough to work without slopping guacamole over the edge. My new one has almost a quart (one liter) capacity. Also look for small holes, not large, in the rock surface. Mrs. Kennedy suggests cleaning it with unscented dish soap. If this product exists in Mexico, I haven’t found it yet, so I used hot water and lots of scrubbing.  After three rice grindings, three times of scrubbing and drying, the interior of the molcajete was smooth and clean, with no aroma of sulphur remaining.

When we first moved to Mexico, Russ had the illusion that I was going to pat out our tortillas by hand. He still holds up his hands to me sometimes, imitating the patting motion, hoping I’ll get the message and be a good Mexican esposa. I guess now he thinks I’ll be making all our salsas in the molcajete. I can’t disappoint him again.

Notes:

  • Like so many other words used in Mexican Spanish, the word molcajete is from the Aztec Nahuatl language, mulcazitl being the original.
  • A molcajete should be carved out of a single piece of basalt. Cheap ones are made of concrete with bits of basalt added. Often, an animal head will decorate the bowl, pig head motifs being common in central Mexico.
  • Molcajetes can be used as a serving dish or heated to a high temperature and then used to cook food.
  • Some Mexican cooks think that a molcajete adds a subtle flavor to a salsa or guacamole.

 

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Coconut Chocolate Cake

It was my birthday this week and I gave myself the same present I give myself every year. I baked a cake. This year it was a coconut chocolate cake, something I’ve been thinking about making for a while. Something else I have been thinking about is how to incorporate more coconut oil into my cooking. I have found that its subtle flavor adds a pleasant note to anything Asian, like stir-fries and curries. It also makes a good substitution for butter or vegetable oil in baking. Despite long held prejudice by many in the food industry, coconut oil has recently been found to be a superior oil to use in baking and cooking.

Our history with coconut goes back a long way, when we first started visiting Mexico. We once came close to becoming petty criminals when we purchased two coconuts with the tops lopped off, straws inserted, somewhere on a hot plaza in Mexico. As we wandered off, contentedly sucking on the cool, refreshing liquid, we were sternly called back by the vendor and informed that we had only purchased the coconut water, not its meat. We meekly stood in front of her and finished the water while she eyed us suspiciously, then handed the coconuts back to her. She, no doubt, had plans for her coconut meat, either to use in cocadas — coconut macaroons — or to sell it dried and shredded. We had had plans for the meat, too, but she effectively laid them to rest.

Back to my coconut chocolate cake. As it was my birthday and I didn’t want to spend all day in the kitchen, I used a quick chocolate cake recipe found on a can of Hershey’s cocoa some years back. But the recipe was only for inspiration. Sifted whole wheat flour was used instead of white flour, the sugar was halved, coconut oil stood in for vegetable oil, and dry, unsweetened coconut was added. The cake turned out moist, tender and redolent of coconut. There is no such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to coconut.

Coconut Chocolate Cake

  • 1 cup (7 oz./200 g.) organic sugar
  • 1  3/4 cups (7.2 oz./218 g.) sifted whole wheat flour (save the bran for muffins)
  • 1 cup (2.5 oz./70 g.) dried, unsweetened organic coconut
  • 3/4 cup (2.6 oz./73 g.) powdered cocoa
  • 1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 1 cup (.24 ml.) organic milk
  • 1/2 cup (.12 ml.) melted organic coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (.24 ml.) boiling water
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 deg. C.). Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or one 13×9-inch pan.
  2. Stir together sugar, flour, coconut, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in bowl of standing mixer.
  3. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for two minutes. (If beating by hand, beat vigorously for four minutes.)
  4. Stir in boiling water. Batter will be very thin.
  5. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake 30-35 minutes for round pans or 35-40 minutes for 13×9-inch pan until thin knife inserted in center comes out clean. *
  6. Cool on racks for 10  minutes; remove from round pans. Rectangle cake can be left in pan.
  7. When completely cool, dust with powdered sugar.

Notes:

  • *I under-bake chocolate cake by about five minutes for a very moist center and more intense chocolate flavor. If you under-bake, the knife blade will not be completely clean when the cake is tested for doneness.
  • Some organic ingredients are easy to find in Mexico. Others, like whole wheat flour, are non-existent. Use what is available and what you can afford if you are concerned, like me, about chemicals in our foods.
  • Coconut oil contains no cholesterol, but does have saturated fat. What nutritionists are learning is that not all saturated fat is the same. Some are better than others, and some are actually healthy, such as the lauric acid (saturated fat) in coconut oil. If you buy coconut oil, do not buy any with the letters RBD on the label. This stands for Refined, Bleached and Deodorized. This is nasty stuff, containing chemical residues that were used in processing. RBD oil has no coconut taste or aroma.

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Dashi Broth and Japanese Aid

The closest we came to Japan was several years ago when we had a lay-over in Tokyo while on our way to South Korea. As the plane approached the airport, I strained to see as much as I could out of the small window, knowing that view might be as much as I would ever see of Japan. The one image I remember best is the color green everywhere, before buildings and runways filled the window. In my mind’s eye, I saw temples, simple homes with paper screens and futons, tea houses. Now we watch the news from Japan with heavy hearts.

We spent five weeks in South Korea, traveling the length of the country, while visiting restored Buddhist temples, world-class botanical gardens, huge markets with an array of exotic foods and crafts, and always, always, eating. Russ and I told each other that we could easily live off of Korean food alone, with its reliance on simply prepared vegetables, a minimum of meat, some fish, burning chile sauce, and light soups.

My Asian cooking is not extensive, usually a generic stir-fry. When I lived in the U.S., where Asian ingredients are easier to find than they are in Mexico, I would sometimes make dashi (だし), a simple broth made of kombu seaweed and bonito fish flakes. This broth is the basis for Japanese miso and noodle soups. Western chefs use it to season vegetables and other dishes. I enjoy it on its own as a mug of hot, savory broth.

As a way of paying homage to the people of Japan, I am making dashi today and wishing the good people of Japan safety and renewal. I know they need more than our good wishes, so we also made a donation to the American Red Cross. If you wish to do the same, contact information follows this recipe.

Dashi

  • 4 cups (1 liter) water
  • 7″ (17.8 cm.) piece of kombu
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz./5 grams) bonito fish flakes
  1. Add kombu and water to a pot.
  2. Heat water over medium heat. Just before it reaches a boil, remove kombu.
  3. Bring water to a boil and add fish flakes.
  4. Turn off heat and allow fish flakes to seep for 2 minutes.
  5. Strain broth, discarding fish flakes. Refrigerate or freeze.

For a simple soup, simmer julienned carrots and cubes of tofu in dashi until heated through. Season with miso or tamari and top with cilantro and sliced green onion for garnish.

Notes:

  • For a tastier dashi, first soak kombu in four cups cold water for one hour, then continue with cooking instruction, using the soaking water.
  • Bonito fish flakes are made by steaming and drying bonito, a type of mackerel, until it is bone-dry, and then it into flakes. Kombu is a seaweed from the kelp family. Kelp dashi is the taste responsible for the identification of umami, a Japanese word which indicates the fifth taste of savory, in addition to the four tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.
  • Making dashi from scratch, as easy as it is, has become uncommon in Japan, as instant dashi powder is now widely used.
  • If you wish to support Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts, donations can be made to the American Red Cross. Or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 USD. For those outside of the US who wish to donate here is a directory of international Red Cross centers.

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