Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Three-Milk Cake with Coconut and Fresh Fruit (Page 714)

  • Date: Friday, April 4, 2008 -- 9pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companions: Randy, Peter M, Bert, Bruce, Dan, Vigleik, Tony, Ayelet, etc...
  • Recipe Rating: D+

You are probably looking at the picture above, seeing the billowy cloud of whipped cream covering delicious strawberries and yummy-looking cake and thinking to yourself, "D+? Really, Teena, maybe you are overreacting. That doesn't look like a D+." You may think that, but you weren't there. It has been a long time since a recipe has made me want to cry as much as this one did. Here's what happened:

It was Friday morning at 8am and I was trying to bust out the desserts for my big important dinner. I started by making the cake for this one. It is a genoise recipe, and genoise is a huge pain in the ass. It's usually worth it though, as it produces a lovely cake, that it perfect for soaking, which I think was the idea here. So I made my genoise, following the recipe in The Book exactly, even when I thought better of it (why was the second half of the flour not sifted over the batter as the first half was? Seemed like a poor choice, but I did what it said). The cakes didn't look terrible when they went into the oven. In fact, they didn't even look terrible when I took them out. But when I flipped them out of the pans, I was in for a surprise. Here's the picture:

Now I know what you are thinking -- this makes two cake disasters in a row! You're starting to think it's my fault, aren't you? And maybe it is, but hear me out on this one...

It might be hard to appreciate how disgusting this was. That layer that I have peeled back on the right cake was a thick layer of solidified butter, completely separated from the cake below it. The cakes were flat, and dense, and truly disgusting. Of course, I had also doubled the recipe, so I had two pans of nastiness rather than just one. I was horrified. They took forever to make and I had used too many eggs to make them again anyway without going to the store. Add to that I was on a very tight schedule to get everything done, and there was just no way to redo it. Just for the record, I would like to insert here that I have made many genoises, and this has NEVER happened. Genoise is notoriously fussy, and I think the recipe in The Book just didn't take enough precautions to make sure it turned out right. So, there I was, with no time to buy eggs and remake this disaster, and certainly having no intention of using what I had already made. So what did I do? I made a cake mix.

Now you are thinking to yourself, "Why do you have cake mix in your cupboard?" For that I have a good explanation. Last year, in Boston, I took a cake decorating class, to which you had to bring a cake every week. We decorated with nasty decorator's frosting, which tastes like shortening, so it seemed silly to ruin a perfectly good cake. So I always made cake from a mix. I had a couple mixes leftover, and since I never really make cake from a mix, I still had them. So I busted them out. It's shameful, I know. But what was I to do? I had no other option.

So I made a cake mix. Man, cake mix is easy! Five minutes later a cake was in the oven. So I proceeded. The three-milk part of this three-milk cake is that once the cake is out of the oven it gets soaked for hours in a combination of coconut milk, whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and some other stuff (i.e. rum). It sounded good. Indeed the soaking liquid even tasted good. But do you know what you end up with when you soak cake for hours and hours? Soggy cake. Mmmm... Gross. At some stage my cake fell apart, so rather than getting nicely sliced it got dumped in ramekins. The only saving grace of this recipe was that the whole mess got covered in whipped cream and strawberries.

Overall: ick. Ick, ick, ick. In retrospect I shouldn't even have served this. But I did. Luckily most people chose the other dessert option instead (chocolate mousse). This dessert, in addition to being a huge pain in my ass, was a soggy cake mess. My recommendation: avoid it at all costs. It sounds good, but it just isn't.

This recipe isn't online. Sad, huh?


Anonymous said...

You really don't know how to make a cake. I recommend you to take some basic classes. I have been doing the Three Milk Cake for long time and I never heard something like that. People, this cake is easy and delicious. You have to try it.

Teena said...

Not to be argumentative, but I do know how to make a cake. Here are some pictures of a small sampling of the cakes I have made: http://mypage.iu.edu/~tgerhard/Cakes.html

As for basic classes, I went to culinary school.

My claim is not that three-milk cakes can't be good, but I think this is a bad recipe.

Mike Hill said...

Unlike Teena, I am very happy being argumentative. Teena is perhaps the best baker I have ever met. Everyone at MIT felt incredibly fortunate to be able to enjoy world class desserts that she would whip up from scratch. If she had trouble with this dessert, then I would blame the recipe, not her. Until you've had some food by Teena, I'd abstain from making antagonistic comments like this!

Matt said...

I, too, am happy to be argumentative here. I certainly am a person who loves food. I lived in Manhattan for several years, eating at a different restaurant nearly every night. When I travel (which is just about every week these days) nationally or abroad, a significant part of my planning revolves around maximizing the number and breadth of my culinary experiences. After a lifetime of searching out and enjoying good food, I think that I am in a position to make an informed evaluation of Teena's abilities:

She is amazing. I have never been aquainted with someone who can cook as well as her. Her meals are perfectly orchestrated, beautifully presented and, most importantly, delicious. I find it amazing, actually, that anyone could call into question her abilities - especially when it comes to cakes! Indeed, her cakes are exquisite. She has mastered the difficult art of making a cake both aesthetically pleasing and appetizing. Anyone who has sampled one of her cakes would be an idiot to question her prowess.

The other thing that people should do before they gallivant the internet criticizing other people is to be a bit better informed of what they're criticizing. The central tenet in Teena's project is to make the recipes in the Gourmet Cookbook, not to make the best dishes possible. The project is an exploration and critique of this well-known cookbook. I have been present on several occasions where she knowingly does something contrary to her (extensive) culinary expertise because it is what a recipe in the book calls for. On these occasions, her opinion is confirmed by the results: exactly the quality she predicts will occur from the recipes' carelessness is what I taste at the outcome. When she later cooks the same dish from her own recipe the results are always flawless.

Even more amazing are the times when Teena makes, for example, a molten chocolate cake from the book. For at these times the book provides what I would deem an exceptional recipe. In the case of the book's molten chocolate cake, I was blown away by depth of the desert. You can imagine our suprise when, after finishing the desert, Teena said to us, "Well, it was pretty good but I think I prefer my recipe." I thought she was joking about this until four months later when I had the occasion to sample her recipe. Her molten cake, like many of her dishes, was of the quality that makes you close your eyes, recede from whatever conversation is taking place around you, and float away on a cloud of sensory bliss. Many of her dishes have this effect, and I liken the experience to that which I receive from listening to a talented musician.

To the author of the post, then - I would "recommend you to" next time try making the exact recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook yourself before criticizing Teena. If you find your recipe to be better or easier than the book's, maybe it would be more constructive to share your recipe on her blog rather than saying things which make it clear that you haven't read very carefully.

Teena said...

Awww.... Thanks guys for sticking up for me! You're both so sweet!

Anonymous said...

Wow Matt - you must really love her to say those things to someone on the internet. I've never had Teena's cooking, so I can't judge whether she's better than me or better than a professional chef. I admire her for trying this project, especially since it's not one I'd ever want to try. I think the first anonymous poster is just a troll, so I wouldn't bother addressing it. I enjoy reading Teena's blog (which I stumbled across completely at random) because I love food and I find the little bits of her life interesting.

Ms. AnonyMouse

Anonymous said...

I have made the same mistake of trying to use a butter cake or box cake for Tres Leches. You really need the genoise to stand up to the liquids without becoming a soggy mess. I know this from experience! A wet cake is nasty! A genoise soaked with the wonderful milks is not wet but moist and delightful. Maybe doubling the genoise was not a great idea--not all baking recipes can be doubled successfully. Possibly the eggwhites deflated during the mixing of the increcased batter? I am not being critical and appreciate your efforts.

Marta said...

Epic Fail

Anonymous said...

Hi Teena,

Just tried this recipe for my boyfriend's birthday and it turned out just like in your picture- yuck! I found your posting while searching around to find out what I did wrong. (I made a single recipe, followed the directions very carefully, and still-- the cake is deflated and rubbery. The problem is definitely the recipe.)

Now I just have to work up the energy to go but more eggs and try another recipe! So frustrating.

Teena said...

Dear Anon:

It's good to hear that I am not the only one that had a problem with this recipe, but I am sorry you had to experience the same disaster!

Anonymous said...

I was reading my Gourmet book and found this recipe - I haven't made the cake, but the 1/4 cup of flour in the batter definitely caught my attention. Surely a misprint? I googled the cake to see if anyone had caught this, and found your site, with your disastrous cake results. Could a misprint in the flour quantity be the problem?

Teena said...

Yes, it definitely does seem possible that there is a misprint in the quantity of flour called for in this recipe.

Marc said...

I agree with the possible misprint in the flour amount. I saw 1/4 and was suspect straight away.

I plan on making this cake in two days and was looking around the internet to see if anyone made this and suggests a different amount of flour.

Does anyone know the correct amount of flour?