I Failed at Cake

Tres leche cake is both my greatest weakness and my signature dessert.   I am traditionally domestically challenged, I don’t cook often, I’m a terrible housekeeper, if I had kids I would be that mother who hosed off her baby with a kitchen sprayer.  I can, however, make one mean tres leche cake.   Until last night, when I failed at cake.  Betcha Pioneer Woman won’t blog about her f’ups.

The recipe is fairly simple, and 9/10 times I’ve made this cake it turned out perfect.  Don’t let my one bunk cake dissuade you from trying this out.


For the cake:

7/8 C. cake flour

1/2 t. salt

1 t. baking powder (make sure it’s fresh!)

1 C. sugar

5 whole eggs

1 t. or one good splash of vanilla extract

1 4oz stick of butter (room temperature)

For the glaze

1 12 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

1 14 oz can of evaporated milk

1 C. of half & half ~or~ whole milk, depending on what you have

For the frosting

2 C. heavy whipping cream

1 C. sugar

1 t. or a good splash of vanilla extract

seeds from one vanilla bean

The process

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees

Oil and flour a standard 12 x 9 sheet cake pan.

Use your stand mixer or a hand mixer to fluff up the butter, then add 1 cup of sugar slowly, taking time to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add five eggs, one at a time, and beat until well blended, then add vanilla extract

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.

Add the dry mix to the wet mix in 3-4 batches, but don’t over mix, beat only until blended.  Why? Overbeating the mixture with the wet ingredients and the flour will make the gluten tough and chewy instead of light and airy.

Pour this batter into your greased and floured pan, then bang the pan on the counter a few times to spread it evenly.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is springy and the edges are slightly pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Here’s where my cake got interesting.  After only 18 minutes, my cake began to smell burnt, so I checked on it and found this:

After enlisting expert help (thank you, Hattie) I’ve narrowed it down to a warped pan or a crappy oven.   Most of this cake will still be delicious, and there’s a recession on, so we’re going to keep plowing through.

Let the cake cool for half an hour to forty five minutes on a rack.  Take a fork and poke holes in the cake, being careful not to let the tines go all the way to the bottom of the pan.

While letting the cake cool completely, mix the glaze by whisking together the cans of sweetened condensed and evaporated milk and the half & half.

Use a ladle to spoon the glaze over the cake until most of the cake is just hidden.  You might not use all the glaze, and that’s fine.  Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and stick it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, make up a batch of whipped cream frosting.   About an hour before you plan to make it, stick the bowl (preferably aluminum) and the beaters from your mixer in the freezer.  Whipped cream whips better when the ingredients and the tools are ice cold.

Mix 2 cups of heavy whipping cream and one cup of sugar on medium to medium high until the cream thickens and peaks.  It will just about double in size, and it usually takes about five minutes for me to get it right. Fold in (not with the mixer) the vanilla extract and the seeds you scrape from inside 1 vanilla bean.

Pull the cake out of the fridge (if you did it right, the glaze should be completely absorbed into the cake) and apply frosting with a rubber scraper or a frosting knife.

In happier cake times, the final product looks like this:

I usually serve it in a bowl, although a plate is fine.  There is minimal liquid seepage, most of it stays in the cake.  You can add embellishments like fruit or rum or chocolate at various stages, but I really enjoy this cake as is.  It’s a simple dessert, but it’s moist and dense and not overly sweet.  It is a rich cake, and I don’t want to know the nutritional information, but it’s a great compliment to a spicy meal and it’s usually a hit at pitch-ins.

I’m still going to eat all but the sad, burnt corner of the cake I made last night, and I’m going to enjoy every bite.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

3 replies on “I Failed at Cake”

Yeah the thing is…even with that sad little burnt part it’s still got tres leches, a ton of butter and a ton of sugar in it – so you really can’t go wrong.
I think pioneer woman was the recipe I used the one time I made tres leches cake. I’m hoping my baking experiment next week is successful.

Leave a Reply