While I not-so-mysteriously disappeared from the blogiverse, summer finally sashayed into New York City. The omnipresent rain clouds that had all but drowned Milan’s visit cleared, leaving behind 80-degree days of sunshine and blue skies. All those dresses and sandals I’ve been stockpiling finally got to make their appearance last week, as did my pale and pasty (ick.) legs.
Naturally, warm weather had me dreaming of the tropics — aqua blue waves, beaming sunshine, fruity cocktails and sandy beaches. (Click on the link. You’re welcome.) Nothing to me screams summer like mangoes. Their juicy goodness is delicious on its own, but perhaps even better when pureed to frothy goodness in a lassi or tossed every so casually with black beans, cumin and cilantro in a perfect summer salad.
Now let me add a third item to that list: mango coconut tres leches cake. The idea for the cake came from an ode to mango in the New York Times almost two months ago. Melissa Clark described her concoction as “the sweetest cake in the universe, a syrupy, coconut-and-condensed-milk-infused tres leches cake [that] is further sugared with a purée of soft, ripe mango. You couldn’t ask for a more luscious spring dessert.”
Truth be told, nothing in that sentence really appealed to me. Overly saccharine desserts tend to make me sick, plus I hate coconut. But I do love me a good tres leches cake, with its light and airy chiffon-cake base, syrupy sweet milk mixture and, most important, the billowy clouds of barely sweetened whipped cream that top each slice. And when Mili and I were plotting a birthday surprise for Milan, I thought a mango-coconut cake would be her number one choice as a cushion for 22 candles.
Alas, time was not on my side and after diligently buying ingredients more than a week in advance, I never actually got around to making the cake for her. So when my aunt asked if I had any dessert ideas for a Memorial Day lunch with friends, I leapt at the chance. The timing worked out perfectly — I made the cake Sunday evening and left it to soak in the milk overnight. In this regard, it’s the perfect cake for parties, since you’re actually encouraged to make it in advance.
Terrified of recreating “the sweetest cake in the universe,” as Clark put it, I cut out the sugar in both the mango puree and in the whipped cream, and only used 3/4 cup in the cake. While I haven’t tried it Clark’s way, the decreased sugar was perfectly sweet for me.
I won’t lie, this wasn’t an easy dessert to put together. Chiffon cakes, which require separating eggs, making meringues and then folding egg whites into egg yolks and flour, are kind of a pain, and there were a lot of steps to creating a finished product. But it’s well worth the effort, as the cake is a summer showstopper — bright and light and refreshing on a hot sunny day.
And in case you’re asking yourself, “coconut in a recipe on this site?” here’s my defense: Milan loves coconut so I thought I’d be nice and keep the recipe as is. Then I had to use the coconut milk, since I had bought it already and needed to get rid of it. Turn out I didn’t mind it — it was slightly nutty and complemented the tropical flavor of the mango nicely (think Malibu Mango rum). It didn’t turn me into a coco-nut, but it certainly didn’t stop me from getting seconds. Or thirds.
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 5 tablespoons butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/3 cup milk
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups ripe mango, cubed (about 3 large mangoes)
- 1 pint heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-x-13 baking pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, butter, milk and vanilla extract until smooth and well combined.
- With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they are frothy and thick, but before peaks have begun to form. Slowly add in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, while beating the egg whites. Continue to beat until the whites have become glossy and firm peaks form.
- Whisk half of the flour mixture into the egg yolks, until the batter takes on a paste-like consistency. Whisk in a quarter of the egg whites to lighten the mixture.
- Fold in another quarter of the egg whites into the batter, using a rubber spatula. Sift in half of the remaining flour mixture and fold in. Fold in another quarter of the egg whites, then the remaining flour, and then the remaining egg whites.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool.
- Once the cake is cooled, poke holes into it using a toothpick or the tines of a fork. Cut the cake into 24 slices, but do not remove from the pan.
- Make the milk mixture: In a small saucepan, combine the three milks with the sauce and heat until the milk is steaming. Pour the milk mixture over the cake (which has already been cut into pieces). Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour, or preferably overnight.
- In a blender or food processor, puree the mango. Add sugar by the tablespoon if necessary, based on how sweet the mangoes are.
- Just before serving, whip the heavy cream with half of the mango puree (remember to chill your beaters and metal bowl in the freezer beforehand). Add sugar by the tablespoon if you deem the whipped cream to not be sweet enough. Beat until the whipped cream holds semi-firm peaks.
- Spread the mango whipped cream over the cake using a knife or spatula. Dollop on the remaining mango puree, then use a knife to cut swirls into a marbled pattern. Serve, along with any remaining mango puree on the side.