Resler (left) and Ong (right) have each diddled the classic Caribbean tres leches cake. (Click on image to enlarge to gigantic size!)
Two pastry chefs, Lauren Resler (working with Alex Stupak) and Pichet Ong, are currently turning out their own, idiosyncratic versions of the classic tres leches cake of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands.
Formerly pastry chef at Chicago’s Alinea and our own wd~50, Alex Stupak is now chef at Empellon, a glamorized taqueria. Under his direction, and in a way reminiscent of the work of science chefs, Lauren Resler has turned the cake into something that looks like a pavilion at a world’s fair — a cylindrical structure of close-textured sponge, with a thick white frosting applied like plaster to the outside. Thin slices of mango form a sort of shingle roofing, decorated with micro mint leaves, while perfect mango-flavored hemispheres dot the grounds. A torpedo of goat’s milk ice cream lurks on the side.
Pichet Ong, former pastry chef at Spice Market, more recently helmed P’ong and the Village Tart. His tres leches cake as freelance pastry chef at Coppelia is closer to the original, with several milks washing a porous sponge that nevertheless retains its cakey qualities. Pineapple is mired in the whipped cream that partly covers the cake, and toasted coconut adds welcome texture.
Pastel de tres leches (“three milk cake”) was probably invented sometime in the 1940s, possibly by the Nestlé company via an ad in women’s magazines. It’s a teetotaling variation on the traditional Latin Caribbean pastel borracho (“drunken cake”), a sponge cake soaked in rum or brandy.
The three milks are traditionally condensed, evaporate, and cream, the first two being canned manifestations of milk popular during the colonial era. Sometimes coconut milk is substituted for one of the milks.
Sorry, I can’t bear to make these cakes fight …