My brother is 20 years old. TWENTY! Gosh. 2-0. When he was born and we went to the hospital to meet the little dude, the nurse asked me how old I was (to make sure I was old enough to hold him or something–I don’t remember because I was a kid and naturally, kinda dumb–and I said, “Five.” She didn’t seem impressed, so I immediately corrected myself with, “Five AND A HALF.” Soft-spoken then as I am now (most of the time), I wasn’t sure if she heard me, so I repeated myself. Maybe a couple of times. Golly. What a dork.
Now, here I am at 25ANDAHALFTHANKYOUVERYMUCH, making him cake.
As you can see, the layers just kind of blend together as the thin, delicious dulce de leche seeps in. It’s different and totally scrumptious.
The first thing we do is make the dulce de leche, which is just cooked condensed milk… If you’ve never had it, it’s exactly as good as it sounds. It isn’t caramel, but tastes and looks very similar. You’re not supposed to make it this way–it says so right on the can–but we’re rebels around here. Don’t tell your mom.
The cooking of the milk takes a good couple of hours. Plenty of time to get the other ducks in a row… Like buttering, flouring and parchment-papering the pans… This step is important. Many a curse word flew out of my mouth once upon a time when I skipped this part. Picking your battles is an important lesson in rebellion! I like to flour using a sifter, for even distribution.
Butter and sugar get creamed together–standard cake operating practice. And then there’s vanilla… Oh, vanilla. I splurged on double-strength bourbon vanilla extract some time ago. It’s thick, syrupy and speckled with vanilla bean. So pretty.
Then there are the dry ingredients.
Whipped-up egg whites get folded in… They are delicate like that. No stirring or mixing or big tough wooden spoons here.
And just like that, we’re ready to rock and roll.
Oh boy oh boy oh boy. Warm, fluffy white cake. Let it cool. Pouring yourself a big mug of coffee and putting this in your face is exactly what you don’t want to do just yet. Patience!
This is why you’re not allowed to heat things right in the can–things can (and do) get explosive. Just let it cool for a while and be prepared for sticky missives… You’ll be fine.
After the dulce de leche filling cools, it thickens up a bit, but you still have to pour it onto the cake. I’ve never poured stuff between cake layers before… But I like it.
When your cake is stacked and dripping with delicious, set it aside and make the meringue frosting for the outside. This involves making a hot sugar syrup and incorporating it into whipped egg whites. The original recipe wants you to heat the syrup to a certain temperature… I’m not that well-equipped in the kitchen. Figuring I can’t really go wrong, I just heated water and sugar until it looked thick, clear and bubbly like this:
Fluffy egg whites and syrup make magic. I’m really liking meringue. This particular frosting isn’t too sweet and has a light but somewhat complex taste, thanks to a hint of lime juice and Frangelico.
Ta-da. I topped this with crushed Skor bars and drizzled chocolate. A little messy, sort of on purpose and sort of not.
Dulce de Leche Layer Cake
(recipe from Food and Wine )
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons nut-flavored liqueur, such as Frangelico or biscotti liqueur
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups plus 6 tablespoons sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons Frangelico or biscotti liqueur
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
To make the filling, put the unopened can of condensed milk in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. It should be completely covered–pour more water on top as it cooks if needed. Simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Carefully remove the can with tongs and let it cool slightly. Carefully open the can with tongs (you may want to cover it up with a towel or something, as the hot cooked milk can and does come shooting out… Fair warning) and transfer the dulce de leche to a bowl. Whisk until smooth, then gradually whisk in the nut liqueur. Chill in the fridge.
For the cake, preheat the oven to 350° and butter/flour two 9-inch cake pans that are lined with parchment paper on the bottom. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour with the baking powder and salt. In a mixer, beat the butter with the 1 1/2 cups of sugar at medium speed until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in the dry ingredients and the milk in 3 alternating batches, scraping down the side of the bowl occasionally.
In a clean bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar and beat until glossy. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pans. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick in the centers comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack to cool slightly. Carefully invert the cakes onto the rack to cool completely. When they’re cooled, split each layer horizontally in half. (I like to get about eye-level with the cake and cut all the way around a couple inches deep so the center stays intact, then split the center… But I used to be terrible at splitting cake evenly. You may not need this advice… Carry on. )
For the meringue frosting, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil over high heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and a candy thermometer in the syrup registers 235° for soft-ball stage. (As I mentioned above, I don’t know what this is and I don’t have a candy thermometer. I just sort of eyeballed it and all turned out okay) Remove from the heat and add the liqueur. With the mixer at medium speed, carefully drizzle the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites. Beat in the lime juice, then beat at high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy and slightly warm to the touch.
Place a cake layer on a large cake plate and top with one-third of the dulce de leche filling. Repeat with the remaining layers and filling, ending with a layer of cake. Spread the frosting all over the cake, swirling decoratively. Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.