Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Recipe: Tres Leches Cupcakes topped with Dulce de Leche

When we started planning food for my mom's surprise birthday party, the main part of the menu was a no-brainer: Taco House. If you have never been lucky enough to visit this Okoboji staple, it's hard to describe the appeal; from the outside, it looks like a dirty, hole-in-the-wall restaurant with too little seating and far-too-long lines (or, at least, that's how Dad describes it). But the food... is... fantastic. Mom eagerly awaits the opening of Taco House every spring and mourns its closing in the fall - for her birthday, it was really the only choice.

To keep the Mexican theme going through dessert, my brother suggested tres leches cake. I'd never made it before, but it seemed like the perfect dessert for our theme. My sister-in-law got me started with a recipe from a coworker, and with minimal adaptation on my part, tres leches cupcakes were born.

I baked these at my sister's house the night before the party and employed a great deal of help from my niece, Marin. She would be the first to tell you that these cupcakes are VERY tedious to make - soaking each cupcake with the three-milk mixture is a slow (not to mention messy) process. The original recipe recommend poking holes in the cupcakes, then brushing the milk over the tops with a pastry brush, but I thought using a meat injector would be faster, tidier, and way more fun. After injecting 20 cupcakes repeatedly for the better part of half an hour, I am not sure Marin would agree... but they sure tasted good.

Tres Leches Cupcakes
(makes about 20 cupcakes)
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup cake flour
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325F. Line standard muffin tins with paper-lines foil liners. With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together egg whites, baking soda, and salt until soft peaks form. Reduce speed to low. Add yolks and sugar, then whisk just until smooth. Fold in melted butter by hand. With a spatula, add flour a quarter cup at a time, folding until just combined before adding the next batch. Mix gently by hand to avoid flattening the mixture.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each half to two-thirds full. Be sure not to overfill cups, or the next step will get really messy.

Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until light golden brown - about 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Immediately poke holes in the cupcakes with a skewer. Whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream.

Draw one to two ounces of the milk mixture into the meat injector, then slowly empty into each cupcake. When milk sits on the top surface and won't soak in any further, move on to the next cupcake.

This is the tedious part! Or, as Marin says, this is really really boring. 

Repeat the process until most of the liquid has been used or cupcakes will not take any more milk. I only got about 2/3 of my milk mixture into the cupcakes; after that, they were fully saturated and wouldn't absorb a drop more.

These cupcakes are at their saturation point.
(See why you don't want to overfill the muffin tins?)

Allow cupcakes to sit and absorb the milk for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day in the refrigerator in a closed container. Bring to room temperature and top with whipped cream or dulce de leche to serve.

This is my brother's pretty cake platter. I covet it.

Dulce de Leche
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Sprinkling of sea salt

Preheat oven to 425° F. Pour can of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish. Stir in a few flecks of sea salt, then cover the pie plate snugly with aluminum foil. Place in a larger roasting pan where pie plate can sit flat. Pour hot water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the side. Bake for 1 hour to to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan if necessary.

Once the dulce de leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Whisk until smooth.

I'll fully admit I intended to top the cupcakes with whipped cream and drizzle the dulce de leche over the top, but in my mad rush to complete all desserts on schedule I overwhipped my cream. It turned out to be a fortuitous error - the gooey cupcakes topped with dulce de leche alone were perfect!

That said, I'll probably go ahead and try out the whipped cream for real next time.

(Oops... had to correct my place card!)


  1. I guess Marin would rather read than help with cupcakes.

    Tell me, is there a quicker/easier way to make Dulche de Leche? There has got to be, since one hour in a hot water bath sounds potentially messy (I always spill some water bath going in or coming out of the oven) and a long time to wait.

  2. I have heard of people boiling sweetened condensed milk on the stovetop while still in the can. The problem is, sometimes the can explodes! It is kind of a long time to wait, but I think it's the most foolproof method (if not the quickest).

  3. Wow, had to read the recipe again. That was tedious! All of the desserts were delicious!