Tan Is a Color Too

That’s why the milk cream that saturates today’s Chai Masala Tres Leches Cake is caramel-colored, not white as it is in more conventional varieties.  Black tea mixes with spices, including cinnamon, cardamom and allspice, and the combination in turn infuses sweetened evaporated milk and coconut milk with an ethereal hint of orange, and gives it a subtle tan hue.

The chefs at Mexico’s Masala y Maiz restaurant came up with the idea of steeping tea and spices in the milks and in so doing elevate an already-luscious dessert.  Their variation was reported in Food & Wine‘s August 2018 issue and, ultimately, appears here.  The spices are ground before they go into the milks.  The instructions suggest using either a spice grinder or a molcajete (stone mortar and pestle).  Today’s option was the latter:Molcajete with Spices

More than just pretense motivated the choice, as a molcajete is the best tool for the job, grinding the spices but not quite pulverizing them, thus maximizing their flavor profile.  Besides, the milk mixture is strained before it soaks into the cake, thus allowing for a more generous initial grind.

After the teas steeps and the milk mixture is filtered, it gradually is poured over the punctured yellow cake until the spongy crumb can absorb no more.  It’s then refrigerated, which sets the milks.  This gives the cake an almost unimaginable moistness.  Within minutes of this week’s photo being snapped, each piece had exuded a puddle of milk.  Sweey, creamy, flavorful (and sticky!) milk.

Before the cake is served, it’s topped with a whipped frosting that doubles the creams, both milk and coconut.  Here’s where the recipe misses a beat, as it recommends only a gentle mixing, which makes the frosting rather timid.  Next time, a cold bowl and a vigorous whisking will produce a fluffy whipped cream, and the recipe below has been updated accordingly.  Excel where this blog has failed.

Meanwhile, Tres Leches cake remains a masterpiece, and luscious creaminess saturates it, in fact nearly overwhelms it.  Compliments too, to the chefs at Masala y Maiz, who managed the seemingly impossible feat of improving a classic.  All it took was a litle tea and spices, adding a little color and a lot of flavor.


Chai Masala Tres Leches Cake (*1)

For the cake:

  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1.4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 large eggs, brought to room temperature, yolks and whites separated
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the tea-infused milk:

  • 8 green cardamom pods, cracked open
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 4 whole star anise
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 cans coconut milk, chilled
  • 1 and 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons black tea
  • 2 cans sweetened condensed milk

For the frosting:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups fresh strawberry slices

Start by making the cake.  Preheat an oven to 325°.  Spritz a rectangular baking pan with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, oil, water and vanilla.  Set aside both bowls.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat at medium speed until a bit foamy, about 30 seconds.  Add cream of tartar and continue at medium speed for another 3 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

Reduce speed to low, and add about a third of the flour mixture.  After just combined, add half the liquid mixture..  After just combined, add the next third of the flour, combine, then add the final half of the liquid.  After that’s incorporated, finish with the final third of the flour mixture.  When folded in, turn off the mixer and pour batter into the baking pan.

Bake for 28 minutes, then cool, in the baking pan, and on a wire rack, for thirty minutes.  Remove the cake from the pan and cool by itself on the rack for another thirty minutes.

While the cake cools, make the tea-infused milk.  Put the cardamom pods, allspice berries and star anise in a medium skillet set over a medium-low flame, stirring often.  When the mixture is fragrant, after about 90 seconds, add the fennel seeds and ground ginger.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the spices just begin to smoke, about 30 seconds.  Transfer spices to a grinder or a molcajete and reduce them to a powder.

Scrape into a small bowl the cream that has risen to the top of the canned coconut milk.  Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge.  Pour the coconut milk that remains into a medium saucepan, and add the milk, spices and the cinnamon sticks.  Place the pan over a medium flame and simmer, stirring frequently, for about five minutes.  Add the tea and cook for another two minutes, until the milk is fragrant.

Pour milk mixture through a strainer and into a large bowl.  Whisk in the evaporated milk.

Place the cake back into the baking pan from which you pulled it earlier.  Using a tool a little thinner than a pencil (*2), perforate the top of the cake with “wells” every inch or so, sinking to about 2/3 the cake’s thickness.

Pour about 1/4 cup of the milk mixture over the cake, giving he liquid time to sink in.  Repeat, taking care to pause between applications, until the cake is saturated and the milk mixture begins to seep up around the cake edges.  It may take only 2/3 or so of the milk to reach this stage.   Cover the baking pan and refrigerate for an hour.

Meanwhile, make the frosting.  Wash and dry the mixer bowl and the whisk attachment and place them in the freezer.  After about 15 minutes, remove the frosted equipment and attach them to the mixer.  Pour the cream into the bowl and start motor at low speed.

Add the coconut cream you stored in the refrigerator earlier, and pour in the sugar.  Continue on low until everything’s incorporated.  gradually increase the motor speed to high, and whisk until the cream is fluffy and comes to firm peaks, about eight minutes..

Remove cake from the refrigerator and frost with mixing bowl contents.  Cut into individual serving sizes, and garnish each with a couple sliced strawberries.


1 – Though the original recipe creates a round two-layer cake, I configured it here to make a single-layer “sheet” cake. Much easier and more approachable this way.

2 – I used a drinking straw.  A wooden spoon handle is a bit too wide.


37 thoughts on “Tan Is a Color Too

  1. This looks amazing!! Sounds like it took a while to make.

    You know, you should take a couple more pictures along the way and make a cookbook. Your stories around the recipes are perfect for printing…

    Love, light, and glitter

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Much appreciated, Eliza! Yes, it did take a while, start-to-finish, but much of the time in between steps was given to other things. Worth the time, too.

      Mixing the evaporated milk with black tea and such added an intriguing flavor. Not necessarily the first thing one thinks of when contemplating Mexican cooking. Not even for a Yank like me, who’s fairly familiar with Mexican cuisine. Much as I love tomatoes, onions, corn, peppers and tortillas, it was fun working on a project that didn’t feature any of them.


      1. That made for something unique and different. Without your homegrown stuff. Though when it is grown I’m sure it’ll be featured …

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Eliza! Perhaps, though the arugula and mustard greens are soon to be featured in salads nearly every day. If the virus keeps us from the produce department, then we’ll bring the produce department to us! As the temperature rises, so do the possibilities.


  2. YUM the gastric juices are stimulated by this one Keith!

    Bet those chefs were of Indian origin, who doesn’t like Masala Chai 🙂 And the moisture and flavour that would add to a cake … hmm. Eliza is right a couple more pics would help, maybe one of you munching in 😎

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm,,,very possibly, Kate. If Indian chefs didn’t develop the concoction, they certainly inspired it. Legacy of the Spanish being here, there, everywhere, and picking up culinary ideas along the way.

      Appreciate your kind comments and suggestions about the photos. Yes, I agree, and future entries may be a little more lavishly illustrated.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, tan does match…everything, Tamara! If thee’s one thing we guys know well, it’s the power of tan. It makes its way into nearly everything we wear. It’s our uniform. Here we stake our claim to the color spectrum, and gladly cede the other 3,447,208 shades, nuances and imaginings to women. Work yourselves into a lather arguing about the differences between sky blue, powder blue, robin’s-egg blue and the like. We’ll be here with our khaki.

      You aren’t kidding about the moistness factor. Like a sponge, this thing is. Just when you think the cake can’t take any more, on goes another dose of tea-infused milk. Can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a pudding, or a cake, so it plays both angles. I love your enthusiasm, Tamara!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a gorgeous and delicious-sounding dessert! I’ve made tres leche cake in the past, but never infused with chai and topped with strawberries. I feel like this is the type of comfort food that many might be looking for right about now. 🙂

    So last night while preheating my oven, it decided to start sparking and popping, eventually setting itself on fire. (Quite a show, though it ended the life of the oven until a new heating element gets delivered!) It’s going to be a little while before I am baking again, though this is definitely one I’m going to keep in mind when we get to strawberry season!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your kind words are much appreciated, Summer! The strawberries are, I think, Chilean currently, and I picked out the nicest ones to garnish the cake. You’re right, though. In a couple months, once our own produce comes online, look out!

      Your oven misadventures sound harrowing. Fortunately, nothing similar has happened to me., though I commend you for having the know-how to fix the problem once the part arrives. If you had to wait for a repair guy, who knows how many months it might be? Instead, you’ll be up and running long before the strawberries are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A worthy aspiration, Summer. Thanks for the invite! Can I bring a bottle of wine?

        Seriously, as an aside to your comment, some of my friends of Croatian descent have a lamb roast studded with garlic for Easter. Count me in on that idea!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve heard of it before Summer, but never have tried it. …let alone have known anyone who’s made it.

        Now that the oven is back, they day is yours, Summer! What wonders will you pull from the magic box? We’ll just have to tune into your blog to see, won’t we?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. That sounds (and looks) wonderful! Using tea in cooking… Very cool concept.

    Me being me, though, (i.e. A kitchen outsider) I’ll put to you the kind of question I bother my sister with all the time: why room temperature eggs?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It allows the whites and yolks to blend with less stirring, and thus helps the cook to avoid overworking the batter. The kinder you are to the batter now, the more the cake will reward you later with tenderness.

      You’re right, Rachel, the tea is an inspired touch. Thanks, Mexico!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hah! You make it sound so easy. But this poet wonders if that’s a recipe that might require a pinch of magic. Ah well; maybe I can borrow some from your ample supply. Some magic, that is. I daresay you keep some stocked; you certainly make the conversion of science to art quite well on your own.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ahhh, thank you, Rachel!

        If by “magic” you mean “literacy,” I quite agree. Read the directions and incorporate the ingredient roster into your shopping list (that is, when such extravagances are ours again). It really is that simple. You’ll be off to a great start, then your taste and creativity will take you the rest of the way. And then some.

        In your soul stirs a poet’s heart, Rachel. You have more imagination bubbling forth from your pinky than most of us do…

        Meanwhile, I have all the whimsey of an engineer. And I hate math! Don’t even get me started on proofs. Nearly as frustrating as is diagraming a sentence! (Deft way of changing the subject, huh?)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ahh, again with the pinky! You do me too much credit… Or perhaps yourself not enough.

        But anyway (speaking of changing the subject! You don’t want to get ME started on diagramming sentences…), how are you handling not being able to run down to the store for that *one* ingredient? Of course, you do seem pretty well stocked, in more than just your talent for words. Still, I’m amazed you haven’t run out of shallots yet… Or, have you?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Well, I buy shallots in 50-ton bags.

        Take off.

        OK, 10-ton bags, which provide an ample sufficiency. Stocking both the freezer and the pantry in happier times have helped me out of present difficulties too. Still, reserves dwindle, leaving me little choice but to glove up and mask up soon and venture to the supermarket.

        Quite an adjustment, beginning with the “new normal” bandit/shopper garb. Not to mention pushing a cart once or twice every three weeks, instead of twice a week, as I did once. And will again! (Had to add that last part.)

        What about you, Rachel? How are you coping with the Crisis of Our Time?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. …Ten TON bags?
        …and you’re still running low?
        Heh. You really do love your shallots, don’t you?

        As for me, how I’m coping depends on your definition. My life, having always been insular, isn’t drastically changed; though I’ve actually been more upbeat and outgoing in the past few weeks than I’ve been in a while. Part of me feels guilty about that… About not being afraid, not being sadder about the numbers on the news. But the other part of me thinks there’s always going to be something bad out there… So why not just live?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Definitely a turn for the better, Rachel. I like it!

        Wanna know what I think? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway…

        The current situation has given you something you never thought insularity would provide – company. Lots and lots of it. Now warming to the task, you’ve become almost enthusiastic about showing us newbies the ropes.

        The virus is among us, and soon enough, it will go. May the smile, though, be much less temporary. Maybe now, at last, the True Rachel has found the sunlight, and it makes her grin.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Tamara!

      You probably weren’t “around” yet in early summer 2018, when one of the weekly features was Strawberries Romanoff. Strawberries and whipped cream – that’s it. If the Tres Leches Cake called your name, Strawberries Romanoff shouted it from the rooftops.

      Come on, strawberries, whenever you’re ready. We’re waiting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Please do, Tamara!

        Maybe, though, wait a couple months until local strawberries are worthy of the name, and we’re allowed to visit stores again. That way, when the impulse pounces, you’ll be in a position to satisfy it.

        Liked by 1 person

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