The most sublime, delicate, rich cake I’ve even had was the rose cake at Silk Road Tea House on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, N.C. If you’ve ever trolled Franklin Street, you may remember that funky bistro with the exotic atmosphere lent by intricate tapestries and love seats and easy chairs (before coffee shops made couches in eateries mainstream).
The rose cake was served as a single-layer triangular wedge soaked in an exquisite rose-flavored syrup. There’s nothing else like it.
About 10 years ago, when I finally got the nerve to ask them for the recipe, voila — the restaurant had closed. I searched the internet for recipes to no avail. There was only one way to solve this conundrum: Figure it out myself.
The various experiments led to several perfectly nice cakes, but nothing approaching the marvel of Silk Road Tea House’s.
Meanwhile, here’s another great cake that is quite commonplace, but never taken for granted: the Mexican Pastel de Tres Leches (cake of three milks). It can be found at any birthday party, wedding or special event.
Pastel de Tres Leches is a refreshing yet rich sponge cake soaked in milks and cream. The recipe I use is by Elena Gonzalez, the Annelle Williams or Martha Stewart of my hometown of Siler City, N.C.
Not too long ago I figured that since 10 years had passed since my internet search for rose cake recipes, I might just get lucky now. I gave it another shot, and still didn’t come up with the right recipe.
Meanwhile, for our Mary Evelyn’s third birthday party, I decided to make a Pastel de Tres Leches. Boom! — it hit me — the sponge cake base may also carry out the rose cake, if I could just figure out the rose syrup in which to drench it.
Results? The Pastel de Tres Leches was, as always, great. The rose cake using the Mexican cake’s base also was fantastic. No, it wasn’t Silk Road’s, but it was as close as I’ll probably ever get — and still a rare treat with which to impress company.
Rose syrup and rose essence is readily available in specialty shops in 1-ounce bottles. You can add a drop or two of red food coloring to tint the cake. The rose aroma is strong enough that you don’t need to overemphasize the theme with a strong color as well (I got a little heavy-handed with the coloring, as the accompanying picture shows.)
Both cakes start with the same sponge base. The batter needs to be mixed delicately so the whipped egg whites do not deflate.
Bake the cake in a springform pan. Let the cake cool, then pour over the syrup. Let the cake soak in syrup for two or three hours before removing it from the pan.
Here are the two recipes. Buen aprovecho! (That’s Spanish for enjoy your food.)
PASTEL DE TRES LECHES
4 egg whites
3?4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons fécula de maiz (in hispanic section of stores; or use corn starch)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Add yolks one at a time and the sugar little by little. Lower the mixer’s speed and add by spoonfuls the other ingredients.
Put in an 111?2- by 8- by 2-inch casserole dish or a springform pan and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool.
1 can 1?2 Crema Nestle (in hispanic section; or use 1 cup heavy whipping cream)
1 can Leche Carnation Clavel (evaporated milk)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Mix the three dairy products together. Poke holes in the cake with a fork. Pour syrup over cake and let soak several hours.
Another version: Cut cake in half, making two layers. Pour half the dairy syrup over bottom layer. You may a layer of sliced peaches and?or whipped cream. Replace top layer, and pour remaining syrup over top layer.
Topping: This cake may be served frosted in whipped cream, or with a meringue. To make the meringue, beat 4 egg whites until stiff. Gradually add 10 tablespoons sugar, then juice of 1?2 lemon, beating for 10 more minutes. Put in the oven at 350 degrees and bake 10-12 minutes or until the tips are browned.
Make the sponge cake as directed in the recipe for Pastel De Tres Leches.
1 stick butter
1?2 oz. rose paste or rose essence
1?2 to 2?3 cup sugar
1?2 cup water
Melt butter. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cook until the texture is thick and even, about 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool.
Pour over cake base and let set for several hours before serving.