Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Alton Brown's Tres Leches Cake and El Dia de los Muertos

Yesterday marked the Mexican holiday, El Dia de los Muertos: The Day of the Dead. Here in Missoula, Montana we celebrated with our own version, based on the traditional Mexican ritual of celebrating the souls of our departed. In Mexico, graves are adorned with flowers, candles, and treats for departed loved ones. Sugar skulls and marigolds are common ornaments.

It is a day of remembrance and of summoning spirits, more celebratory than solemn. Death wears a vibrant mask on El Dia de los Muertos: colorful, flowered, and candied. It's a refreshing departure from some of the more despairing views of this inevitable part of life, and I think many Americans are intrigued by the holiday because it gives us a way to bring back the souls of our departed, and to dance with them. 

Here in Missoula, that's what happens every November 2nd. The Day of the Dead Parade, like a high-spirited and costumed funeral procession, toddles down Higgins Avenue, to Caras Park. As the sun retreats, candles are lit, fire dancers appear, hand drums start beating, and the dancing begins.

Missoula loves and celebrates our version of this ritual. In the cool shadow of Halloween, artwork, costumes, and dancing, all interpret and pay homage to the dead in some way.

What would Missoula's Day of the Dead Parade be without a couple of dead tubers?

After the parade we headed back to our pal's house for a Latin American treat: Tres Leches Cake, or Three Milks Cake. Tres Leches is just that: a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half and half. After sitting overnight and soaking up all that sweet milky goodness, the cake is topped with a whipped cream frosting. Served chilled, this cake is sweet, cool, creamy and beyond moist, like a dense marriage of flan and souffle. If you've never had Tres Leches cake, you're in for a treat. There's nothing else like it. 

I think my buddy Logan liked it, even if she did only eat the frosting : )

Click here for Alton Brown's recipe for Tres Leches Cake. I've made it twice and both times it has been wonderful. Two tips though:

1. I think that 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream would make plenty of frosting. 2 cups seems like too much.
2. Be sure you let the cake soak overnight, or 24 hours. It takes a while for the cake to absorb so much moisture.

I try to remember the light spirit of death we felt yesterday, which turned out to be a day that took one of the greatest surfers who ever lived. Andy Irons was far too young and full of promise to be taken from his friends, fans, and family so soon. I dedicate this post to him. Rest in peace, Andy Irons. May you be dancing down that great blue wave in the sky.


Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks said...

When I lived in Austin, I looked forward to the annual parade. It's grown into quite a huge event with folks dressing like Frida Kahlo in Dia de los Muertos style.

Lentil Breakdown said...

Interesting to see how you celebrate it there. I also did a post with various pics from festivals in these L.A. parts. Thanks for the Alton Brown recipe. Love tres leches!!

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