Dulce De Leche Coconut Cream Cake
About a week or so ago, I was at a friend’s house celebrating her birthday. I usually refer to her as a citizen of the world because she’s lived in so many different countries (and, as a result, is seriously multi-lingual). But, technically, she originates from Argentina. Where all of this is leading is to her celebratory cake. Argentinian by tradition, it was a very moist sponge cake layered with dulce de leche, whipped cream and fresh, sliced peaches. Wow. It reminded me so much of the Italian cakes and pastries I used to be able to find. ‘Used to’ being the operative words here. It seems like the Italian stuff nowadays has succumbed to the use of cheaper ingredients and, perhaps, the loss of traditional skill. The last time I bought a classic Italian rum cake from a longstanding bakery, the top half of the cake ended up sliding halfway off of the bottom half. It was way too wet and gloopy. So, there I was, in absolute gustatory heaven, lovingly indulging in this Argentinian-style cake so reminiscent of those that I remembered enjoying so many years ago.
Fast forward one week to my mom’s birthday. My sister and I wanted to surprise her by showing up together bearing afternoon treats. Bringing the cake fell to me. My mind immediately went to that Argentinian masterpiece. I considered for a moment visiting the bakery that made it and placing an order, but time wasn’t on my side. There was another issue, too. A few of us are lactose intolerant. So, although I would gladly bear the pain to indulge once more in that cake, I thought I’d come up with my own dairy-free rendition.
Because I didn’t have time to make the sponge cake, I bought a box of PC Organics Vanilla Cake. I doubt I’d do that again, though. It was fine in a pinch, but I did find that the vanilla had a stronger taste than I preferred. Fresh peaches were easy to come by; these came from my parents’ peach trees. The cake and peaches were the easy parts of the cake. Then came the challenge.
If I was going to create a dairy-free version, I had to solve the problem presented by the whipped cream frosting and the dulce de leche filling.
My solution to replacing dairy has typically been to lean heavily on coconut milk. But how to use coconut milk to make a whipped topping? Well, all I can say is thank you to the internet gods. Discovering the secret probably would’ve taken me a lot longer had I not had the internet. I came across a lot of recipes that made use of gelatine to help the coconut milk hold its whipped consistency. I thought that might be alright, except that I wasn’t too keen on the glossy effect that the finished product seemed to have. Finally, I came across Nutty Kitchen‘s recipe. Bingo. I followed most of the blogger’s directions (I changed some of the ingredients), and it worked like a charm.
Here’s what I did:
- First, I put four cans of Thai coconut milk in the fridge overnight. I tried other brands of coconut milk, but Thai had the best flavour (it was a very subtle coconut taste) and the fewest ingredients (additives). Refrigerating the cans ensures that the coconut solids separate from the water.
- The next morning, I scooped out the solids (reserving the water for another use for an upcoming blog), and placed them into the bowl of my stand mixer. Gradually, I increased the speed of the mixer, stopping to scrape the coconut from the sides of the bowl occasionally, until it was whipping away at about medium speed. Four cans of coconut solids actually turned into a lot of whipped coconut! One word of caution: don’t walk away. The first time I tried doing this, I left it going for, I don’t know, over 5 minutes for sure. I came back to find a curdled mess. Try not to whip it for more than 5 minutes. If it hasn’t reached the degree of whipped smoothness you’re after, keep it going, but watch it very carefully.
- I added about 2 tablespoons of icing sugar, which gave it just the right amount of subtle sweetness I was looking for. Next time I might use regular white sugar for a slightly different effect.
So, that was the whipped frosting done. The next problem was making the dulce de leche.
Have you ever tried dulce de leche? It’s very caramel-like, but better. Translated from Spanish, it means milk candy. But the French have their version, too – confiture de lait. At its most basic, it’s made by simmering whole milk and sugar until the mixture becomes thick and brown. The caramelizing process can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. If you search out a recipe on the internet, you’ll come across lots recommending you simmer a can of condensed milk in water. Some say it’s not quite the same; some say they wouldn’t have it any other way. I wouldn’t know; I haven’t tried it. My challenge remember was to attempt a dairy-free version. So, we turn once again to coconut milk. It turns out (thank you Wikipedia) that dulce de coconut leche is common in Puerto Rico. Cool.
Here’s what I did:
- I poured one can of Thai coconut milk (solids, water and all) in a large pot. The size of the pot matters. Some recipes call for the addition of baking soda which makes the whole mixture bubble up. So, in that case, the large pot ensures that the milk mixtures doesn’t end up all over your stovetop. By the way, I didn’t bother with baking soda.
- Then, I added about half a cup of brown sugar. I have no idea why I did this. A moment of distraction, I guess. It really was no big deal, but I would have preferred to use white sugar instead. That way, I could’ve watched the milk mixture slowly turn brown through caramelization. As it was, using brown sugar obviously made it brown from the beginning. Oh well.
- For the next three hours, I stood, sat, stirred and paced until that coconut milk and sugar concoction turned into a thick, caramelized, delicious, delicacy. Add a vanilla bean, cinnamon, or whatever you like. Next time, I just might do that. But, for now, the flavour of caramelized coconut milk was pure heaven.
Next, on to the cake assembly:
First, I discovered I only had 1 round baking tin. So, I decided to use my tube pan instead. Once the cake had baked, I let it cool, then sliced it in half with a long knife. You can use dental floss for that part, too. I spread about half of the dulce de coconut leche on the bottom half of the cake. Next, I placed a thick layer (or two) of fresh peaches over the dulce de coconut leche. At this point, you can spread a layer of whipped topping over the peaches, if you’d like. I didn’t because I wasn’t sure if the whipped coconut would overpower the flavours of peaches and caramel. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Next time, I’ll probably do that. Then, I spread about a third of the remaining dulce de coconut leche on the cut side of the top half of the cake, and laid that top half over the bottom half. Now, it was time to frost. I found that the whipped coconut tended to stick to my spreader much more than regular whipped cream, but that wasn’t a problem. I solved it but spreading on less at a time. Voilà, after a few sprinkled and a Buon Compleanno, the cake was finished.
I should mention that there are a few very picky eaters in my family. I had no idea how this cake was going to go over. Well, I’m happy to say, it was a huge hit. So much so that I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture of a slice so you could see how the layers came together. The cake was gone in a flash! Or maybe I was just too busy eating to notice.