The traditionalist in me would have fixated on a Buche de Noel or Yule Log this Christmas too. A longstanding festive tradition, the fancy buttercream slathered Swiss roll log appears just once a year and there are more takers for it than plum and fruit cake, but 2016, I wanted to do something different. Call it crazy, but I haven’t been able to get Dominique Ansel’s Christmas Tres Leches cake off my mind, and while I know that it’s a bit of a project to make, the result is every bit the effort.
Three Devil’s food chocolate sponges are soaked in three festive milks- hot chocolate, latte and eggnog to yield a cake that’s incredibly moist, yet indulgent and boozy. It sings with the gaiety of Christmas and I haven’t met a person who didn’t take to it instantly. It must be the booze from the eggnog, I suppose, because at the party I took this to, the sizeable three layers were demolished in a matter of minutes.
I suggest you start on this a day ahead so you don’t spend a whole day fussing over it. You can keep a checklist of things you will have to make in advance- three sponges, two relatively quick and easy to make soaks, one custardy eggnog and one equally custardy chocolate ganache filling. The three milks and sponges can be made ahead of time. You won’t need the whole quantity of the soaks, so that means you can have leftover coffee, hot chocolate and eggnog all on the same day- sounds like a pretty win-win situation to me.
Yields one big, three-layered cake. You will need three sandwich tins.
Recipe adapted from a Dominique Ansel original
Vegetable Oil 220ml
All-purpose flour 390g
Caster sugar 500g
Good-quality cocoa powder 80g (Christmas calls for only the best)
Baking powder 1 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Hot Coffee 220ml
The Hot Chocolate Milk
Dark chocolate 80g, chopped coarsely
Caster sugar 1/2 tbsp
Brown sugar 25g
Caster sugar 35g
Cinnamon 1/2 tsp
Ground ginger or Sonth powder 1/4 tsp
Vanilla essence 1 tsp or 1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
Nutmeg 1/2 tsp
Egg Yolks 3
Dairy cream 125ml
Dark Rum 35ml (old monk will do)
Strong brewed coffee 120ml (you can pick this up from a Starbucks to-go, if you don’t have a way to make strong brewed coffee at home)
Caster Sugar 1 tsp
The Custard Ganache Filling
Cocoa powder 1 tbsp
Dark chocolate 250g, finely chopped
Egg Yolks 5
Caster sugar 80g
Begin by making the cake sponge. Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease and line three sandwich tins of equal size. In a bowl, combine the eggs, vegetable oil and milk together. In another mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and the salt. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry whisking well with each turn. Finally, splash in the hot coffee ready in the kettle and whisk well.
Pour the batter into the pre-prepared sandwich tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely before use. You may have to slice a bit of the top off to even out the surface and make sure that they are flat. Poke several holes into each of the sponge and set aside. This is just like you would do for a poke cake.
You can start on the soaks while the cakes are baking- Make the coffee milk by mixing together the hot coffee, milk and sugar and set it aside. For the hot chocolate, place the coarsely chopped chocolate and sugar in a bowl. Warm the milk in a small saucepan and once hot, pour half of the milk into the bowl with the chocolate and sugar. Whisk energetically, then continue to add the rest of the hot milk and stir till everything has dissolved.
For the eggnog, bring the milk, sugars, the spices and the vanilla essence to a boil and reduce the heat to low. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Stream a bit of the warm milk mixture into the yolks and temper it by mixing it a little, then add it back to the just-boiled mixture and over very low heat, stir continuously till the eggnog mixture has thickened to coat the back of a spoon enough that you can draw a single line with your finger and it stays. Get this mixture off the heat and let it cool, then add the cream, splash in the rum and stir till it is combined.
Now for the ganache, mix together the water and cocoa powder together. In a small pan, mix together the cream and milk and bring it to a boil over medium heat and take it off the heat. In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Now slowly pour in a little bit of the hot cream into the eggs, stirring constantly so the heat doesn’t cook the eggs. Return this tempered mixture of yolks sugar and some cream back to the pan with the hot cream and return to a medium-low heat. Stir this mixture constantly until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and add the water and cocoa powder mixture you had set aside before. Whisk till well combined, then using a strainer, strain the custard over the finely chopped chocolate in a bowl. Once again, whisk till blended. This mixture will be an easy-pouring one and that’s what we want. Refrigerate till it is time to assemble the cakes.
When you’re ready to start assembling, spoon a generous amount of each soak on top of the cakes and let it fully absorb. You will not need to use all the soak. Let it sit in the refrigerator to chill. After a good thirty minutes at least, place a layer on the turn table, spread the custard chocolate ganache on top, repeat with the next layer, then ganache, and finish with the third. Any remaining custard ganache can ice the sides of the cake. Once again, return the cake to the fridge and let it chill till it is ready to serve.