Torta de Mil Hojas (Chilean Thousand Layers Cake)
If you still haven't decide what Mother's Day dessert to make, this is the last minute recipe you're going to need. Think express puff pastry layered with luscious caramelized milk. It's the ultimate fast slow dessert and will get polished off the plate even quicker.
First, let's have a conversation about dulce de leche. On a recent trip to Argentina, it didn't take me long to realize that this condiment is literally ubiquitous in the country. Straight from the jar at the breakfast table, filled inside all kinds of facturas in local bakeries, slathered between alfajores. The list goes on.
I'm not going to get into the debate of where this rich and creamy piece of heaven was invented, but legend has it, it was serendipitously created by a forgetful housekeeper who left the heat on too long while cooking some milk and sugar. The ingredients are rather straightforward, but be it the ratio of milk to sugar, or the way the mixture is stirred, or how long and low of a flame to simmer it over; every producer has their prideful recipe perfected and firmly secured.
This recipe is introduced to me by Gabriela, a dear friend from Guatemala. This is allegedly her husband's favourite dessert and it's all in the name: "cake of a thousand leaves," which is based on the same idea as the French mille feuille, or Napoleon.
Both components, the pastry layers and the dulce de leche (or manjar in Chile,) can be made ahead. Here, all the shortcrust pastry rules apply. Keep everything cold, do not overmix, do not knead. Keep all hand contact to a minimum, which ensures each "leaf" thin and crisp. For extra brownie points, make your own dulce de leche (recipe included,) which involves some time but minimum involvement. In a pinch, you may also use your favourite jarred brand.
Torta de Mil Hojas
Makes two 9" cake.
If you prefer hints of vanilla in your caramelized milk, feel free to add a few drops of vanilla extract to your simmering pot of sweetened milk. In that case it will be closer to dulce de leche found in Argentina and Uruguay. The sans vanilla version, known as manjar, is more commonly found in Chile and Ecuador.
For the puff layers:
1 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (128g) unsalted butter, cold
3 egg yolks
For the filling:
1-⅔ cup (500g) dulce de leche (recipe below)
1-⅔ cup (400mL) whipping cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar
- In a bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Rub in the butter with your fingers until the butter is the size of broad beans. Add the yolks and milk, and mix gently until just combined. Form the dough into a log, Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
- Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.
- With a bench scraper or a knife, divide the log into 13 to 15 equal pieces. Lightly flour your surface, working with each piece at a time, flatten each piece and roll into a thin circle, around 9" diameter. Use the bottom of a springform tin as your guide if needed.
- Arrange the discs on the lined sheet pan while you work on the rest of the pieces, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.
- Allow to cool completely on the sheet pan before transferring to a wire rack. Pick 2-3 not so good looking discs and crush them into crumbs.
- Meanwhile, prepare the filling by mixing the dulce de leche with a tablespoon of cream at a time, until it reaches a curd-like consistency.
- In another bowl, whip the rest of the cream and icing sugar until medium peaks.
- Have your pastry discs, pastry crumbs, dulce de leche and whipped cream ready before you assemble the cake.
- On a large plate or turntable, place a dot of dulce de leche in the center and secure a disc of shortcrust on it. Slather over a layer of dulce de leche, followed by whipped cream, and a disc of shortcrust. Repeat until you use up all your discs.
- Cover the entire cake with a thin layer of dulce de leche, then the crumbs. Serve immediately, as the shortcrust will start to get soggy.
- In a saucepan, stir together the milk, sugar, and baking soda. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, in the motion of a number "8", until caramelized and thickened. You may leave it to do its thing in the first hour, but after that, check on it every other 15 minutes or so to make sure it doesn't burn.
- Depends on how dark and caramelized you like, it should take around 2 hours. Remove from the heat, and strain into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla and salt and transfer to a container. Allow to cool.
For the dulce de leche:
1 quart (946) whole milk
1-1/4 cup (250g) sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
vanilla essence, optional (see headnote)