Cornbread and tres leches cake are both wonderful on their own. But when you turn them into a hybrid dessert? Something magical happens. In this week's episode of Pastries with Paola, pastry chef Paola Velez prepares her recipe for cornbread tres leches cake, adding labneh and fresh lemon juice for tang. In the soak, she swaps in whole milk and half-and-half for the traditional evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, adding a little sugar as well for balanced sweetness. Tres leches cake, she notes, can sometimes be "overly sweet, overwhelms your palate, and can be one flat note." This version is slightly less sweet than the traditional version, with added nuttiness from the cornmeal.
"It has all the deliciousness of the three milks, but the cornmeal takes it to the next level, creating what I think is the perfect balance of sweet and savory," Paola says. "Don't we all deserve a little balance in our lives?"
Read on for Paola's step-by-step method and follow along with the video above.
Start with the Batter
The cornbread component of this recipe begins with a labneh and lemon juice-spiked cornmeal batter. First, grab all of your dry ingredients—all-purpose flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, kosher salt, and ground cinnamon—and combine them. Make a well in the middle for the wet ingredients (this will help prevent lumps).
Speaking of wet ingredients, gather your labneh, eggs, whole milk, olive oil, and lemon juice. In the video, Paola first whisks together the labneh and eggs, and then, incorporates the milk and olive oil. After whisking that together, finally, add in the lemon juice, giving the mixture a final whisk. Paola then pours the combined wet ingredients into the well in the dry ingredient mix, folding them in with a spatula. As she scrapes the wet ingredients in, she notes to not waste any of the mixture and leave it behind (otherwise, you won't have accurate measurements).
Prep the Pan and Bake
Take the finished batter and pour it into a 13-by-9-inch baking pan lightly coated with cooking spray—again, make sure to scrape every last bit of the batter into the pan. Smooth it into an even layer with your spatula, and then get the cornbread a preheated 350°F-oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Make the Tres Leches Soak
While the cornbread bakes, make the soaking liquid (Paola recommends mixing it in a large cup with a handle and a spout for easy pouring). You'll need whole milk, heavy cream, and half-and-half, along with granulated sugar and kosher salt.
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Emily Nabors Hall / Prop Styling by Lydia Purcell
Poke and Soak
After removing the cornbread from the oven and allowing it to cool to room temperature, slice it into 12 even pieces. Then, start poking—you can use a skewer, a fork, or rainbow tongs like Paola uses in the video. As she notes, be sure not to poke too many holes so your cake doesn't fall apart. Then, pour on all of that soaking liquid, cover the cake, and chill it in the fridge for at least eight hours (or overnight).
Once the cake has been allowed to chill and soak, it's ready to eat. Paola pairs it with some homemade whipped cream (made with an immersion blender, of course!) and fresh blueberries as the finishing touch.
"This tastes spectacular," she says. "It is light and tangy, and then you have some crunch from the cornmeal. The whipped cream is just perfectly sweet on top."
Come back for the next episode of Pastries with Paola featuring guava and cheese bread pudding.
Paola's Gear Picks
Vardagen Glass Measuring Cup, 34 ounces
To buy: $5 at ikea.com
(Similar) O'Creme Multicolored Stainless Steel Precision Culinary Fine-Tip Tweezer Tongs
To buy: $17 at amazon.com
(Similar) Tonal Extra-Large Bandana, Blue
To buy: $18 at urbanoutfitters.com