Saturday, November 18, 2017
Cooking

Signature Dish: Tres Leche cake with coconut milk delights family

RECOMMENDED READING


Who: Noemi Gerena, 65, of St. Petersburg, mother of six and grandmother of five, dessert caterer.

What: Tres Leche Delight Cake

About the recipe: What makes Gerena's tres leche cake special?

"Maybe because I just put so much love in it," she says.

About 13 years ago, she began baking to please her children, who all loved sweets and begged her for desserts. To train herself, she resolved to create the ideal flan — baking it over and over, sometimes recruiting her husband at 1 a.m. for emergency tastings. Once she mastered the flan, she says, "I became perfect."

Her desserts were so popular among friends and family that she started her own business, selling to local stores and catering for private events. Her tres leche cake became her number one seller.

That dessert began as a request from her daughter, who craved the tres leche cakes she'd tasted in Miami. Modifying a recipe from her sister-in-law, Gerena added coconut milk to give the dessert a subtle tropical flavor. She frosted the top with Cool Whip and adorned it with 12 cherries.

That night, Gerena invited her extended family over for dinner, saving the cake as a special surprise.

"When (my daughter) tasted it, she said, 'Mommy, this is better than the ones I ate (in Miami)!'"

A family tradition: Every Wednesday night for the last 10 years, she has cooked an elaborate meal — "nothing but the best" — for her children and grandchildren. She bakes a different dessert for them every week. "They cry when I have to go on a cruise or something," she says.

Baking traditional desserts, like the tres leche cake, helps her keep in touch with her Puerto Rican culture and share it with her family. Plus, she says, "I like to make people happy when they eat something."

Can't bake without: Romantic bachata music. "I could hear bachata all night," she says. "I've always been such a romantic woman."

(According to sealatin.com, bachata is a genre of music from the Dominican Republic, where it was first recorded in 1961, derived primarily from Cuban bolero and characterized by its distinctive lead guitar — played by plucking, rather than strumming or sustained — and highly emotional singing style.)

Emily Young, special to the Times

If you have a recipe that you would like featured, or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, email [email protected] with a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Or mail to Taste, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Comments
How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

How to make a pie from scratch: filling ideas, decorating tips, crust recipes and more

Perfect your crust. Try new filling recipes. Learn some decorating tricks. And prepare for the biggest pie day of the year: Thanksgiving.   From apple to thyme You’ve got the crust down. Now it’s time to choose a filling for your holid...
Published: 11/17/17
Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

Thanksgiving 101: Everything you need to prepare for the big cooking day

From appetizers to pies and everything in between, we’re here to help you put together a low-stress Thanksgiving spread. Ideas for sidesThese recipes go beyond the traditional, with a corn casserole, Brussels sprout salad and moreSee what our food ed...
Published: 11/17/17
Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

Thanksgiving sides beyond the classics: corn casserole, Brussels sprouts salad, pecan pie carrots

There are probably a handful of essentials, things you must have on the Thanksgiving table lest some family members begin to riot. But I find there are often a couple of slots open for new things, chances to get weird or creative or, gasp, healthy. ...
Published: 11/17/17
How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

How to make solid turkey gravy before Thanksgiving Day

As far as we’re concerned, anything you can make in advance of actual Thanksgiving Day is a good thing, and this make-ahead gravy fits the bill. Plus, Tucker Shaw of America’s Test Kitchen says it tastes just as good as if you made it wi...
Published: 11/17/17
How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

How to plan your Thanksgiving menu

Planning a really good menu is the stealth approach to being a really good cook. Here are some tips from the experts. New York Times Put some thought into the menu What leaves an impression is not only the dishes you can make, but also how they t...
Published: 11/17/17
Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

Everything you need to know to prepare your Thanksgiving turkey

The turkey is the unquestioned star of the Thanksgiving meal. It can be the most daunting part as well. But with a little planning and care, it doesn’t have to be.   Before you start • A decent roasting pan, one heavy enough that it wo...
Published: 11/16/17
Taste test: prepared mashed sweet potatoes

Taste test: prepared mashed sweet potatoes

If you want to spend more time with your family and friends this holiday season and less time in the kitchen, our judges suggest serving Hormel’s mashed sweet potatoes. No need to wash, peel and heat potatoes. Just pop the container in the microwave ...
Published: 11/16/17
From the food editor: An expert weighs in on how to stay calm this Thanksgiving

From the food editor: An expert weighs in on how to stay calm this Thanksgiving

I can tell right away that Tucker Shaw has thought about Thanksgiving a lot, and not just as a home cook. As the editor in chief of Cook’s Country, a member of America’s Test Kitchen and the former dining critic and food editor at the Denver Post, Sh...
Published: 11/16/17
How to make a perfect pie crust (with recipes)

How to make a perfect pie crust (with recipes)

When I tell people I grew up in a family of pie bakers, it’s easy to imagine I’m bragging. My mother’s pies are legendary — rich, velvety custard fillings or mounded fruit pies, each cradled in an ornately decorated crust, gol...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Five ideas for meat pies

Five ideas for meat pies

Sweeney Todd ruined meat pies for me. e_SBlt For a while after seeing the famous musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in high school (and then again after watching the 2007 movie starring Johnny Depp), the thought of meat pies m...
Published: 11/15/17