I love celebrating birthdays. I view it as a chance to show how grateful and happy we are to share (mmm intertwine?) life paths with someone, which is why birthdays should be all about smiles, laughs, and surprises. Simply put, birthdays should be epic. And there is no way we would be able to celebrate epic birthdays without epic cakes. Hence, I take my birthday cake baking very seriously. Ok, fine. I always take my baking very seriously. Let’s just say that I put some extra thought, planning, effort, and love into the birthday cake.
Last year, my friend and I made a chocolate cake with coffee-flavored frosting for Tim. This year, I asked him if he had any special requests. It turns out that he just wanted a cake that I could eat, so I had to make a non-chocolate cake (I’m sure one day I will elaborate on my chocolate allergy). Since I got him hooked on manjar (Chilean dulce de leche, aka creamy caramel heaven in a jar. Click on the link to read an interesting post on manjar from the perspective of an American living in Chile. Spoiler: she nails it), I decided to make my favorite cake. The one I would crave and request for my birthday: Torta de Panqueque de Manjar.
Delicious and delicate (should I add divine for a triple D?), this traditional Chilean work of culinary art consists of thin layers of a pancake-like batter (with, yes you guessed it, butter!) and manjar. One of the most fascinating things about this recipe is that by using simple ingredients, one achieves an elegant, sweet yet soft, heart-warming cake. Nonetheless, the complexity of the cake relies on its layers. How do you bake them? How do you make them so thin? How do you assemble the cake? I never had to answer these questions while I lived in Chile because I could just walk into a bakery and buy one. Then, I moved to the U.S. and I was sentenced to celebrate 6 birthdays without Torta de Panqueque de Manjar. Can you believe it?! Luckily, my mom’s friend discovered this awesome cooking blog in which Pilar Hernandez, a Chilean lady living in Houston, TX, gives away the secret to a homemade Torta de Panqueque (click here for the recipe!).
The truth is I was dying to try the recipe, but I was nervous and excited to make it for the first time, especially for Tim’s birthday! What if I ruined the epic birthday cake? Well, I was up for the challenge and I wanted to impress Tim. No, scratch that. Tim does not need to be any more impressed by me (jejeje). I wanted to spoil Tim (well, keep spoiling him. I’ve been spoiling his palate for a year jeje) and make him a memorable cake. Being the chemical engineer graduate student that I am, I prepared a scaled-down cake practice run. Yes, you read correctly. I used half of the original recipe to make two mini tortas de panqueque ten days before Tim’s actual birthday. Now I regret not taking a picture, but I do have a witness: my brother. See, epic birthday cake equals dedication! So what does this torta that I have been raving about look like?
The cake batter is made by creaming butter with sugar, mixing it with egg yolk and then slowly adding the fluffy egg whites and flour. The most important trick is to spread a thin layer of batter in the cake pan and bake it for 1 to 2 minutes using the oven broiler. Then, you take the cake pan out of the oven and carefully spread a thin layer of manjar without breaking the cake layer that has just been baked. The next step is to spread another thin layer of batter on top on the manjar and bake it using the broiler just like in the first step.
From there, you just have to repeat all the layering, spreading, and baking until you run out of batter (running out of manjar is not an option!). Eventually, once the cake cooled down (please do not take it out of the pan before it cools down! Otherwise the manjar will be warm, liquid-like, and slippery. The cake will fall apart!), I ended up with something like this:
In case you are wondering, the entire process took 4 hours from start to finish. After the cake cooled down, I covered it with a final layer of manjar and decorated it with shredded coconut. To achieve the best texture and flavor, it’s best to refrigerate the cake overnight.
Yes, making this cake requires lots of patience. Yes, my tiny apartment got super hot and I sweated a lot. Yes, it was nerve-racking to spread the manjar without breaking each cake layer. But you know what? I had a blast and I loved tackling this recipe. I not only poured my heart into this cake for a very special person, but I also reconnected with my roots. I proudly made a traditional Chilean Torta de Panqueque de Manjar and it tasted like home.