I love the bold, freewheeling creativity of Mexican cuisine, the kind of imagination that combines chicken with chocolate, or Coca Cola with shredded pork. And yet in many Mexican restaurants, the creativity seems to run out at dessert, which invariably consists of the same three options: flan, churros, or tres leches cake. Recently I played around with some Mexican dessert classics, hoping to create a couple of dessert recipes to keep the creativity party going once the entrees are cleared away.
First, inspired by the margarita pie, I set out to make a sangria tart. I imagined a Mexican vanilla pastry cream dotted with sangria-soaked fruit. However, on my first try, the darker, spicier notes of Mexican vanilla got lost in the cooked cream. My solution was a teaspoon of instant espresso powder, which gave the cream a rich, slightly bitter flavor that mimicked Mexican vanilla straight out of the bottle and balanced the sweet fruit. Finally, for richness and structure, I chose a crispy press-in shortbread crust. Next, I wanted to make a burrito into a dessert, jettisoning a thick tortilla wrapper for a thinner crepe. For a distinctly Mexican flavor, I made a batch of yellow cornmeal crepes, sweetened with vanilla and sugar. Fine, but unexciting. Starting from scratch, I switched to Mexican chocolate, which was good, but adding some cornmeal back to the batter was even better, softening the texture and enriching the sweet chocolate flavor. To fill the crepes, I used my mother’s easy-to-make cherry pie filling, which has a cinnamon flavor to match the Mexican chocolate. I folded up my crepes as burritos as well as enchiladas, which ultimately I preferred for its perfect ratio of crepe to filling.
Read Related: Tres Leches Done Right
This tart is best immediately after assembled, as the sangria-soaked fruit eventually bleeds into the cream and tart crust.
1 recipe Sangria
1 recipe Tart Crust
1 recipe Espresso Pastry Cream
- Prepare all recipes as directed.
- Shortly before serving, fill cooled tart shell with pastry cream, then layer drained apple slices in a concentric pattern. In the center, mound oranges.
- Dot lightly with berries.
¾ cups red wine
¼ cups orange-flavored liqueur
1 lemon sliced
1 lime sliced
2 granny smith apples, sliced thinly
½ pint blueberries
½ pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
- Mix the wine and liqueur.
- Peel the orange and cut into segments. Squeeze the juice from the membrane into the sangria, then add segments and sliced fruit.
- Soak the fruit at least half an hour. Before using in tart, drain well.
Tip: Handle this finicky dough with plastic wrap rather than your fingers
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
Big pinch of salt
¼ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- In a food processor, process all ingredients into a meal, pulsing several times until butter is the size of small peas.
- Spoon dough crumbs into a 9-inch round tart pan or 8 individual tart pans; use a piece of plastic wrap to press into bottom and up sides. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. It’s better not to overhandle the dough.) Chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°.
- Prick the dough with a fork, then bake until very golden, about 20 minutes for 9-inch round or about 10 minutes for small tarts.
ESPRESSO PASTRY CREAM
Tip: You can substitute 1 TBSP Mexican vanilla for the vanilla bean
1½ cups half and half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1½ TSP instant espresso powder
4 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
2 TBSP cornstarch
2 TBSP unsalted butter, room temperature
Pinch of salt
- In a medium saucepan, combine the half and half, espresso powder and vanilla (pod and seeds), then heat to scalding on medium heat. (Look for tiny bubbles at edges of pan). Remove vanilla pod and take off heat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch, then slowly whisk in hot milk until blended. Pour milk mixture back into pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Stir in salt and butter until melted. Pour through fine sieve into a bowl, then place plastic wrap directly onto cream. Chill until set, about an hour.
MEXICAN CHOCOLATE CREPES WITH CHERRY FILLING
Yield: 12 Crepes
For the Crepes:
1 cup milk
½ cup water
1/3 cup cornmeal
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ TSP cinnamon
½ TSP salt
¼ cup sugar
½ TSP vanilla extract
2 TBSP melted butter
Vegetable oil (to grease pan)
- In a blender or with a whisk, mix all ingredients except oil until smooth, like heavy cream, with a few bubbles. Allow batter to rest for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.
- Heat a 6-inch non-stick skillet on medium-high heat, then brush lightly with oil. Add a scant ¼ cup batter to the pan and swirl immediately so batter coats the surface evenly.
- Cook about one minute, then loosen the edges with the tip of a spatula. Find a loose edge of the crepe and fold over slightly with a spatula. Underside should be dark brown. Then with confidence, pick up the crepe by hand and flip! Cook for ten seconds, then slide onto a plate. Oil pan again and then repeat with the rest of batter.
- Fill with warm fruit filling, roll up like an enchilada or a burrito, then top with more filling, a dollop of whipped cream, and/or chocolate syrup.
Mom’s Cherry Pie Filling:
¾ to 1 cup sugar
4 TBSP flour
½ TSP cinnamon
2 ½ cups pitted sour cherries with juice (jarred or canned)
In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients, then cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture thickens and boils, about 10 minutes.