Tres Leches Cake: dairy, dairy good

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Let me admit something right off the bat: I truly expected to dislike this cake.

I’d been reading about Tres Leches Cake (Three Milks Cake) for years. The signature cake of Mexico, as well as many parts of Central and South America, this plain yellow cake is baked, then soaked in two types of milk – sweetened condensed, and evaporated – plus heavy cream.

Soggy yellow cake oozing condensed milk? Ewwww……

So I dithered and fussed, promising myself that someday, as a responsible cross-cultural baker, I’d make this cake.

After all, to earn favorite-son status in countries all over the hemisphere, it has to have SOMETHING to recommend it, right?

Right.

And boy, was my initial assessment ever wrong.

Tres Leches Cake tastes exactly like those last tasty bites of the best strawberry shortcake you’ve ever had – minus the strawberries. Picture a cake (not biscuit) shortcake, the whipped cream having settled and soaked into the tender spongecake.

Like that yellow spongecake many use for shortcake, this is quite literally a sponge, soaking up and holding the liquid so that each mouthful is a just-sweet-enough, super-moist, dense-but-not-soggy delight.

And its flavor – well, again, think ice cream (heavy cream) and cake. A marriage made in heaven, right? Just like this cake.

Today is Cinco de Mayo – the perfect occasion to embrace this rich and creamy celebration cake.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

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Here are the three “milks” you’ll need: 5 ounces of evaporated, 14 ounces of condensed, and a half-pint (8 ounces) of heavy cream.

My supermarket was out of half-pints of cream, but hey, I can always mix the remainder with self-rising flour to make the easiest biscuits ever.

OK, let’s get started. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ x 2″ pan; line it with parchment and grease the parchment, if you plan on turning the cake out onto a serving platter. Note: use a pan that’s at least 2″ deep; this is a high-rising cake.

Next, separate 6 large eggs – whites in one big bowl, yolks in another. Have the eggs at room temperature; if you’re not the planning-ahead type, submerge them, in their shells, in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes, to warm up.

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Combine the egg whites with 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, or 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice. Beat the whites until soft peaks form, and set them aside.

Beat the egg yolks until well combined. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar, and beat until the mixture comes together and thickens. When you stop beating, the mixture should fall from the beater(s) in ribbons as you lift them out of the bowl (middle left, above).

Add 1/3 cup cold water, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon almond extract to the egg yolk mixture, beating to combine. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat again.

Stir in the following:

2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Beat gently, just to combine.

Finally, gently but thoroughly fold in the beaten egg whites, stirring until no streaks of white remain.

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Scoop/pour the foamy batter into the prepared pan, gently smoothing the top.

Bake the cake for 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

See what I mean about this being a high-rising cake? It’s like a soufflé, in that it sinks once it’s out of the oven; but it does need sufficient pan depth (2″) to support it while it’s baking.

Remove the cake from the oven, and set it on a rack. Loosen the edges with a spatula or table knife.

After 20 minutes, gently turn the cake out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet or serving platter, turning it upright, if desired. You can also leave it face-down, if you like; you’ll be topping it with cinnamon, so any imperfections on the bottom crust will be hidden.

You may also choose to serve the cake right from the pan; in which case, leave it where it is.

Allow the cake to cool to room temperature.

When the cake is completely cool, make the topping by stirring together 1 cup heavy cream; a 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, and a 5-ounce can evaporated milk. An inauthentic but perfectly acceptable substitute for the 5 ounces of evaporated milk is 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons half & half.

Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or 1 tablespoon brandy or light rum.

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Poke the cake all over with a fork. Pour the milk mixture over the cake slowly, stopping occasionally to allow it to soak in.

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This seems like a lot of liquid for the cake to absorb; but don’t worry, it will.

Cover the cake and refrigerate it for several hours before serving.

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Here’s what it looks like after a few hours in the fridge. I chose to cut squares and plate them individually, rather than bring the whole cake to the table; it was kind of messy looking around the edges.

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Speaking of cross-cultural – potent Vietnamese cinnamon is the perfect topping for this Latin American cake. A liberal shower of cinnamon not only adds pleasing flavor, but dresses up (read: hides) the rather imperfect looking surface of the cake, with its plethora of poked holes.

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Serve the cake with diced mango, pineapple, or other tropical fruits, if desired.

While the cinnamon-dusted cake is delicious as is, serving with fruit gives you the entire wonderful shortcake experience. I diced mangoes and strawberries, added a touch of vanilla and sugar, and let them macerate overnight.

Next day, I served squares of the cake with the fruit and a generous mound of whipped cream (because nothing succeeds like excess). We all agreed: it’s a keeper.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Tres Leches Cake.

Print just the recipe.

 

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Linda

    I used to love collecting KAF recipes from the web but now it just seems like too much work. I have commenting before how the change to separate weights from measurements on the printouts is both disappointing and frustrating. It used to be I had both on the same printout. Now I have to print it twice to get that option. I might not argue the point as much if you didn’t do it otherwise in the wonderful and more practical Baking Sheet recipes. Those are still a combination of both measurements and weights on the same printout. Gives us the option to put both on the one printout again. I miss sharing all the WONDERFUL recipes here but everyone doesn’t bake the same. Some of us live by the scale and others still prefer the old-fashioned method with the measuring cups. Allow us to have both available again on one printout. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Linda, your good feedback here has generated a discussion around this very topic – we’re currently in the process of redesigning the “print recipe” page, and have added this as a goal. Please don’t give up on us yet – we hope to have a better print experience ready for you by mid- to late summer. Thanks for your patience – PJH

    2. Biffhank

      As usual (at least most of the time!!) you responded and are addressing the problem. One of the things I love most about KAF. Thank you for reviewing the problem and (hopefully!!) making that work better for us. I would love to collect and share so many of your recipes but it has just been too frustrating since you changed the format to split it all up. Thanks again for being there for us and allowing us to make our voices heard!

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Love hearing our readers’ feedback – it’s the only sensible way to make decisions, right? Thanks again – PJH

  2. audrey thompson

    i love you Bakers and have been so glad you added weight measures as this is the best way to achieve the most successful result…someone commented that they dont want to print double recipes one by weight measure and a second for cup measuring… please try printing the weight recipe and when it comes out of the printer selected volume on your pc screen and write in any amt you need in cups on the printout….it only take a moment…also remember to set your printer to double sided printing and you will find most recipes fit that set up leaving you with plenty of margin room for notes and reviews all one one paper….happy baking:)

    Reply
  3. Christine

    Just printed the recipe to try it so I can’t comment on that yet … but if you’re taking printing requests, *I* wish that the “printable version” didn’t include the photo and description at the top. So many more recipes would fit on one page if they didn’t have those. I copy/paste into Word to remove that, but it would be nice to skip that step. I have seens some sites that let you choose exactly what to print, that would be idea. :) I agree about the weights/ volumes also. I prefer weights but when the kids are helping I use volumes so they can “pour”. : )

    Reply
  4. Nancy Wilhelm

    Is there a way to save a recipe to”my recipes” from the blog itself? If so, that would be lovely.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      No, Nancy, sorry – at this point, only recipes (not blogs) can be saved to “my recipes.” (Here’s the recipe for Tres Leches Cake, if you were looking for it.) But that’s a good point – let me add that to our list of recipe site improvements. Thanks – PJH

  5. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez- SENAC- Petrópolis, R.J.-BRAZIL

    Amazing recipe, but definitely it´s not common in Brazil. Here we have much more Corn Cake with Anise seeds among most loved!!
    But we have something similar to this cake, but not a cake. Southern states of Brazil, specially Rio Grande do Sul, have been colonizated by Germanic settlers and traditionally those people bake a kind of sweet bread made of unbleached flour, sugar, salt, water and lard plus some unsalted butter. The dough is prepared and rolled over a big rectangular pan where it rises for one hour. Then we pick lots of small holes all over the dough with help of knife, then we brush a mix of condensed milk and heavy cream plus some drops of vanilla extract and this allow the liquid to flow down under the crumbs turning it very moist and wet.Then we put sliced rippened bananas or fill with thin sliced apples puffing it inside softly dough carefully. Finally, we prepare a crumble mix called Streusel mixing some flour and some sugar ( 50%/50%) plus some unsalted butter in iced chunks. We put all of the Streusel over the dough covering whole area of the pan. It will be baked at medium temperature for 50 minutes to one hour. It turns AMAZING when it comes out of the oven. This is a traditional Germanic bread called Kuchen or portuguese language we call CUCA!! AMAZING and deserves a try!!! Could sprinkle top when it comes out from the oven, with cinnamon sugar!!! Try to access this link for better views on Germanic Cucas!
    https://www.google.com.br/search?hl=pt-BR&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1012&bih=653&q=Cuca+Alem%C3%A3+de+Banana&oq=Cuca+Alem%C3%A3+de+Banana&gs_l=img.12…0.0.0.18466.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0….0…1ac..42.img..0.0.0.Dv699L0yW_o

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Oh, my, Ricardo – that sounds and looks wonderful! Question: Do you let the kuchen rise some more, once you’ve added the fruit/streusel, or do you bake it right away? I can see making this in a half-sheet pan; I’d try it with bananas first, for a new take on banana bread. Thanks so much for sharing this. I hope things are going well for you – good to see your name here, as always. PJH

  6. Rhiannon

    I’m glad you’ve joined the tres leches fold!

    Just FYI, I’ve lived in Mexico for years and I have never, ever met anyone who celebrates Cinco de Mayo here. It’s really only observed in Puebla, in the south of the country. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the surprise victory at the Battle of Puebla.

    You can sort of think about it like their Alamo.

    While it would be totally normal to celebrate Alamo Day in Texas, it’d be weird to make a big deal about it in Wisconsin and just flat out bizarre to have massive costume parties and dedicated blog posts about it in, like, Germany.

    Independence Day here in Mexico is September 16th, and I would LOVE to see you feature a Mexican dish then…maybe little manchego and quince paste empanadas?

    If you want the best of both worlds, you could do another Cinco de Mayo feature next year, but featuring something from the incredibly rich and varied Poblano (as in from Puebla) culinary patrimony. A variation on Santa Clara cookies might be a good place to start. http://www.patismexicantable.com/2012/12/santa-clara-cookies/

    If you need any help or suggestions, I would be glad to help you out!

    Reply
  7. Gene Hill

    I would like to make a gluten free version. Can I substitute free flour for the recipe flour and add some xanthum gum to the ingredient list?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Unfortunately, we don’t generally find that gluten-free flours substitute in perfectly for wheat flour. I encourage you to experiment, though!~Jaydl@KAF

  8. critterhollow

    Is there a way to post your blogs on my pintrist page? Obviously, I am not a High-Techy- Becky.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You could pin photos from our blog posts to your Pinterest page. I believe you would need to then add a link to the recipe – if you do want that, too. ~Jaydl@KAF

  9. Sally Freshwater

    This cake is the most delicious cake there is. I make it as often as I can and last time I made it I didn’t have the cinnamon or the time to shop so I had to make changes. It was so well accepted by the Hispanics in the group at my church I’ve done it this way often. Rather than white or yellow cake use a rich chocolate cake with Espresso Powder and chocolate whip cream. Outstanding.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Oh, Sally… now THERE’S a thought! I’m definitely trying that next time. Thanks for the inspiration.And in the meantime, I’ve frozen pieces of this original version, which are wonderful thawed and topped with strawberries. :) PJH

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