Cinco de Mayo is coming soon, so if you need an idea for something to bring to the party, this is it. Heck, even if you have absolutely no connection to Cinco de Mayo nor have any parties to go to, make this cake just because you can. Tres Leches cake does not look like much…yellow or white cake with some whip cream on top. Big deal, huh? Wait until you taste it.
Mmmmmm. It is so good. I am not normally that thrilled with cakes. I can easily decline a piece at social gatherings, but this is something special. I am not entirely sure what makes it so extraordinary to me. It is super moist and light tasting and has a lovely almost caramel hint in the flavor. It also has a touch of cinnamon and is topped with a cherry. It looks so creamy and pretty, and it makes my mouth happy.
Tres (trace) Leches (letch-ays) means “three milks.” What makes the cake so moist and delicious is that it is soaked overnight in a mixture of three milks: evaporated, sweetened condensed, and cream. You would think that it would become soggy, but it does not. The cake is sponge cake, and it just soaks up all that sweet milky goodness and holds on to it. Now if you are lactose intolerant, this may not be the best choice for you… But for everyone else, this is a sweet taste of heaven. Gracias!
Disclaimer: I have never had authentic tres leches cake from someone who grew up with the stuff nor have I had it made by a restaurant or bakery that should know how to make it. The cake is a popular Latin American dessert, so my German-Swedish-Norwegian rural Minnesota upbringing has no frame of reference at all. The only tres leches cake I have had is this one. I cannot tell you how authentic it is, but I can tell you this: It is darn good! If you need more convincing, I can tell you that Terry the chocoholic could not keep himself from going back for another sliver and another sliver when I first made this several years back. We all wanted seconds.
Tres Leches Cake
For the cake:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 whole eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/3 cup milk (I usually use whole, but I think any will work)
For the three milk mixture:
- 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
- 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
For the topping: (to make this easier and faster, you could just use Cool Whip, probably a 12 oz. tub, instead of whipping fresh cream)
- a teaspoon or so of cinnamon (optional)
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons sugar, granulated or powdered
- maraschino cherries (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease a 9 x 13 baking pan very liberally.
- In a medium to large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Separate eggs. Place egg yolks in a small bowl and egg whites in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. (Basically, you are going to need to whip the yolks and the whites separately, and you cannot whip the whites in the same bowl as the yolks unless you wash it first. I used a small bowl and my hand mixer for the yolks and my stand mixer and bowl for the whites. You could use the stand mixer for both if you have a small bowl and a large bowl, or if you want to wash the bowl out before whipping the whites.)
- Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow and thick. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.
- Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer still running, gradually pour in the 1/4 cup of sugar. Continue beating on high until the whites are stiff but not dry.
- Fold egg white mixture into batter very gently until just combined. Pour into well-sprayed pan and spread to even the batter.
- Bake for 35-45 minutes (35 works for me) or until a toothpick comes out clean. The cake will have a nice brown look to it similar to the outside of an angel food cake.
- While the cake is baking, mix the evaporated milk, 1/4 cup cream, and sweetened condensed milk together in a small pitcher and set aside.
- After the cake has baked, make sure it is loose all around the edges of your pan, and then turn the cake out onto a rimmed platter or into a bigger baking pan. I always use my over-sized glass baking pan–partially because I don’t have any nice rimmed platters, but also because I like being able to put foil over the top for chilling without ruining the cake or trying to wrestle foil around a platter.
- Allow the cake to cool for only a few minutes and then use a fork to poke holes all over the cake. Do not forget the edges. Give your milk mixture another stir or two and then pour it over the cake, being sure to cover the whole surface generously. If the milk is pooling on top too much, give the cake a moment to soak it up and then continue pouring the milk. You will use most but probably not all of the milk mixture. I usually have 1/4-1/2 cup left over. Let the cake finish cooling and then cover with foil and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. (You will probably still have visible milk on and around the cake. It is fine; the stay in the refrigerator will probably soak it up.)
- To finish the cake: Take the cake out of the refrigerator and lightly sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Cover with Cool Whip or make fresh cream by whipping two cups of chilled heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable. Cover the sides and top of the cake with the whipped cream. Garnish with whole or chopped maraschino cherries. Cut into squares and enjoy! And then go back and cut a little more and a little more until you are satisfied.
Source: Slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman