This year is destined to be the year of the Tres Leches Cake. Its name literally translates to ‘3 milk cake’ and is infused with condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. More bakeries are carrying a version of this cake and I’ve noticed it appearing more often at work functions and weekend dinner parties.
The Tres Leches Cake is commonly attributed to Mexico, however Nicaragua also claims it as their own. Each country puts their own spin on the ingredients, sometimes including coconut milk or rum. Regardless of the true orign, I love whoever invented it. This cake is rich, creamy, and insanely good!
Feeling a little frugal, I decided to try making it instead of spending $27 on one from the local market. It only took a few web searches to find a broad spectrum of recipes with which to start. Wikipedia informed me that the cake is butter based allowing the cake to hold up to being soaked with the 3 milks. I disregarded any recipe that didn’t include butter in the cake batter. Fortunately, I came across a particularly interesting (and authentic looking) recipe from the Central Cafe in El Paso, TX.
Warning: you should not be watching your calories if you seek to make this cake. You’ll immediately notice the number of eggs and cups of heavy cream required. I could feel my arteries seize up while I read through the recipe, but with a cake like this you can’t skimp on the recommended ingredients. My only variation was to use two 9″ round cake pans and baked them for 30-35 minutes. The cake turned out well with a slightly firm texture with which to hold the milk. Because the cake is served chilled, it makes a great summertime dessert. Here is the recipe I used:
Tres Leches Cake
from Central Cafe, El Paso TX (as published in Texas Monthly Nov. 1999)
9 Eggs (room temperature)
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
12 Tablespoons Butter (softened)
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Cup Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Separate egg yolks and whites, keeping whites at room temperature. In bowl of an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter together until pale yellow and fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat until fluffy again, 2 to 3 minutes on medium-high speed. In a separate bowl combine flour and baking powder. In a third bowl mix milk and vanilla. Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture (a fourth at a time) until all are combined. Beat until smooth after each addition.
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form and, using a large spatula, gently but thoroughly fold into flour-and-butter mixture. Grease bottom of a 9- by 13-inch metal baking pan. Pour in batter and bake for approximately 25 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool.
2 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Five-Ounce Can (5/8cup) Evaporated Milk
1 Fourteen-Ounce Can (7/8cup) Sweetened Condensed Milk
Stir the milks together thoroughly; do not beat. Do not refrigerate canned milks before using.
2 Cups Heavy Cream
1/3 Cup Sugar
Whip cream and sugar together until stiff. When cake is cool, slice or peel off the thin top crust. Ice sides first, creating a small lip on top to catch milk mixture. Pour milk mixture evenly over top of cake (if necessary, poke holes in cake with a knife or toothpick to facilitate soaking; you will probably need only 3/4 of mixture). Finish icing top. (If using an 11.5- by 17.5-inch pan, cut cake in half to make 2 equal pieces. Soak first layer, ice top if desired, and place second layer on top of it. Proceed as above.) Chill cake immediately and allow to set for 2 hours (or overnight) before serving. Serves 12.
Update 4/28/09: I’ve had a user write in about the liquids not soaking into the cake easily. I remember having it go slowly when I made the cake but didn’t think it was an issue. The cake has a higher butter content than some other recipes and also uses egg yolks, so these factors may inhibit the liquids from absorbing quickly. I’ve been meaning to play with the recipe a bit but haven’t gotten around to it yet. If you try it, please let me know your experiences. Thanks!