Tres Leches Cake

I never really understood the concept of evaporated milk. To me it doesn’t really taste like milk at all, and in this modern era of refrigeration, what’s the point? When a recipe calls for it I tend to sub half and half or heavy cream, because they taste better to me. But this recipe called for both light cream and evaporated milk so I decided to just go with it.

I was a little dubious pouring the three-milk mixture all over a perfectly good cake, but in the end it was totally worth it. After bathing in cream (spiked with a little rum and vanilla) in the refrigerator for a few days, this turns into a rich, creamy concoction somewhere between pudding and cake. I don’t normally like things like bread pudding or custard, but I absolutely loved this! It tastes a lot like horchata (creamy and cinnamon-y), and the fluffy meringue topping is sublime.

Recipe:
(adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle)

Cake:
1 2/3 cup cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar (firmly packed
3/4 cup 2% milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Tres Leches:
1/2 cup half and half
one 12-ounce can evaporated milk
one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract

Meringue Topping:
2 large egg whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp water
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9″ square baking pan.

Sift the cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together onto a sheet of wax paper.

Beat the butter int the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth and creamy, then add the brown sugar and beat for about 2 minutes. Mix the milk and vanilla extract together in a small bowl.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter, mixing on low until just combined. Add the milk and mix on low. Add the remaining flour and stir until homogeneous.

With a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until light and foamy. Add the cream of tarter and beat until the egg whites hold soft peaks. Add the sugar and beat until the egg whites hold stiff, shiny peaks.

Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack, then poke holes with a toothpick at 1″ intervals.

After the cake has cooled, make the soaking mixture. Stir together the half and half, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, dark rum, and vanilla. Pour all over the cake (in the pan) so it is completely covered.

Wrap the cake with plastic wrap, and refrigerate between 4 hours and 4 days.

Within a few hours of serving the cake, make the meringue topping. Stir together the egg whites, sugar, water and cream of tartar and beat for about a minute with a handheld mixer.

Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and beat with the mixer until the egg white temperature reaches 140 F (about 7 minutes). Remove from the heat, pour in the vanilla, and beat until the egg whites hold stiff peaks. Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a large start tip.

Invert the cake onto a plate, then pipe swirls of meringue over the top. Cut into squares to serve.

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15 Responses to “Tres Leches Cake”


  1. 1 Maria March 12, 2010 at 7:11 am

    What a beautiful cake. Bookmarking this one:)

  2. 2 Maninas March 12, 2010 at 7:51 am

    I’m not sure either about evaporated and condensed milk. But having said that, this cake looks stunning!

  3. 3 arugulove March 12, 2010 at 8:22 am

    I am jealous of your gorgeous frosting swirls. 🙂

  4. 4 Mike Melton March 12, 2010 at 10:15 am

    This was AMAZING. I did so well while I was away on biz to not over-eat. Then I came home to find a plate of cookies (with a nice note) and a CRAZY tasty cake in the fridge. I think I need to go away more often…if for nothing more than the treats I get when I come home.

  5. 5 Tracey March 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

    This cake looks wonderful Cate! I love that second picture 🙂 Someday soon I’m going to make my first tres leches cake!

  6. 6 julo March 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    You know, I feel the same way about condensed and evaporated milk! But I LOVE horchata! That’s an interesting description. I definitely need to try this cake now!

  7. 7 Mimi March 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    I live in a California city that is full of Mexican people and/or people who can claim Mexican descent so tres leches is a common treat here. The cake can run the gamut from exquisite to not so good. When it is good it is really, really good. Yours looks good!!

  8. 8 WizzyTheStick March 13, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Fantastic cake, Cate. That meringue topping just puts it over the top good.

  9. 9 Michelle March 13, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Oh my gosh. I’m totally sold. I’ve seen this kind of cake before and always hesitated for the same reasons you did. Yours looks so unbelievably good though, that I’m bookmarking it right now. I especially love how you piped the meringue on top. So pretty!

  10. 10 elly March 15, 2010 at 5:49 am

    I love love love tres leches cake. One of my favorite cakes for sure. I’m so glad to have found a recipe that looks great – I am definitely starring this one and I just really hope I can make it soon!

  11. 11 Allison March 15, 2010 at 11:52 am

    I want to make this cake it looks delicious. The one problem though is the recipe. I was reading through it and you say to use the meringue mixture twice in the recipe. Once to fold into the cake mixture and once for the frosting. How does this work? should I be making twice the amount of meringue? Or am I missing something? Let me know. I really want to make this cake.

    • 12 Cate March 15, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      You do end up whipping egg whites twice… once for the cake (4 egg whites), and then later you make the meringue topping listed separately (with 2 egg whites)

  12. 13 Moodles March 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Evaporated milk has had about half the water evaporated out of it. It’s useful to keep on hand for emergencies, my favorite chocolate sauce recipe (Peg Bracken’s A-1 Chocolate Sundae, from The I Hate to Cook Book–Cate grew up on it), and for recipes calling for cream when you don’t want that much fat. Unsurprisingly, UHF milk tastes similar.

    Sweetened condensed milk also has some water removed, and lots of sugar added–it’s very viscous and sweet, and used mainly in shortcut-style recipes.

  13. 14 ruth soderlund April 23, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    how great! tres leches is one of my faves! can’t wait to try 🙂

  14. 15 Sherry August 23, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Gorgeous pictures! I’ve made tres leches cupcakes once, and it was phenomenal. A whole sheet cake? Now that would be a dream come true…


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