A proper Tres Leches cake is thirsty. Really thirsty. Each dry pocket of cake crumb soaks up more milk than a stray kitten. A basic 11-by-13-inch cake can absorb more than three cups of milk as it sits in the fridge overnight. While the texture is decidedly moist, a good Tres Leches cake will never be soggy or mushy. It will – against all odds – retain a discernible crumb in spite of the milk within.
The secret is a long, slow soak. The unexpected benefit? Fuss-free entertaining. You can wake up in the morning, frost the cake and be on your way. Creamy white and delicate, the cake begs to be served at baby and wedding showers. Choose the prettiest pan you have because this cake is never unmolded – the weight of all the liquid makes it impossible. Instead, slice and serve straight from the baking pan – either on the buffet table or in the back room.
While often thought to be uniquely Mexican, the truth is Tres Leches cakes are popular all over the Caribbean and Latin America. Each community makes their cake slightly different, with their own unique twist. In Central America they like to soak the cake with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream. This is probably the most common version. There’s also the Drunken Tres Leches cake, which is soaked with a mixture of water, rum and sugar. Thus far, my favorite is the Caribbean Tres Leches cake – made with a shot of rum and healthy dose of coconut milk, as well as the traditional evaporated and sweetened condensed milks.
Part of the fun is deciding on the toppings. While I recommend toasted, shredded coconut, it is also incredible with maraschino cherries and fresh berries.
Are you looking for the perfect cake for your next potluck? One bite of this ultra moist cake and your friends will soak up the flavors of the Caribbean – coconut milk and rum – and they’ll think they’re lounging on a beach.
While easy to make, the cake does need an overnight “bath” in the three milks, so plan your time accordingly. Keep refrigerated and serve cool.
For the cake:
6 eggs, separated?
2 c. sugar?
2 c. flour?
1 tbsp. baking powder?
Pinch of salt?
1 tsp. vanilla extract
?2/3 c. milk
For the milk mixture:
12 oz. can evaporated milk
5.5 oz. can coconut milk
1 c. heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk?
1 shot rum
2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. shredded, toasted coconut ?or fresh berries to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat egg whites on medium until soft peaks form. Stream in sugar until stiff peaks form. Incorporate egg yolks, one at a time. Add vanilla extract to milk. Alternate between incorporating milk mixture and flour mixture into the egg mixture, about one-third at a time. Pour into greased 11-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool for at least 30 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together three milks. Using a fork or toothpick, prick holes all over the top of the cooled cake. Pour milk mixture evenly across the top, cover and refrigerate. The milk will soak in overnight and virtually disappear.
The next day, whip up the cream with sugar and spread on top of the cake. Top with toasted, shredded coconut or fresh berries. Slice and serve. Keep chilled.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world at www.globaltableadventure.com. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more.