I baked this cake three times in the same month.
I shall now pause briefly so you can recover from the shock.
Breathe in…. Breathe out….
(image from Wikimedia)
Allow me to explain. I had never paid much attention to this cake, until a scientist from our department who joined another university in Kansas, mentioned that he would travel all the way back to our town if he knew I would be baking a Tres Leches. His all-time favorite cake. I filed that information in my neuronal system, and a few months later guess what happened? He needed to do some experiments with bacterial membranes and joined our group for the duration of the work. I decided to bake that cake for his first day in our lab, which, quite conveniently, fell on a Monday. And that’s when my best laid plans degenerated. He texted me to say he would be driving to the lab in a few minutes, and I assumed he was already in town since the evening before. Nope. He was not. What he was about to start was a 90 minute drive to our lab. When he arrived, not even a crumb of the cake was left. Can you feel his pain, and my pain when I found out about this harsh outcome? Undeterred, I made another Tres Leches on Thursday. And you know what? The second turned out better than the first… Sweet mission finally accomplished!
TRES LECHES CAKE
(slightly modified from The Pioneer Woman)
for the cake and soaking:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 whole eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Mexican vanilla)
1/3 cup milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
for the icing:
1 pint heavy cream
3 Tablespoons Sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan liberally until coated. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.
Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high-speed until yolks are pale yellow. 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 on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry. Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.
Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1/3 cup of the milk mixture—try to get as much around the edges of the cake as you can.
Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. I actually allowed it to sit in the fridge overnight, lightly covered with aluminum foil. To ice the cake, whip the heavy cream with the sugar until thick and spreadable.
Spread over the surface of the cake, you might not need all the amount made, but a thick layer of icing should be your goal. Decorate cake with maraschino cherries. Cut into squares and serve.
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: This is a fantastic cake. Period. It is sweet, it is rich, but it does not feel heavy. It is obviously super moist, with a very delicate crumb, and the icing goes perfectly with it. I’ve been baking cookies, cakes, tarts, pies, brownies on a regular basis to share with our departmental colleagues. No other bake got even remotely close to this one in terms of praise. The second time around there was a migration of people to the mail room because they heard that “the best cake ever” was there. I know, I know, it sounds as if I’m bragging. I promise you, I’m not. It’s not my recipe, and as I mentioned, I had no idea what this cake was all about until then.
Tres Leches means “three milks” in Spanish. The name reflects the use of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream to soak the cake. Since there is a little regular milk in the cake, I suppose a more accurate description should be “Cuatro Leches“, but let’s not split hairs. We go with the soaking milk component only, as that is what gives the cake so much flavor and sweetness. My only modification from the original recipe was to increase a little the amount of liquid in the cake (yeah, imagine that!). Ree advises to leave one full cup of the three milks behind. I did it that way on my first time, but on the second cake I left just 1/3 cup behind. I liked the cake better that way, particularly when soaking it overnight. The extended time in the fridge allows the crumb to retain additional moisture. Consider making the cake the day before you intend to serve it.
You might be wondering why the title “Three times a winner?” I actually baked it again just a couple of weeks later, as one a graduate student from another lab asked me if I could make one for his Birthday. It turns out he grew up enjoying Tres Leches baked by his family, and professed mine to be “the best one he’d ever had.” I still carry a permanent internal smile for that. Complete gratitude should be directed to Ree Drummond as I followed her recipe to a T. “T” for Total Winner!
(photo by Dr. P. Sukthankar)
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