Tres leches is a magically decadent dessert. It’s not healthy, and it has no chocolate in it (although I bet, if you wanted to be a heathen, you could add chocolate), and that’s the sum total of what’s wrong with it.
What’s right with it is everything else. It’s sweet and rich and decadent, with this simple, but not too simple, caramelly flavor. It makes a great birthday cake and a great anything else cake, too.
At the PERLA symposium a while ago, there was this amazing buffet that ended with these two rectangular cakes no one had touched (tres leches is pretty unassuming to look at). Then Daren told me that they were tres leches, and I considered throwing myself on the cakes. You know, to save everyone else from the delicousness–er, horror–that is tres leches.
In order to not appear to be cake crazy, I offered to help hand out the pieces of cake. Half of the people who refused and said they were full, when I told them what it was, changed their minds. Several of the others who held on to their self-control (I don’t know how), still got bright, excited looks before they said no, and stared longingly at the cake as I took it away. You know why? Because tres leches is a miracle in cake form.
This recipe is from my mama tica Maria, and she makes it for all kinds of special occasions.
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbl juice or milk
2 heaping tsp baking powder
2 pinches salt, divided
2 cups flour
2 cans condensed milk
2 cans evaporated milk
2 cups whipping cream, divided
Rum to taste (theoretically optional. If you’re giving the cake to children, try not to put in enough rum that they wobble any more than normal)
- Beat the egg whites on a medium speed with 1/2 cup sugar and a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Transfer to a clean, dry bowl.
- Put the egg yolks in the mixer bowl without cleaning it first. Add vanilla, the remaining cup of sugar, and the juice or milk. Beat at a medium speed in a mixer for 5 minutes.
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt (I guess you could sift here, but I hate sifting). Lower the speed on the mixer, and slowly add the flour mixture until just combined.
- Fold in the egg whites until just combined.
- Pour the batter into two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans, greased and lightly floured.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees for 10 minutes, then put the cake in the middle rack, with only the bottom heat on.
- Cook for 40 minutes, until cooked through.
- In the meantime, mix in a blender condensed milk, evaporated milk, half of the whipping cream, and rum, if desired.
- Beat the remaining cream with sugar to taste.
- Let the cake cool for ten minutes before turning it out of the pan.
- Let it finish cooling, put in a larger container, and pour the liquid over it. Cover with whipped cream. Ideally, chill in the fridge for several hours before serving, although you can chill it in the freezer instead if you’re short on time.
Notes: If the cake is too sweet for you, you can cut some (not all) of the sugar in the cake. Normally, cutting sugar in cake is bad news bears because sugar’s secondary function is to add moisture to baked goods, but with all the liquid the cake will soak in, no one will ever notice if the cake is a little dry.
If you only have a rectangular cake pan, just hack up the cake any old way to fit it into the new tin. This also means, blissfully, that if the bottom of the cake gets stuck to the cake tin, it doesn’t matter. All errors will be covered up (literally) by pillows of whipping cream–which surely is a metaphor for life somehow.
Peach cake variation: Pour peach juice over one layer of the cake. Whip all the cream. If using canned peaches, use some of the syrup to sweeten the whip cream. Mix 1/3-1/2 with chopped peaches, and use as filling. Place the second layer on top and pour peach juice over. Ice with the remaining whipped cream. Store in the fridge.