Step-by-Step Guide to the Perfect Tres Leches Cake
A princess once said, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” which roughly translates to “Let them eat cake.” Trust that I take every opportunity to have my cake and eat it too. I think about all the birthday parties, weddings, and impromptu midnight cupcakes and all of the joy attached to such delights. Naturally, I would go to social media and profess my sweet tooth which inspired others to share their love for cake, and a phrase kept coming up: pan tres leches. Apparently, it’s to die for.
Sometimes, it’s sponge cake and other times it is a butter cake but both are soaked in three types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. It’s very popular in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, but the origin of the tres leches cake is a bit harder to pinpoint. Recipes for soaked-cake desserts were present in Mexico in the 19th century, which may likely have been the byproduct of European cultural transmission into the Americas.
In the 1930s, Nestle had established subsidiaries in Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela and the company had been publishing pan tres leches recipes on cans of La Lechera – their condensed milk marketed to Latin America – which may have played a key role in spreading the word. So, thank you capitalism. Thank you for bringing a cake that is (allegedly) to die for into my grasp.
Please understand, I am the type that needs to try a new food for myself before I sing any praises and I do my very best to have my cake and eat it too. So, I’m going to make my own pan tres leches and you get to watch the kitchen insanity unfold.
Here are the ingredients:
- 1 cup flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
- 12 oz evaporated milk
- 1 can of whipped cream
- Cinnamon for a light dusting
So first, we need to preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your cake pan.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into one large bowl.
Beat the egg yolks with ¾ cup of sugar on high until the yolks are pale yellow and then stir in the milk and vanilla.
Pour this mixture over the flour mixture and stir gently until it’s combined.
Beat the egg whites on high until soft peaks form. While still mixing, pour in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry.
Fold this very gently into the batter until it’s just combined and then spoon it evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the cake is done. Allow it to cool in the pan and then turn upside down onto a platter with a rim.
To make the tres leches, we will combine the three dairy products in a small pitcher.
I’ve always liked layered cakes so I cut the cake in half, stacked them and then pierced the surface of the cake several times. Then drizzle the tres leches mixture over the top and allow the cake to sit and absorb it. Yes, soak the cake.
Last we will spread some whipped cream evenly over the top and sides and decorate with a bit of cinnamon. Refrigerate until it’s time to serve because the cooler the cake, the better.
On my first bite, I immediately thought of horchata in the glorious form of cake and having it in two layers allowed for a balanced texture. This cake is definitely a keeper.