There's a good reason this tres leches (three-milk cake) is impossible to resist and so very popular. Try it and see for yourself.
Why we ❤️ it
There are a couple of bakeries in Santo Domingo famous for their tres leches (three-milk cake). Each version is slightly different, especially their textures and sweetness levels.
Despite the sweetness and richness, tres leches is not a cloying cake. And therein lies its danger.
Its smooth, moist texture easily leads to overeating. A sin I have most definitely been known to have indulged in. Because if gluttony is the cause of your downfall, you can't make a better choice than this dessert to do it.
History of tres leches
There are many theories on the origin of tres leches cake; whatever it might be the fact is that it has become part of our vernacular cuisine and one of everybody's favorites.
The arrival of tres leches to our country is relatively recent. The first time I saw it was sometime in the early 80s when it suddenly became the "belle du jour" in every bakery. This aligns with the theory that it became known in Latin America (possibly Central America) around the time that canned evaporated milk became a household item in the 40s, slowly spreading to the rest of the continent.
The recipe for tres leches do not appear in any of my pre-1990s Dominican cookbooks. I stopped looking after that.
Tres leches cake.
About this recipe
For this cake to work we need it to be spongy, a little on the dry side, and not greasy. This is because once you add the "sauce" if the cake is too fluffy it'll just break and dissolve into the sauce. This recipe always works for me.
This cake can be served topped with whipped cream or meringue (suspiro). For the suspiro, follow this suspiro recipe (with video). The instructions in this recipe show you how to make the whipped cream topping.
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Tres Leches [+ Video] (Three-Milk Cake)
For prepping pan
To make batter
- Prepping: Butter and dust with flour a baking pan (3" height x 9" diameter [7.5 cm high x 22.5 cm diam]).Heat oven to 350 °F [175 °C].
- Whipping egg whites: Using the wire whisk of your mixer beat the whites until they form peaks, starting at low speed, then increasing in a few seconds. Add half the sugar and beat until it forms firm peaks and it's shiny. Set aside.
- Sifting flour: Mix flour and baking powder and sift. Set aside.
- Making batter: Using the paddle attachment of your mixer beat butter and yolks for 3 minutes at medium-high speed. Add the remaining sugar and beat until it is light and fluffy and has a very light yellow color (about 5 mins). Add vanilla extract, then slowly add the flour in three parts, beating until the flour is thoroughly combined before adding another third. Once all the flour has been added and mixed in, it will be very thick, with consistency between batter and cookie dough. That's OK.Add ⅓ of the egg whites. Using a spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter. Add the remaining white in two steps folding in each time with the spatula. At this point, it'll be a smooth batter with a lot of air incorporated.
- Baking: Pour the batter into the baking pan.Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and it has a golden color on top (about 30 mins).
- Removing from mold: Cool to room temperature before removing from the pan. Cut the crust.Place on a lipped plate that can hold the milk sauce.
- Mixing sauce: Mix evaporated, skim, and condensed milk. Mix in the vanilla extract.
- Soaking the cake: Pour the milk mixture on top of the cake and let it soak in. Bathing it regularly until it has absorbed half of the liquid (one to two hours) keeping it in the refrigerator all this time.You can make the topping while it chills.
- Making the topping: If you are going to use suspiro as the topping, use this recipe.If you will use whipped cream as the topping, chill the mixer bowl and wire whisk for at least half an hour beforehand (or 20 minutes in the freezer). Whisk the whipping cream over medium-high speed until it starts to form peaks (about 3 mins). Add the powdered sugar and cream cheese (see notes) and whisk until it is mixed in and has formed firm peaks, but careful not to overdo it, or the cream will turn into butter.
- Decorating: Spread the whipped cream on the chilled cake and decorate with strawberries or cherries.
- Serving and storing: Keep refrigerated until serving. Best consumed within 24 hours.
Tips and Notes
Nutritional information is calculated automatically based on ingredients listed. Please consult your doctor if you need precise nutrition information.
Published Jun 2, 2004, revised