Tres Leches is a classic. But a classic from where, you may ask?
Ask an Argentinean: From Argentina, of course. Ask a Cuban: Sin duda from Cuba. Ask an Ecuadorian: Claro que from Ecuador. A Venezuelan? Por supuesto que es de Venezuela. Ask a Mexican…Of course, sin duda, claro que por supuesto que es Mexicano. No doubt, it is Mexican. ¡Si señor!
You can go on and on…
It would seem that each and every single Latin American country claims the Tres Leches Cake as its very own. Not only does everyone absolutely love it, it is also a dessert that is deeply ingrained in that nation’s gastronomy and culture.
From here or from there, it is that much adored.
No matter where you are in Latin America, or which country you or your family came from, the traditional way to make a Tres Leches Cake is to make a sturdy sponge cake and then completely bathe it in a tres leches sauce. The three milks in the sauce are the fresh tasting regular milk, the lightly savory evaporated milk and the charmingly sweet sweetened condensed milk.
As the decades have gone by, many other variations have appeared in attempts to dress up and reinvent this classic. With cajeta or dulce de leche, different kinds of nuts, coconut, spiked with rum, exotic fruits, coffee… to name some. Indeed, the cake lends itself to be played with: it is basic, it is easy, and it can be easily transformed.
At home, we absolutely adore chocolate. And, since my boys have a hard time making up their minds as to when to make the Tres Leches Cake vanilla and when to make it chocolate, one day I decided to go marbled. That was it: we rarely go back.
In my marbled version, the vanilla cake has fudgy chocolate swirls that go wild when soaked in the tres leches sauce. I garnish with copious amounts of grated Mexican chocolate all over the top and a sprinkle of ground canela.
If you want to make it even more decadent, grab some cajeta or dulce de deche and drizzle liberally over the top.
p.s. To boot, the Tres Leches Cake can be made ahead of time, it gets better and better as it soaks and chills bathed in the sauce. It is also perfect to bring along.
For the cake:
- Unsalted butter to butter the pan
- 9 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
For the sauce:
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the whipped cream topping:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
- 1 disk (about 3 ounces) Mexican-style chocolate such as Abuelita, grated, for garnish
- Cajeta or dulce de leche, optional, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit with a rack in the middle. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.
To make the cake:
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and slowly add the sugar, beating until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
- Pour the egg yolks into another large bowl and beat with a whisk or fork, until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the vanilla and continue beating until fully incorporated. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture with a rubber spatula, taking care not to deflate the whites. Fold in the flour 1/4 cup at a time and mix well. The batter will look a bit streaky.
- In a small bowl, combine the hot water with the cocoa powder. Pour half the cake batter into another bowl and fold in the cocoa-water mixture with a rubber spatula until thoroughly mixed.
- Spread the vanilla batter in the prepared pan. Pour the chocolate batter on top, in a straight line down the center. With a knife or spoon, make a whirling design from one side of the pan to the other. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until the top of the cake has lightly browned and feels spongy to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool.
- Invert the cake onto a large platter or board and remove the pan and parchment paper. Cover the cake with an upside-down platter large enough to hold the cake and the vanilla sauce and invert again so the cake is right side up. Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the cake, so it will absorb the sauce.
To make the sauce:
- In a large bowl, combine the three milks and vanilla and stir to blend well. Pour about 2/3 of the sauce over the cake. Don’t worry if it looks like there is too much sauce—the cake will absorb it. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Reserve the remaining vanilla sauce.
- When you are ready to finish the cake, remove the cake from the refrigerator and spoon the remaining sauce on top of the cake.
To make the whipped cream:
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream and the confectioners’ sugar on medium speed until it holds well formed peaks, about 6 minutes. Spread the whipped cream over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with the grated Mexican-style chocolate.