Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk’s Cake, is one of the most, if not the most popular and sold cake throughout Mexico. It is also amongst the most requested recipes I have been asked for after Pickled Jalapeños and Piggie cookies. So dear readers, I am sorry it has taken this long but here it goes! I promise to get to the other requests, which I love getting on your emails, as soon as possible.
Tres Leches is a sweet, practically wet, homey cake. Its base is a vanilla sponge cake, completely soaked in a sauce traditionally made with three kinds of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and regular milk. Some versions substitute regular milk with heavy cream. The cake will sometimes have a topping like fresh whipped cream, which I seriously consider of utmost necessity. Sometimes the topping turns out to be meringue or even chocolate ganache.
Growing up in Mexico City, there was a bakery called La Gran Via, which sold such delicious Tres Leches that even though it was far from home, we used to drive many Sundays to get one. These days La Gran Via has become a large chain store of bakeries… it has been years since I have eaten one of their cakes. This recipe, is as close as I get to my nostalgic memories.
To make the sponge cake as fluffy as can be, start by beating the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar and keep on beating until they hold stiff peaks.
Separately beat the egg yolks until thick, creamy and very pale in color and add some vanilla.
I really feel the need to take a photo of the vanilla and show it to you. It’s Mexican vanilla from Papantla, the place where vanilla originated. Vanilla grown and harvested in Papantla, really blows me away. And just look how pretty the bottle is…
Then pour the egg yolks (look at how thick and pale the egg yolks are after beating them for 4 to 5 minutes, that’s what you want) with that hint of vanilla, onto the egg white mixture.
Pour it all on top…
Gently, with a spatula, in evolving motions, combine the yellow with the white, being careful not to lose much of the volume and fluffiness already achieved.
Once well combined, add the flour and incorporate it in evolving motions.
Pour that batter onto the prepared pan, buttered and lined with parchment paper.
It is a simple cake batter: just egg whites, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla and flour. But it turns out fluffy, homey and spongy because of the way these ingredients are used.
Into the oven for about 25 minutes, until the cake has a nice tanned crust, it is spongy to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean.
There goes the condensed milk and the evaporated milk into the regular milk, and a bit more vanilla.
Some modern versions of the cake add other kinds of flavors into the sauce, like chocolate, cajeta (Mexican goat’s milk version of dulce de leche) or Rompope (Mexican eggnog). If you like a hint of alcohol in your desserts, go ahead and pour in some Rum or Kahlua.
Pour all the sauce on top…
Though not all versions of the cake have whipped cream on top I think it is of the most absolute necessity. Life or death. NEED it. Spoon it. Spread it.
The cake tastes much better when it has had a chance to soak in all of that sauce and when it is cold. So it is a good idea to cover it and refrigerate it for at least an hour.
It is simple to eat, simple to see, simple to make. It is a simply unfussy and tasty dessert that is somewhat neutral, so it can take many variations. Of course you can add some fruit on top or in between, fresh strawberries work really nice here, its your choice.
The fluffy yet completely wet cake holds its shape as it gives in to the flavor of the sauce. The whipped cream, as you can see, just needs, needs, needs to go on top. It makes such a nice contrast with the wetness and sweetness of the cake. After you try it, let me know what you think. Whipped cream on top?
For the cake:
- 9 eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
For the sauce:
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the topping:
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan, lining the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the pan.
- Pour the egg whites into the bowl of your mixer and beat on medium-high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they hold soft peaks. Slowly stir in the sugar and continue beating until they hold hard or more stiff peaks. Turn off the mixer and with a spatula, move the egg white mixture onto a large mixing bowl.
- Rinse the bowl of the mixer and its whisk. Now pour the egg yolks into the bowl of the mixer and beat on medium-high speed for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until the egg yolks become creamy, puffy and their color has toned down to an almost cream color rather than a loud yellow. Stir in the vanilla and continue beating for another minute. Turn off the mixer.
- Pour the egg yolk mixture onto the egg white mixture and with a spatula, in evolving motions, combine them into a homogeneous single batter. Do so gently trying not to lose much volume from the mixture. When fully combined, fold in the flour, scraping the bowl with the spatula so that all the flour is well mixed.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and place into the oven for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. It can be a bit moist, but not wet. The top of the cake should be tanned and feel fluffy if you touch it. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
- Once it cools down, turn it onto a platter. Remove the parchment paper and cover the top with an upside down platter and invert again. The platter should be large enough to hold the cake and the vanilla sauce you are about to prepare. Using a fork, or two, poke wholes all over the cake so that it will better absorb the vanilla sauce.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour the vanilla sauce over the cake.
- In the bowl of your mixer, whip up the heavy cream with the confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture holds up stiff peaks, about 1 to 2 minutes. Spread the whipped cream all over the already wet cake. Then yum, eat it all up.