Happy Siete de Mayo: Tres Leches Cake

Our friends Jim and Colleen were kind enough to invite us over for dinner last night, with the evening having a tongue in cheek belated Cinco de Mayo theme (or, as Jim put it, a Siete de Mayo theme). I struggled to come up with an idea for an appropriately themed dessert to bring, but then I remembered that last month during our trip to Vegas, my brother had ordered a slice of tres leches cake for dessert at Border Grill in Mandalay Bay. While the origin of tres leches cake seems to be in dispute and the dish might not actually come from Mexico, I figured that for the Siete of Mayo, it was certainly close enough.

Tres leches (or "three milks") cake is a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream, and then topped with whipped cream. I have never made the cake before and so I scoured the internet for a recipe. I narrowed it down to three options: a recipe from Emeril Lagasse, a recipe from the Pioneer Woman blog, and a recipe from the Los Angeles Times. In the end, I went with the Pioneer Woman recipe, if for no other reason than it seemed to be the least unhealthy. Her sponge cake recipe included 1/3 cup of milk but no butter, and the soaking mixture was one can of evaporated milk, one can of condensed milk, and 1/4 cup of heavy cream. In contrast, the L.A. Times recipe included a stick of butter in the cake and had a soaking mixture of a pint of milk, a can of evaporated milk and a can of condensed milk. The Emeril Lagasse recipe practically gave me a heart attack just reading it. While the cake seemed fine (no butter and a half a cup of milk), the soaking mixture includes a pint of heavy cream, one can of evaporated milk, and two cans of condensed milk (okay, you reserve some of the soaking liquid and serve it on the side with the cake, but still!).

Baking the cake itself is straightforward. I cut the edges off the cake once it was cool (I often have to do this with sponge cake, as it usually shrinks upon cooling and the edges end up uneven) and tasted the trimmings -- somewhat dry and fairly tasteless. There is no point in eating the cake alone. I mixed up the soaking mixture and managed to get all of it into the cake (the Pioneer Woman said she usually discards the last cup of the mixture, since it ends of being too much for the cake -- but I didn't have this problem). I was shocked how much liquid this cake could absorb; it was like the ShamWow of desserts.

I refrigerated the cake overnight and made the sweetened whipped cream right before serving. I put dollops of whipped cream on top of each slice instead of trying to spread it over the entire top of the cake like a frosting. Unless you looked really closely, the cake just looked like cake, and you would probably have had no idea that it was soaking wet. Each slice was saturated with liquid that would ooze out a little each time you applied pressure with a fork to cut off a bite. The cake was very sweet and quite delicious. It was also very cold after being in the refrigerator for a day. Amazingly, even though the cake is completely saturated with liquid, it is not soggy. The cake is really just a conveyance for the sweet soaking mixture -- and the result is nothing short of wondrous.

Recipe: "Tres Leches Cake" from the Pioneer Woman Blog, September 11, 2009.


Jim said…
The tres leches cake was delicious. Thanks Little Baker Bunny.