Tres Leches Cake

I made Tres Leches Cake several years ago, and liked it more than I expected. When I decided to have a small Cinco de Mayo party this year, I wanted to try the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. (Or maybe I had a Cinco de Mayo party this year because I wanted to try the recipe. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.)

Tres Leches Cake, literally a three milk cake, is a cake soaked in a mixture of three kinds of dairy, generally sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream. In this recipe, the cake is a (butterless) sponge cake, but simplified so it’s made entirely in a (single) stand mixer bowl. Very lightly sweetened whipped cream takes the place of frosting.

I liked this recipe more than Alton Brown’s recipe, which I made before. This cake was very delicious. It was milky and sweet, without being tooth-achingly sweet since it’s slightly sweetened whipped cream for frosting. The texture of the cake held up even after several days. Since the recipe says to reserve extra milk for serving, very little liquid leaked from the cake when I cut it. I didn’t find the extra milk necessary since the cake stayed very moist.

Technical details: This is usually where I say “the recipe was simple.” And it wasn’t hard – for a sponge cake. Like many people, I find standard sponge cake recipes, where you whip egg whites to soft peaks and stiff peaks, and fold in other ingredients without deflating said perfect egg whites, to be a little tricky and nerve-wracking. This recipe is nice because I could whip the egg whites (consulting the internet for pictures of “soft peaks” and “stiff peaks,” because I still need visual reminders), and use the stand mixer to add all remaining ingredients except flour. Since I could use the stand mixer for everything else, I didn’t worry (much) about deflating the cake when I folded in the dry ingredients. [Admission: I used the stand mixer on low for my first two additions of flour, contrary to the instructions; this didn’t ruin the cake.] With soaking the cake, I only worried that the milk would overflow the pan since my cake rose higher than the edge of the pan on one side thanks to my not-level oven. After I topped the cake with whipped cream (which also rose above the pan), I inverted a second pan over it as a cover.

The only change I might try next time would be to use half-and-half instead of heavy cream in the three-milk mixture – save a handful of calories. 

Tres Leches Cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 12oz can evaporated milk
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1½ cups heavy or light cream, or half-and-half (I used heavy cream but will try half-and-half)
  • 2 cups heavy cream (for topping)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  1. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder. (Skip mixing these together if you're adventurous like I am.)
  2. With an electric mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1¼ cups sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
  3. Add vanilla extract and egg yolks, one at a time. Add milk and mix on slow just to combine. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture in one-third at a time.
  4. Scrape batter into a greased and floured 9x13-inch pan. Bake at 350F for 18-35 minutes (recipe originally says 18-24, but I had to bake mine 32 minutes), until top is lightly browned and until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.
  5. In a large bowl or measuring cup (a pouring spout is helpful here), whisk together evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and 1½ cup heavy or light cream. Set aside ½ cup for serving (or mixing into coffee, or just drinking because it's delicious). Use a fork or toothpick to poke holes all over the cake. Pour all the milk mixture, except for the ½ cup you've reserved, on the cake. Cover and place in fridge overnight.
  6. Before serving, whip together 2 cups heavy cream and 2 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form. Spread on top of cake.
  7. Serve cake with a little of the milk mixture, if desired. Store remaining cake in the fridge. Whipped cream on my cake stayed whipped for at least half a week.


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