Tres leches (literally "three milks" in Spanish) is a basic cake with three types of milk - whole, sweetened/condensed, and evaporated - poured over it with whipped cream on top. It tastes like the cake form of vanilla ice cream. It is very rich, but if you love milk, this cake is fabulous. One of my friends requested this cake for the holidays and I had never heard of it, but love baking so I was delighted to give it a shot. It is very simple and I am positive anyone can make it. As long as you follow the instructions, with my added background information and tips, I hope that even someone who's never baked before can figure it out.
Step 1: Ingredients/Materials
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter - room temperature
- 2 cups white sugar (divided)
- 5 eggs
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (divided)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- cooking spray
- 9x13 inch baking pan
- several bowls
- dry and wet measuring utensils
Note: In the pictures, I'm making a half recipe, so I'm using an 8x8 pan and half the ingredients listed. It's a little bit more annoying because you have to beat an egg and pour half out to get 2 1/2 eggs and you only use half of the cans of milk, but as the cake is very rich, I felt a half recipe was sufficient for me.
Step 2: Prepare Equipment
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (on the bake setting - convection isn't needed). Make sure there's an oven rack in the middle with enough height above it that your pan can fit. Grease your baking pan with either butter and flour or cooking spray; both work. Tip: Spray the cooking spray onto your pan in the sink or the dishwasher door so you can coat the pan completely (including the sides) without worrying about a mess.
Step 3: Cream Butter and Sugar
Put the softened/room temperature butter and 1 cup of white sugar into the mixer and gradually turn it up to a fairly high setting. Let it run until you notice that the mixture is a few shades lighter. I also like to add the vanilla extract now (1/2 teaspoon) because it smells nice while the butter is whipping, but it doesn't matter. You're going to have to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a soft rubber spatula after this step to be able to incorporate the eggs.
This is incorporating air into the butter and sugar and makes it much lighter and fluffier. If your butter is still cold, it will clump up and be difficult to incorporate with the eggs. It's best to let it sit in room temperature 30 minutes beforehand, but I usually forget. You can microwave it in bursts to warm it up, but never for over 5 seconds or it can melt. You just want it soft, not melted.
Step 4: Dry Ingredients
Sift together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl while the butter and sugar are beating. The sifting ensures that the flour and baking powder won't be in clumps when you incorporate it with the rest of the wet ingredients.
Step 5: Wet Ingredients
If you haven't added the 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract before, add it (to the butter and sugar) now. Feel free to be a bit heavy with the vanilla; I usually just eyeball it. You can't really have too much because it's a fairly subtle flavor. Then, add the eggs. Beat the wet ingredients until they're homogenous (the same throughout).
You can either do it one at a time to incorporate it more gradually or all at once. I usually do it all at once; that's fine, just turn the beater up a little higher to ensure you incorporate them all completely.
Step 6: Combine Wet and Dry
Very slowly pour your dry ingredients into the wet ones. I usually pour about 1/4 of the flour mixture in, turn the beater on its lowest setting, wait for that to incorporate, and repeat until the dry mixture is completely incorporated. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl if dryer or wetter ingredients are sticking on the sides - just ensure the batter ends up uniform.
It's very important to incorporate them slowly because if you turn the beater up too high or add too much all at once, the flour mixture will puff up into the air and fall everywhere like snow. This makes a mess and also takes some flour out of the batter, which isn't good. That being said, once the batter is fully incorporated, stop mixing it. The more you mix the batter once wet and dry ingredients are added, the tougher the cake will be once it's baked. This is true of any baked good.
Step 7: Pour the Batter Into the Pan
The batter should be fairly thick. Mine's a little thicker because I poured out a little more than half of my egg (I was halving the recipe and beat an egg and poured half out to get 2 and a half eggs) by accident. Regardless, it should still be pretty thick. When you pour it in the pan, use a soft spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and get all the batter out. Then, make sure the batter goes to the edges of the pan by either shaking the pan or spreading the batter with your spatula.
Step 8: Bake and Clean
The cake then needs to go in the oven for 30 minutes (even if doing a half recipe). I usually like to put my timer on for a little under the time (say, 27 minutes) and then watch it until I think it's done (when it looks nicely browned) because each oven is a little bit different, but 30 minutes should be fine.
While the cake is in the oven, you're going to be preparing the whipped cream and milk mixture, so go ahead and clean up all the dishes.
Step 9: Whipping Cream
First, as this takes the longest, put the heavy cream, 1 cup of white sugar, and 1 teaspoon in the mixing bowl. (Again, you can be heavy on the vanilla if you like.) Then slowly turn the mixture up to high. Let it beat for a long time, but keep an eye on it. If it beats too long, it can turn into (sugary) butter. Beat it until it looks pretty stiff and then test it.
Step 10: Measure Out the 3 Milks
Get out a 4 cup measure and pour two cups of whole milk in it. Then, pour the cans of sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. You may need a spatula to get all of the condensed milk out of the can. Mix the milk together by stirring it gently. Set this aside for when the cake is ready.
Step 11: Finish Whipped Cream
When the whipped cream is stiff enough that you can slide a finger across it and it retains its shape, it should be fine. The texture should be similar to that of the whipped cream from the store, but it's thicker. You can use store whipped cream but homemade isn't difficult and it's so much more delicious. Plus, the store's whipped cream can melt more easily.
Step 12: Add the Milk to the Cake
When you cake is out of the oven and cooled to room temperature (or slightly warm if you're impatient), poke lots of holes in it with a fork. This helps the milk sink into the cake and be absorbed in all of it. Then, slowly pour the milk over the cake. My cake was taller in the middle, so I focused on pouring there since the milk ran off the sides to the corners and I wanted the middle to get the same amount of liquid. Ensure the entire cake gets covered - this shouldn't be hard though since you're using more than 4 cups of liquid. The cake may take some time to absorb all of it, so once you're finished pouring, let it sit for a while. It will eventually absorb everything as pictured above.
Step 13: Finish the Cake With Whipped Cream
Finally, use your spatula to get the whipped cream out of the bowl and onto the cake. Coat the cake completely and make an even top. If your cake is uneven, like mine, then there may be more whipped cream in some places, but that's okay. It tastes good regardless. After you put all the whipped cream on, store the cake in the fridge for a bit while you clean up. Then, take a spoon and scoop out however much you want whenever you're ready to serve. Or, if you're giving the cake to someone, ensure they know to store it in the fridge and give it to them in the pan. It may not be able to be wrapped nicely, but it'll be delicious!