The first time I made tres leches, I baked cupcakes. Speedy and the girls loved it so much that they have been asking me to make tres leches cupcakes again. But I didn’t because the process of brushing the hot cupcakes with the three-milk mixture was such a messy affair.
For those of you who missed the cupcake version, tres leches refers to a cake popular in South America. A sponge cake that, while still hot, is poked with holes then soaked in a mixture of cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. As a result, the light and airy sponge turns into a dense and velvety cake. Understandable why it should be such a crowd-pleaser.
So, after several pleas, and after coffee and dessert at MOMO Cafe, I was finally inspired. No tres leches cupcakes this time. Instead, a regular-sized cake. I would bake it the way I did the rum cake with limoncello. In a bundt pan. That should work perfectly, I figured, since tres leches cake is basically a chiffon cake and chiffon cakes bake evenly in tube-type pans. The result? Let’s just say that I should have baked two cakes instead of one. That way, Sam wouldn’t have complained that her father ate her share.
This cake will be an ideal dessert for family get-togethers over the holidays since the cake can be prepared a day ahead. In fact, the tres leches cake is even better after chilling in the fridge overnight.
Tres leches cake
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Sift the flour.
- With an electric mixer, over medium speed, beat the egg whites, baking soda and salt until soft peaks.
- Lower the speed of the mixer and add the egg yolks and sugar. Continue mixing until smooth, about 30 seconds.
- Add the butter, folding it in (I used a spatula). Then, mix in the flour in three or four batches, mixing by hand (carefully, so as not to break the precious air bubbles that will add volume to the cupcakes) until the mixture is well blended.
- Pour into an eight or 10-inch bundt pan.
- Bake in a 350F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until a skewer poked at the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.
- While the cake is still hot, poke holes all over it. Use a bamboo skewer or a large fork. When I made the tres leches cupcakes, the holes were too small and it took forever for the three-milk mixture to sink and get absorbed. So, make sure that you have larger holes and that the holes deep enough to reach the bottom of the pan. And poke a lot of holes. Make them as close as one centimeter apart.
- Mix together the evaporated filled milk, cream and sweetened condensed milk. Pour the mixture over the cake, little by little, giving the thick liquid a chance to be absorbed before proceeding to pour some more. Just keep on doing it until all the liquid has been poured.
- Now, the hardest part. Waiting. It is best to chill the cake for a couple of hours. I insisted that we wait. And it was worth the stressful waiting.
When the cake was inverted onto a plate, it was perfect. Whole and golden and very heavy with all the liquid that it has absorbed. Note that I used a silicone bundt pan. Non-stick. And flexible. The cake will have to be inverted onto a plate and the bendable silicone pan could be pushed at the sides and bottom to help release the very wet cake. I don’t know if that’s possible with a regular pan, even if it is lined with wax paper, without breaking the cake.
If you don’t want to take chances, if you’re using a regular round, square or rectangular pan, do not invert the cake at all — cut the cake right inside the pan. And just enjoy.
If you like to prettify your cake, serve the slices with a dollop of whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon powder. I did that with the tres leches cupcakes but didn’t have the time to repeat the process when the cake was sliced because everyone was too impatient to eat it.