I can’t tell you when was the first time I had a taste of this magical dessert, but I CAN tell you it’s been one of my favorites ever since. And when I realized how simple it is to make, it was all over. I don’t make it often. Not because I don’t want to, it’s because I would require a crane to leave home IF ever I did. “When” I do make this thing, I eat most of it all.by.myself. And I reserve the right to begrudge anyone who dares have some.
The debate over the origins of this little treat will likely continue ’til kingdom come. And why not? I would totally claim it as my own! I mean, this thing is perfection on a spoon or fork. In any case, rumor has it the dessert originated in Nicaragua, so that’s the story I’m sticking to. It is possible that the recipe was featured on the label of Nestle’s evaporated and condensed milks in the early 1900s. A clever marketing move that may be responsible for one of the most coveted desserts around.
Let me count the ways I love theeez here dessert. It’s super moist. Light and dense all at once. It is served cool. It isn’t overly sweet (depending on the baker’s preference). And the cream can be flavored with almost anything you’d like. Me myself, I prefer the basic vanilla-ey recipe. Call me a prude if you must, but I like what I like. I’ve tried variations of it flavored with chocolate. I’ve heard of adding coconut milk (that one intrigues me), but I’ve not made either of those. I do, from time to time, add a bit of alcohol–bourbon, Amaretto, rum. I also prefer to flavor the sponge cake with almond extract instead of lemon extract.
Ok, I’ll shut up now and give you my version of it. Most recipes will suggest equal amounts of milk, but I find that ends in a very sweet cake. I’ll still eat it, but I can eat a LOT more of it when the sugar content is toned down, so I add more of the evaporated milk and heavy cream. Also, even though I’m a big proponent of generic brands, I must admit that when I make this one, I go for a well-known brand name. It may be in my head, but I won’t take any chances when it comes to my tres leches.
Pastel de Tres Leches
For the sponge cake:
6 eggs, separated
1 cp all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 cp extra fine sugar
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Separate eggs and place the yolks in the bowl of your mixer. Beat the yolks until they change to a creamy yellow and are the consistency of yogurt. While the yolks are beating, sift the flour and salt together and set it aside.
Remove the yolks from the bowl and set aside. Make sure to wash the bowl and beaters very well before adding the egg whites; this is important because if there’s any residue of the yolk, the whites will not stiffen into a meringue. Beat the whites until they form soft peaks, adding the sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time. Add the almond and vanilla extract.
Fold in the egg yolks until evenly incorporated. The purpose behind folding egg whites into a batter, is to end up with a batter that is airy and light. This is a good how-to link.
Once the eggs are incorporated, fold in flour a bit at a time. Make sure to check the bottom of the bowl for any flour that may have found it’s way to the bottom.
I used a generously buttered (not floured) 9-1/2×14″ Pyrex to bake this. It makes it convenient, it bakes and works as a serving dish to keep all that milky goodness in place. Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes or until a knife/toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center. While the cake is baking, prepare the milk bath.
For the milk bath:
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
2-1/4 cps evaporated milk
2-1/2 cps heavy (or whipping) cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp bourbon (or your preferred liquor) optional
Combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream, vanilla and alcohol in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well blended; the condensed milk will tend to hang out at the bottom of the mixing bowl.
Once the sponge comes out of the oven, pierce holes all around the top. Give it about 10 minutes to cool then invert it onto a tray lined with wax paper, pierce holes on the bottom cake. You can use a fork or a small knife for this task. Before returning the cake to the baking dish, use a paper towel to wipe any butter that may have dried while baking. Pour half of the milk bath into the baking dish, then place the warm cake bake into the dish. Pour the rest of the milk bath over it. At this point you may have to wait a few minutes to allow the cake to soak all of the milk before adding any more.
Once all the milk has been added, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. IMHO, the longer you allow it to cool, the more enjoyable tres leches becomes.
Note: If you have a deep-lipped serving dish, you can use it to add the milk bath and as your serving vessel. I usually leave my tres leches in the container I use to bake the sponge cake.
If you wish to top it with a frosting of sorts, you can opt for a plain meringue–this seems to be the traditional topping. I don’t like it. Instead I whip more heavy cream, about (1-1/2cps) and fold in 2-3 tbsps of condensed milk. You could add sugar, 2-3 tbsps if you don’t have any condensed milk left. Spread the topping over the cooled cake. Serve and wait for the sounds of pure enjoyment.