Tres Leches Cake

DSC_0249Second post in two months- that’s a better rate than one per year, right? I don’t even know where I find the time… oh right, unemployment. Bad news for my bank account, good news for people who like cake. Especially when the 49ers come to town to play Big Blue. [FYI that’s the New York Giants] Let me explain: my dad and I are part of a very large tailgate group that does a very large production every time the Giants have a home game, most notably that the menu is always themed on the visiting team’s cuisine. Example: a couple of years ago, when the New Orleans Saints came to play, we did po boys and a big seafood boil. Does that make sense? It doesn’t matter- the point is, the Bay area is known well for Mexican food, ergo I made a well known “Mexican” dessert (there’s a dispute over where exactly in Central American it originated, and I don’t feel like getting yelled at by the internet, hence the quotes). Now I remember why I don’t write that often.DSC_0004Gluten-Free Baking PowderBefore anyone starts freaking out about things like the g-word, yes, the cake made in these photos was gluten-free, but on my terms, in that it was for a friend who actually has celiac disease (diagnosed by a doctor and everything) and didn’t require me to make any insane adjustments with the cake. As noted in the recipe below, you can easily swap in/out gluten free ingredients in this cake without affecting the outcome. For this recipe, that is; it’s not the case in all baking recipes, so if you’re uncertain maybe consult a more authorized source. Lastly, for the record, I don’t have a problem with gluten-free cooking or baking in general, just the people who can’t seem to stop talking about it or extolling the virtues of a GF diet. Everyone should be able to have cake if they want, so who am I to say no?ShellsDry IngredientsSo with that addressed, let’s talk about this amazingness that is tres leches cake. As is the case with a country as large as the US, there are regional dishes that are beloved in certain areas, and unheard of in others. Example: I didn’t expect to have to explain what babka was to someone from Michigan (who had been living here for over a decade) and yet it took several google image searches (my ego was a little bruised that my own photo didn’t suffice). Such was the case for tres leches and I- I came upon the recipe maybe six years ago, when plenty of baking blogs existed, but not nearly to the degree that they do now. I had no idea what I was getting into, just that condensed milk was delicious, so it had to turn out at least edible.First Round MixingDSC_0023Talk about an understatement. Half the people in my class freaked out over it, much to my confusion, not because it was delicious (well, that too), but because they knew it from home. As in, half the people in the class were from California, so I was promptly informed of its popularity.DSC_0029DSC_0033As I’m sure anyone who enjoys baking/cooking for others, this is now one of my favorite cakes to make for people who grew up with it, as it makes them extra giddy and happy. Kind of how I get when I bring home a pint of matzo ball soup after a seder. [I swear that was not intended to sound like something Larry David would say]DSC_0034DSC_0056DSC_0062I will admit, however, that while the effort is always worth it in the end, this cake is also a bit of a pain to make, as evidenced by the sheer number of photos in the post. You whip eggs and sugar, then milk and vanilla, then you mix that gently with dry ingredients. Then you immediately clean out your mixer and whip the egg whites separately, and fold those SUPER gently into the other mixture, which takes a while. Then you bake it, cool it, plate it, make the milk mixture, drizzle it on, let the cake absorb it and then do it again with the leftover syrup. Oh, and then you make whipped cream, frost the whole thing, and chill it for at least an hour or so. Super casual.DSC_0063DSC_0072DSC_0074DSC_0075Don’t be afraid to go all Psycho with the fork puncturing (on the cake, that is).DSC_0079First round pour (see how easy it is in a measuring cup?)DSC_0082Immediately after the first two poursDSC_0085DSC_0086This was probably 20 minutes inDSC_0091Another 10-15 minutes later DSC_0093Technically, you don’t have to refrigerate it once you top it with whipped cream (you can even nix that step, though it would be a terrible mistake) but it is so much better served cold. In fact, it’s one of the few desserts that actually is better a day old, especially when you eat it out of the container, standing in front of the fridge, instead of having a proper breakfast.DSC_0259Another added benefit to chilling it is that even the syrup thickens, so you can just go and get every last drop of it on the cake with a spatulaDSC_0262DSC_0256

Tres Leches Cake

Adapted, just the tiniest bit, from The Pioneer Woman

For the cake:

1 cup All-purpose flour *
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder *
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 whole eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk, preferably whole

For the syrup:

1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
Splash of rum (optional)

For the topping:

1 pint (2 cups) Heavy Cream, For Whipping
Sparse 1/4 cup granulated sugar

*Gluten Free Ingredients: I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free AP Flour and Rumford’s Non Aluminum Baking Powder (a list of GF ones can be found here)

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan liberally until coated.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.
  3. Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir/whisk very gently until combined.
  4. Beat egg whites on high speed (with whisk attachment, if you have one) until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.
  5. Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.
  6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick/cake tester comes out clean. [I highly recommend checking it at 20 minutes, as baking times can vary greatly with this cake]
  7. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter or wire rack and allow to cool.

Make the syrup:

  1. Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. Drop in a capful of rum if desired.
  2. Whisk slowly for 1-2 minutes, or until mixture is homogenized.
  3. Optional: pour into a measuring cup to drizzle on cake


  1. When cake is cool, pierce the surface and edges with a fork several times.
  2. Slowly drizzle syrup over cake, about one cup at a time. Wait a couple of minutes between each cup you pour, as you’ll be able to better see which areas need more or less. You can use a pastry brush or spoon to baste the edges with the leftover syrup.
  3. Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. To ice the cake, whip 1 pint heavy cream with 3-4 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable. Put all of it on the cake. All of it.
  4. Chill for 1-2 hours. If preparing for the next day, cover cake with a tight lid or saran wrap.

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