Guest Post: Third Time’s a Charm – Tres Leches Cake
About chef Jason Rivas: Born and raised in California, but southwestern at heart, chef Rivas’ passion for food started at a very early age when he used to eat snails in his backyard. Trained in classical French cuisine, while attending the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, he was able to learn a new way to apply his creative, artistic side. After graduation, Rivas spent an additional four years in Phoenix learning the finer points of southwestern cuisine, and then traveled from coast to coast before settling in the Southern California wine country. Here, he discovered the true value and impact of food and wine (in his words,”wine and food, rather”). Find more about chef Rivas on his website: dinnerbyJR.wordpress.com
Ahh… Tres Leches! Two words that invoke such feel-good emotions. For me, these words mean, I can’t wait to dive in! And literally, Tres Leches cake is Spanish for “cake of three milks”. Fundamentally, Tres Leches is exactly that- a cake that has been soaked in three different kinds of milk. The dessert itself is very popular within the Latin American community and many countries claim its creation.
Contrary to popular belief, Tres Leches is not just a cake with milk poured over the top. There is definitely a technique involved, and although you can use any kind of milk you desire, the three different milks are there for very different reasons.
Typically, whole milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk are used. Whole milk is added for its fat and for its pour-ability; the evaporated milk for richness and body; and the condensed milk for its sweetness. Can alternate types of milk be used? Absolutely! Soy milk, almond milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk… all can be used for various reasons. The choice is up to you.
Now for the cake. Please don’t just use a standard box cake. In fact, I recommend to NEVER use a standard box cake for anything. Making cake is easy and fun. For best results you want to use a light, airy cake- a sponge cake (which got its name because it acts like a sponge). This is the ideal cake for a Tres Leches. That is not to say you cannot flavor the cake- wine, extracts, chocolate just to name a few ideas. You could use a heavier, richer cake; however, this will most likely turn to mush when cut into and would defeat the purpose of the Tres Leches.
You never feel like you just finished eating a house after eating a piece; it’s one of the greatest attributes of a Tres Leches — using a denser, heavier cake will nullify this fact. The key thing to remember when making a Tres Leches, is time. It takes time and thus you should give yourself time. Never try to hurry through the process just to shovel a piece in your mouth (well, I shovel at least). Take your time and let the cake do its thing. In my opinion, cakes (and food for that matter) are like women. The better you treat them and the more time we spend with them; the happier you both will be.
- 14.5 oz all-purpose flour
- 14.5 oz sugar
- 10 eggs
- 2 oz melted butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
- pinch of salt
- 12 oz evaporated milk
- 12 0z coconut milk
- 12 oz half/half
- 1 cup sugar
For the cake:
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine eggs and sugar
- Place a stockpot half full of water on the stove. Make sure the pot is big enough to hold the mixing bowl. The mixing bowl does not have to fit all the way inside – just on top. Bring the water to a a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce the heat and place the bowl on the pot. Whisk constantly for about 3-4 mins.
- Place bowl back on the mixer with the whisk attachment and whip egg mix on high until it doubles in volume.
- While whipping, sift your flour and preheat your oven to about 400°F
- Gently fold in flour and salt into egg mix by thirds.
- Fold in melted butter and vanilla.
- Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper then spray with nonstick coating. Pour batter in pan and spread evenly into corners.
- Bake for about 10-15 mins. When done, the cake should be golden brown and bounce back when pressed upon. The toothpick test can also be done.
- When done, carefully flip out of pan and freeze for about 2 hours.
For the milk:
- Put evaporated milk and coconut milk into a small pot. Add the half/half. Incorporate sugar and stir to dissolve.
- Bring to a boil on low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Pull cake from freezer and place back in the original baking pan, leaving the cake upside down.
- Slowly ladle a small amount of the hot milk over small sections of the cake, until the whole cake is covered. Wait for the milk to be absorbed before adding more milk. Use all the milk evenly.
- Chill the cake completely (for about 4hours).
Note: Often times, tres leches cake is topped with fruit or whipped cream.
Tres Leches is a great party dessert and is best when made at least a day in advance. Now, could it be made the morning of? Yes if you get up early. But again you don’t want to rush anything. Not to mention you want to make sure the cake has enough time to soak up all the milk.
Some also might be curious about the “sift-thirds-freeze” steps in the directions. These are all techniques to help make a better cake. Sifting helps aerate the flour to make the cake lighter and fluffier. Adding the flour in thirds helps to prevent clumping, thus allowing for a better texture and no “flour balls.” Freezing of the cake allows for a better absorption of the milk.
These techniques can make all the difference. Sometimes when making cake we need all the help we can get, even a little prayer! Plus, when making a good cake, its all about technique. Better technique=better cake. Happy baking!