Until I moved to New Mexico, I had never tasted tres leches cake. And the first few times I did, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. The samples I had in local restaurants didn’t have much flavor – and, shockingly, they were actually kind of dry! I couldn’t figure out how they managed that with a cake that is named for the three different kinds of milk poured over it after baking.
So when my friend Michelena – a wonderful, imaginative cook – offered tres leches cake for a picnic, I was a little dubious, but willing to be won over. And I was, the moment the first bite hit my tongue. This cake, so wet it was considering packing it in and just becoming a pudding, was fantastic: texturally blissful, delightfully sweet, and full of flavor. Where the other tres leches cakes I’d had were delicately flavored with a little vanilla, this cake bowled me over with a hit of almond that was just perfect with the rich milks.
I accepted Mich’s offer to take home some leftovers before the words were finished leaving her mouth, and begged for the recipe. She e-mailed it to me a few days later (after a little more begging), and it has been a special-occasion favorite for me since then. In fact, I made the cake pictured here for my own birthday dinner with my mom. It’s a simple, eggy sponge cake saturated with sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk, then enrobed with fresh whipped cream… and it is irresistible.
I have made a minor change: a 1/2-cup reduction in the evaporated milk, which leads to a less saturated, more neatly serveable cake. Go ahead and use the full 12-oz can if you like; just be aware that your cake will serve more like a pudding. Either way, prepare to swoon from the first bite to the last.
Michelena’s Tres Leches Cake
Serves 8. Time: 20 to 30 minutes hands-on; 4+ hours total including baking and cooling.
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup flour
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 350.
Beat egg whites until they are fluffy, but not stiff. (It’s fine if some egg remains liquid underneath the foam). Add the sugar gradually and blend. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, incorporating each yolk thoroughly before adding the next. Mix the baking powder into the flour. Blend in 1/3 of flour mixture, then 1/3 of milk, and repeat until all of both are incorporated. Add the extracts and blend well.
Pour mixture into a greased 8×8 or 9×9 square baking pan and bake about 45 minutes, or until browned on top, set in the middle, and a tester comes out clean. Set aside until completely cool, about 2 hours. Poke a bunch of holes in the cake with a toothpick or fork.
1 can (about 12 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Mix together in bowl; slowly pour over completely cool cake. The cake will absorb all of the liquid.
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground cardamom (optional)
1/2 to 1 tablespoon sugar (optional, if you like a bit of sweetness in your whipped cream)
Combine in bowl and whip to preferred consistency. (I like mine to stay a little softer than stiff.) Spread over cake. I like this best the same day it’s made, but I would never dream of passing up leftovers.
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