Three (actually six) dairy products combine to make this luscious dessert. It seems to be a Nicaraguan invention but is now embraced throughout the Hispanic world. In Mexico this cake is usually served on birthdays. Make it at least a few hours before serving so the cake can soak up every drop of the “three milks” infusion. The cake is especially nice when served with a fruit purée—raspberry, mango, or prickly pear are equally delicious.–Priscila Satkoff
Tres Leches Cake
For the cake
- 1 3/4 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs separated
- 3/4 cup whole milk
For the “three milks” soaking liquid
- One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- Grated zest of 3 oranges
For the icing
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Make the cake
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Lightly butter a 9-inch-round cake pan that is 2 inches deep. Butter the pan, then line the bottom of the pan with a round of waxed paper and butter the paper. Dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. One at a time, add the egg yolks, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 increments, alternating with 2 increments of milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir one-fourth of the beaten whites into the batter, then fold in the rest with a rubber spatula. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Unmold the cake onto the rack and peel off the waxed paper. Let cool completely.
Make the “three milks” soaking liquid
- Whisk the evaporated and condensed milks, half-and-half, and orange zest in a medium bowl until combined.
- Using a long, serrated knife, trim off the top crust from the cake. Return the cake to the pan, top side down. Slowly spoon the three-milks mixture over the cake, letting each addition soak in before adding more. Repeat until all of the milk mixture is absorbed.
Make the icing
- Beat the cream and confectioners’ sugar with an electric mixer on high speed in a chilled medium bowl until stiff.
- Invert the cake onto a cake stand or serving platter. Spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until the cake is chilled, at least 1 hour or overnight. Serve chilled.
Wine notesAn excellent pairing for this cake is Yalumba’s Muscat Victoria Museum Release from Australia. Also good is Essencia Orange Muscat by Quady. Both of these wines pick up the fruit flavors in the cake.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
How to describe such an unusual but perfect treat? It’s more than just moist cake—it’s cake saturated with yumminess. Rather than cutting the top off the cake as instructed, knowing this is just to help the milk liquid absorb, I used a fork and poked a lot of holes in the top. It worked perfectly. The blend of the three milks has a hint of caramel flavor, and the citrus zest is a nice complement. It came out so perfect, I made a second one the next day for a birthday party. I served the second one with fresh strawberries, and those of us who had the first cake with oranges the day before weren’t sure which one was better. If you want an impressive dessert you can do in advance, this is it!
Originally published July 01, 2009