Tres Leches means ”three milks” and is a reference to the three types of diary used to make this dessert: condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream. The origin of this cake is disputed, with culinary historians being divided between Mexico and Nicaragua. Today, the cake is eaten all over Central America and has begun to appear in United States bakeries as well.
The use of evaporated and condensed milk is a firmly rooted part of Latin American culture even though condensed milk wasn’t around until the 1850s and evaporated milk arrived on the scene even later. However, once these milk products saw the day of light they caught on very quickly in Latin America and for good reasons. Unlike fresh milk, canned milk can be stored and transported without going bad; a highly desirable trait in a part of the world where vast areas of land experience tropical temperatures year round. Even in present day Nicaragua, many families live without modern amenities like refrigerators.
Condensed milk is a mixture of 55-60% fresh whole milk and 40-45% sugar that has been heated up until 60% of the water has evaporated. The outcome is a sweet and viscous type of milk. In the 1870s, milk companies developed a method for making the milk last without adding sugar and the result was labelled evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is fresh milk from which 60% of the water is removed before the milk is homogenized, canned and sterilized.
Tres Leches Ingredients
- 3/4 cup of butter
- 1 ½ cup of sugar
- 9 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (can be substituted with vanilla sugar)
- 2 cups of wheat flour
- 1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
- 1 cup of milk (fresh or evaporated)
- 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate) or 1 teaspoon of white vinegar
- 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
- 5 ounces of evaporated milk
- 14 ounces of sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup of sugar
How to make Tres Leches
- Place the butter in room temperature to soften it.
- Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C or 350 degrees F.
- Grease and flour a baking dish. (Roughly 9×13 inches or 20×30 cm is recommended.)
- Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until it’s light and fluffy.
- Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. You will use both in this recipe.
- Add the egg yolks to the bowl one at a time, beating in each egg well before you add a new one.
- Stir in the vanilla.
- In another bowl, sift together flour and baking powder.
- Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beating well after each addition.
- Place the eggs whites in a glass or metallic bowl and beat them with cream of tartar or vinegar until stiff peaks form.
- Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the butter batter.
- Spread out the mixture evenly in the baking dish.
- Bake in the oven until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out dry. This will normally take 25-30 minutes.
- Leave the cake to cool off.
- Stir together the 2 cups of heavy whipping cream with evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk in a small bowl.
- Pour the milk blend over the cake until it is completely drenched and can’t absorb anymore. Don’t just pour all milk over the cake without checking how much it actually absorbs because this can lead to an overly soggy cake.
- Whip the other 2 cups of whipping cream and blend in sugar.
- Spread the whipped cream over the cake.
- Place the cake in the refrigerator.
- Tres Leches cake is often decorated before it’s served, e.g. with meringue, nuts, colourful berries and tropical fruits.
- If you want to give the cake a more grown-up flair, add some Flor de Caña rum to the milk blend.
- On the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, the condensed milk is often substituted with coconut milk, and the cake is decorated with large and small coconut flakes on top of the whipped cream.