We had a special birthday in my office this week and that required a special treat! I had come across the idea for a tres leches cake earlier this month and filed that away in my brain. So when the time came to make something for my co-worker, I decided to do some research for the best recipe.
At it's core, the cake is made with a traditional sponge cake soaked in three milks (the "tres leches"): evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. Some recipes took shortcuts and used a vanilla cake mix and then the three milks. But I wanted to be as authentic as I could be, and settled on a recipe from King Arthur Flour. I have yet to make a bad recipe from KAF, so figured I could trust them yet again to deliver. And deliver they did!
The sponge cake was made via the foam method, where you beat the egg whites and gently fold them into a simple batter of egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, salt and flour. You'll notice the absence of fat in this batter - instead of relying on butter in the batter for flavor, the fat and flavor come from the milks.
The best thing about a this cake is that even if you slightly over-bake the cake (like I did), it doesn't really matter, since the tres leches mixture softens up the cake and makes it moist and tender. And slathering it in fresh, whipped cream doesn't hurt either!
Tres Leches Cake (adapted from King Arthur Flour)
For the cake:
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar or 1/4 tsp lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup cold water
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups flour
For the milk soak:
- 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
- 1-14oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 1-5oz can evaporated milk (note: you want the small can of evaporated milk - or use roughly half of a regular 12oz can)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
For the whipped cream:
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking pan. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tarter until soft peaks form. Set aside. In another large bowl, beat the egg yolks until combined. Add the sugar and beat until light yellow and glossy and starts to thicken. The mixture should fall like ribbons when you lift the beaters out of the bowl. Add the cold water,vanilla extract and almond extract and mix until well combined. Stir in the baking powder, salt and flour until just mixed in. Gently fold in the egg whites until there are no white streaks. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 28-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.
Using a chopstick or tines of a fork, poke holes all over the top of the cake. This is the fun part...you can go crazy! In a medium bowl, mix the heavy cream, sweetened condense milk, evaporated milk and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Slowly pour over the cake, allowing for the cake to absorb the mixture as you go. This will seem like a lot of liquid, but don't worry...the cake will soak it all up!
In a cold, metal bowl, whisk the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract just until stiff peaks form. Spread over the top of the cake, cover and chill at least 2-3 hours or overnight. Before serving, sprinkle cinnamon over the top of the cake.