Tres Leches Cake
Today is Baking With Honey’s first birthday! I’ve been bursting to share this gorgeous cake recipe with you for a while now, but as it is most definitely a celebratory kind of cake, I wanted to wait for a suitable occasion. (Despite the fact that this particular cake is the embodiment of summer on a plate. I’m well aware we’re still in March, but let’s ignore that.) So here it is, my 53rd recipe and possibly the most unique – and certainly one of the most addictively delicious – cakes I’ve ever eaten! Tres Leches Cake is Spanish for ‘three milks’, a reference to the sticky sweet combination of condensed, evaporated and one other milk (frequently single cream; I have used coconut milk), poured over a super-light, fatless sponge. The cake absorbs the huge quantity of liquid, resulting in a pudding-like cake that must be kept fridge-cold. It is then layered – or topped, if making a traybake – with whipped cream and chopped fruits. I have used mangoes, strawberries and a little lime zest as they work so beautifully with the delicate hint of coconut in the sponge. This cake is somewhere between cake and ice-cream; it is massively popular in Latin America and simply screams Mexican fiesta and summertime!
Tres Leches cake is, without a doubt, most commonly made as a traybake (i.e. a single sheet layer of sponge) as it is much easier to handle. You can slice, decorate, and serve it directly from the tin if you want. Minimum effort, maximum pleasure! I threw caution to the wind and also made it as an eight-inch layer cake; if you want to do the same, be aware that the sponges are INCREDIBLY fragile due to holding so much liquid. You must build it on the cake stand or serving plate, as once assembled, you cannot move this cake without causing serious damage. Mine broke in several places and was held together with cream! But if you’re a dab hand with a cake-lifter and fancy taking a gamble then go for it! Due to the massive dairy content, any remaining cake must be stored in the fridge, which is fine as it should be enjoyed chilled anyway. It will easily keep for a few days in an airtight tub and it won’t dry out.
The following recipe will make either a traybake or a layer cake. I tested both versions to be sure! You will need a 12″ x 9″ traybake type tin, or two 8″ round tins, greased and lined. For a layer cake, I also recommend using a cake-lifter. (I love this one from Tesco)
A traybake will comfortably serve 12; a layer cake will serve 8-10, depending on how easily you can slice it.
For the sponge:
200g caster sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp water
2 tsp natural vanilla paste or extract
125g self raising (cake) flour, sifted
For the tres leches mix:
1 tin (400g approx) condensed milk
1 tin (400ml approx) evaporated milk
1 small tin (165 ml approx) coconut milk
300ml whipping cream
200g chopped strawberries (For a layer cake; keep a few halved for decoration if you like)
or 6 strawberries, halved (For a traybake; see main recipe picture above)
200g mango, chopped into small chunks
A little lime zest and desiccated coconut to finish
Place the sugar, eggs, salt, water and vanilla in clean mixing bowl and whisk on a high speed until thick, creamy and a pale yellow colour. This will take at least 6-7 minutes using a stand mixer.
Add the sifted flour and gently fold into the mixture. I used a silicone spatula for this. Just scrape along the sides and cut through the mixture until the flour has been gently but thoroughly combined. You’re trying to avoid knocking out all the air you’ve just whisked in! Make sure you scrape up any pockets of flour lurking at the bottom of the bowl.
Divide the mixture evenly between your greased and lined cake tins or a single traybake tin. The tins mustn’t be more than 2/3 full. Bake in the centre of a preheated oven for 20 minutes – this applies to both versions. The tops will look lovely and golden and will spring back with the lightest touch. The edges will look like they’re ‘pulling’ away from the tin somewhat. Place on a rack to cool.
After about 20 minutes, you can run a palette knife or similar around the tin to loosen the edges, then very gently turn the cake(s) out. These are very delicate sponges! Allow to cool for about another 30 minutes. Gently peel off any remaining lining paper. The next stage involves drenching the cakes in the tres leches mix. For a layer cake, place each cake into something deep enough to hold it, like a big pyrex dish, pie dish or a flat-bottomed pasta bowl. (I returned them to their tins as they aren’t the leaky-bottomed kind; however they were very tricky to remove once soaked, so I don’t recommend doing that! Give yourself room to manoeuvre.) For a fuss-free traybake, you can just return the sponge to the tin – place the tin back over the sponge and use your wire rack to flip it back the right way around.
Tip the condensed, evaporated and coconut milks into a large jug and give it a quick mix. Use a cake tester or thin skewer to pierce dozens and dozens of holes all over the cake(s), then pour the tres leeches mix evenly all over. Tilt the tins as necessary for even coverage of the sides. Cover with cling film as best you can, then place them in the fridge, preferably overnight, but at least four hours.
For a layer cake: Place the bottom sponge layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Using a palette knife, smooth half of the whipped cream all over. Scatter half of the strawberries and mangoes evenly, then carefully place the other sponge on top. Use a cake lifter or similar for this. Don’t try to pick it up using your hands, unless you enjoy eating cake off the floor! Line it up by eye before placing it – once it’s on, it’s almost impossible to move without it falling apart! Top with the remaining cream and fruit as before. Finish with lime zest and desiccated coconut.
For a traybake: Use a palette knife to smooth the cream all over, then mark the portions as you please. You don’t need a really sharp knife for this. You don’t want to scratch your tin! I used an ordinary table knife. Then decorate as you please; I placed half a strawberry on each square, then scattered the chopped mango. I grated lime zest all over and sprinkled the desiccated coconut. For serving, I found it easiest to lift out the portions with a spatula/turner (the kind you use for frying stuff). Store any remaining cake in an airtight tub in the fridge. Use within three days.