I confess that I used to never like Tres Leches Cake. It used to be a dessert that eluded me. I couldn’t understand the concept of a cake sitting in a sweet, milky sauce. The majority of restaurants have Tres Leches Cake on their dessert menu. Maybe it’s just bad luck but I’ve never liked the ones I’ve tried. It wasn’t until Cinco de Mayo several years ago, when I tried a homemade Tres Leches Cake at a friend’s party, that I realized what an incredible dessert this is.
The term Tres Leches literally means “three milks cake” in Spanish. No one is sure how Tres Leches Cake originated. They are popular in many Latin American countries and Mexico and Nicaragua are best known for it. Nonetheless, no one knows for sure how this cake came to be. What we do now is that soaked cake desserts appeared in medieval Europe, such as British rum cake and Italian tiramisu, which could very well be long-distant cousins to the Tres Leches Cake because they use the same method. Most likely, these soaked-cake dessert method crossed the Atlantic to the New World later on, and we can find that, as early as the 19th Century, soaked-cake desserts were already very popular in Mexico. In the 20th Century, evaporated and condensed milk cans often had the recipe printed on their label, further assisting in the dissemination of this dessert across the Americas.
When I went to create my preferred version of Tres Leches Cake, I thought a little bit about what I liked and didn’t like about this dessert. I love that it is a fluffy and moist sponge cake that has this unusual ability to soak in the sweet mixture of the trio of Tres Leches: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk. This part of it reminds me a bit of the Bengali dessert ras malai, and I think it’s a real essential quality of the dessert. I also like that the cake is topped with a fluffy could of whipped cream. That makes it not only delicious, but a very showy piece indeed, My old complaints with Tres Leches Cake, especially those from restaurants, were that they often only tasted of sugar and cream, and there was nothing else to punctuate the flavor, so for my version of the cake, I decided to make it a Strawberry Mojito Tres Leches Cake. The sliced strawberries on top add visual appeal and some tart sweetness and a touch of acidity. The crunchy lime sugar sprinkled on top of the cream adds texture and hint of citrus, and the mint leaves and extract in the whipped cream add a little bit of freshness to contrast with the dense, creamy taste of all the milks and whipped cream. If you want to go a step further, my recipe includes the option of adding some rum to the Tres Leches Sauce. This is to play up the rum/lime/mint mojito flavor. If you prefer to omit the rum, you will still have a great cake with all the other flavor combinations.
If you’re looking for a summer dessert that is a crowd-pleasing, simple recipe to put together, this cake can be a wonderful choice, especially to bring to parties. Now that I’ve developed my own recipe, I love Tres Leches Cake! The resulting cake is irresistibly moist, visually appealing, and a fun combination of flavors that give this classic an original spin. Happy baking and happy eating!
Strawberry Mojito Tres Leches Cake
Prep time: 20 min.
Chilled Time: 2 hours
Bake Time: 25-35 min.
For the Cake:
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- Grated rind of 1 lime
For the Tres Leches Sauce:
- 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
- ½ cup whole milk
- 2 tbsp rum (optional)
- 1 tsp lime juice (optional)
For the Topping:
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ tsp mint extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup strawberries, sliced
- 12 mint leaves
- 2 tbsp cane sugar
- Finely grated rind of 1 lime
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Prepare a 9-by-13 inch baking dish with butter.
- Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Set both aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat ¾ cups sugar with the egg yolks on medium-high speed, until creamy and light.
- Add the vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lime zest. Add part of the flour mixture, then alternate with the milk, and continue alternating two more times, making sure to finish with the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Whisk the egg whites, gradually adding the remaining ¼ cup sugar, until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cake batter with a spatula. Pour into the prepared pan.
- Bake at 350°F for 25-35 minutes. Cool completely, then poke holes in the top, using the tines of a fork.
- To make the trio of Tres Leches, in a clean bowl whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and lime juice, then add the evaporated milk, whole milk, and (if using) rum. Once evenly mixed, pour over the cooled cake. Let soak 2 hours in the refrigerator.
- In a chilled bowl, whip the cream, sugar, mint extract, and vanilla to make whipped cream, then spread over the top of the cake. In a small bowl, combine the 2 tbsp granulated sugar, zest of 1 lime, and sprinkle over the whipped cream for a crunchy topping.
- Garnish with the sliced strawberries and mint leaves, and if desired, additional zested lime. Store in the refrigerator.
For a classic Tres Leches Cake: omit the lime juice and the rum in the Tres Leches sauce, omit the mint leaves and mint extract in the whipped cream, and omit the lime sugar topping.
For a non-alcoholic Strawberry Mint Tres Leches Cake: omit the rum from the recipe.
Giving credit where credit is due: this recipe is adapted from The Pioneer Woman.
© 2021 Carol’s Baking Adventures