I am a scientist who loves to cook because there are many similarities between working in a lab and cooking in a kitchen. I love to share my cooking experience with you and to inspire others to cook.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tres Leches Cake (Three Milk Cake)

The literal translation of "Tres Leches Cake" from Spanish to English is "Three Milk Cake". The concept is quite simple, which is cake served with 3 kinds of milk - evaporated milk + condensed milk + whipped cream.

For readers who is hearing about Tres Leches Cake for the first time, you might pause and say "what the heck is this?!" Well, you are not alone because I was in the same boat until not too long ago.

Here's the story.

A good friend moved to a Hispanic-centric neighborhood and there is a Mexican bakery/cake shop next door. One day, he bought some tres leches cake for us to try and the experience was unbelievable and memorable. Since then, tres leches cake became a staple whenever we hang out in that neighborhood.

The awesome space where lots of tres leches cake were consumed for all kinds of reasons - birthdays, farewell parties, game nights, and "just because we can" (picture courtesy of Antelmo Villarreal)

Now before you read further, imagine this for a second - cake soak-laden in 3 kinds of milk. The cake is soggy and wet. It does not sound appetizing at all. This is a common reaction I get (including my own).

Well, let me just say this out right - it is delicious! If you live in NYC, do yourself a favor and track up to Spanish Harlem. Contact me before you go and I will tell you where to find tres leches cake.

A street view of Spanish Harlem. Looks just like any other streets in NYC. (picture courtesy of Antelmo Villarreal)

I have been dreaming about tres leches cake and I finally turned this dream into reality. Except one problem - I don't want to make a cake, so I cheated and bought a sponge cake. For experiment sake, I just want to have a proof-of-concept that it will work.

I improvised a lot since this is purely experimental, nothing is quantitative here. Assuming you already have a cake, the rest is easy:

1. I started with 3 slices of screwpine-flavored sponge cake.
2. Then, I whipped some cream and sugar until it formed stiff-peak.

3. Next, I mixed half a can of evaporated milk with half a tablespoon of condensed milk (some recipes have different ratios but I adjusted the sweetness according to the sweetness of the cake. I don't want the whole cake to taste too sweet).
4. Finally, I poured the evaporated + condensed milk mixture on to the cake. Yes, just pour and let it soak! Just make sure you have enough milk.  It is better to have excess.

5. Seal the container and let the cake soak for a couple of hours.
6. Carefully (the cake is soggy and fragile) transfer the cake to a serving dish, put the whipped cream on the cake and garnish with whatever you like. In my case, Pineapple because it is a regional fruit.

From the flavor standpoint, it is close but not there yet. I think this has to do with the evaporated milk. Apparently there are many other ingredients added to the evaporated milk. Next time, I will use the best quality fresh milk I can find, not evaporated milk. As for the cake, I don't see a reason why I can't keep using sponge cake to make my own tres leches cake. I think sponge cake of any flavor would work just fine. Except one thing, sponge cake is a tall cake and the milk-absorption efficiency is reduced at the top. Maybe I will slice the cake horizontally to make a shorter tres leches cake.

Soggy cake? A must-try as long as it is soaked in sweetened milk!!!

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