Tres Leches Cake is one of those recipes that I feel has been haunting me for a while. I’d never made it before this, but I kept seeing it…everywhere. The idea intrigued me, a simple vanilla cake soaked in a creamy concoction of Tres Leches (Three milks, if I remember correctly from high school Spanish). It seemed more like a pudding than a cake, but more cake-like than a bread pudding. I wanted to make one, but none of the recipes jumped out at me.
Then, on my birthday, I was given a copy of Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, Make it Ahead. Ina (I’m assuming I can call her that, because we’ve spent a lot of time together in the kitchen, whether she knows it, or not) has never let me down. I have all of her cookbooks, and cook from the frequently. She has yet to disappoint. So when a most beautiful Tres Leches Cake with Berries popped up in her new cookbook, I figured THIS was the Tres Leches Cake I’d been waiting for. Is it that different from every other Tres Leches Cake? I’m not so sure. But knowing that my kitchen guru, The Barefoot Contessa herself, backed THIS cake gave me the oomph I needed to try one for myself, and I figured that this time of year was the perfect time to try. Not only are beautiful spring berries in season, but with Cinco de Mayo creeping up on us, the recipe might just come in handy if you happen to be celebrating.
To start, I baked up a beautifully simple vanilla sponge cake. It’s so beautifully simple that the photos I took of the process are simply boring, so I’ll just cut to the chase and show you the finished cake.
This cake is light and fluffy, and filled with little pockets of air (Much like a sponge. Get it?), which make it the perfect vehicle for this type of soaked cake.
I let the cake cool in the pan for about thirty minutes, so it was cooler to the touch but still just a little bit warm. As it was cooling, I mixed together my Tres Leches mixture. Ready? Heavy cream, a can of evaporated milk, a can of sweetened condensed milk, some pure almond extract, and in place of a vanilla bean, I used Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. This vanilla bean paste is a great substitute to have on hand in your pantry, and is generally much more reasonable than vanilla beans, but you still get all the flavor and the vanilla seed speckles.
I whisked all of those ingredients together, and then used a bamboo skewer to poke holes all over my sponge cake.
Once the holes were poked, I slowly poured the creamy mixture over the top of the cake, a little at a time, letting each douse soak in before adding more. When the last little bit had dribbled out of the measuring cup, it had almost completely soaked in, and the top just looked like this.
At this point, I covered the dish, and put it in the refrigerator, where I left it for a full day before we dove into it. This cake is the perfect make ahead party dessert. Not only is it different, and kind of special, you can make it up to five days in advance! Five days!!! I’m kicking myself for waiting this long to try it.
So, bounce to the next night, and we’re finally ready to dive into this deliciousness. I whipped up some cream, and combined some sweet strawberries, raspberries, and a bit of sugar to pop on the top.
When you slice into the cake, you have this tender, soft, sweet, delicious cake with just a hint of creaminess seeping out. It’s amazing how that liquid, there was a lot of it, is just contained in the cake. I half expected it to be a bit soggy, but it’s just a bit wonderful instead. My girls were a little nervous, but ended up sighing, and raving about how delicious it was as they asked for seconds. It’s just divine, and as Ina says in her book, “This is the dessert of your dreams. It really is.
TRES LECHES CAKE WITH BERRIES
Adapted from Ina Garten: Make It Ahead
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature (Make sure they are at room temperature!)
- 1 cup plus 3 Tbsp. sugar, for cake and berry topping
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
- 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract
- 1 Tbsp. Nielson Massey Vanilla Bean Paste or the seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
- Whipped cream
- 5 cups mixed sliced strawberries and raspberries
- Preheat the oven to 350*F. Butter a 9x13x2 inch baking dish and set aside.
- Place the room temperature eggs, 1 cup of the sugar, and the vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Fit with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium-high speed for 10 minutes until extra light and fluffy.
- While the eggs and sugar are mixing, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl.
- After 10 minutes of beating time, reduce the speed to low, and add half of the flour mixture. Then, add the whole milk, and finally the rest of the flour mixture. Stir with a rubber spatula to make sure that the batter is mixed completely, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Smooth out the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back from the center when touched and a cake tester comes out clean.
- Place on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 30 minutes.
- While the cake cools, whisk together the heavy cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, almond extract, and vanilla paste or seeds.
- Poke the cake all over with a bamboo skewer, and then slowly poure the cream mixture over the cake, allowing it to soak in before continuing to pour more of the mixture. Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 5 days before serving.
- To serve, toss the berries with the remaining 3 Tbsp. of sugar. Slice the cake and serve with whipped cream and the sugared berries.