Monday, August 24, 2009

Tres Leches Cake — A Perfect Example of Why You Shouldn’t Cry Over Spilled Milk

On a recent gourmet getaway to Aspen, I had the pleasure of tasting a fantastic Tres Leches cake at the Hotel Jerome (pictured below). Chef Christopher Keating, crediting his wife for the recipe, explained it was one of the items that he just couldn’t take off the dessert menu. As I made my way through the moist, milky goodness, I knew why — this was a great cake.

I'm sure I'd had it before, but I couldn't recall where or when, so it was like tasting it for the firs
t time. Normally a soggy cake would not be a good thing, but here it's genius. The cake is soaked with a sweet milk syrup made from condensed milk, evaporated milk, and half and half (hence the name, Tres Leches). It's like eating cake and drinking milk, but in the same bite!

I won't pretend this version is better than the Hotel Jerome's made-from-scratch recipe, but since this is my Mom's version, it's at least a tie. She would have normally made this from scratch also, but time was short, and the humidity was high (life-threateningly high), so she used a yellow box cake mix, which worked just fine.

Whenever I post an ethnic recipe like this, I like to research the name and history. Here I didn’t bother, since the cakes origins are so obvious once you see how it's made. So, with no facts to back up my story, here is how the Tres Leches cake was born.

Somewhere in either Mexico or Nicaragua, someone made a cake. They were going to serve it with milk, as people tend to do, but something happened which caused the milk to spill on to the cake. Not wanting to waste a good piece of cake, soggy though it may be, the Mexican or Nicaraguan cook served it anyway. People loved it, and eventually a sweet tres leches (three-milk) syrup was developed for soaking the spongy cake.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it! Whether you make a cake from scratch, or use Pauline's shortcut, give this delicious dessert a try! Enjoy.



Ingredients:
For the Tres Leches-
1 can (12-oz) evaporated milk
1 can (14-oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half and half
For the Cake-
1 box yellow caked mix
3 eggs
1 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
shortening to grease pan

51 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice!!

Alberto said...

mmmmm.... *must harass mother*

Anonymous said...

Looks delish! I like to use coconut milk in place of the half & half - use the full fat stuff and you won't notice a difference in the richness, but it tastes great!

lore said...

thanks food wishes for this easy and delicious recipe!

Anonymous said...

Looks nice... too bad I'm lactose intolerant. Oh well - not all recipes can be for me :P

scallywag said...

I tried this once in a puerto rican restaurant, it was pretty amazing how that soaky cake tasted so good... also the cake has to be chilled in order for it to taste good

Chez US said...

Chef John, I have always wanted to make this cake as I have eaten it at numerous places, now you have made it look so easy, that I am going to have to give it a whirl!! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I like it. No I love it.

Chef John said...

It is so easy... the hardest part was putting on the disguise when I went to buy the box cake mix.

Sam said...

I've never had this kInd of cake before. Would it be good with chocolate instead of yellow cake? I have a pretty good yellow cake recipe, I just like squeezing chocolate in where I can.

adri_anah said...

My aunt makes this from scratch all the time! She chills the whole cake with the whipped cream on top, and instead of the strawberries she puts cherries. I have no idea how she makes the rest of the dessert, so, no pointers on that. This is one of my favorite desserts!
From Honduras,
AAH

Chef John said...

never tied with chocolate instead of yellow cake, u should test

Scott - Boston said...

Sam, you took the words right out of my mouth.
Chocolate should always be considered when doing anything. I ask my mechanic all the time, "Okay, I understand it's the muffler, but how does chocolate factor in here?"
Good call, Sam.

Scott Boston

Chef John said...

congrats Scott! First time "muffler" and "chocolate" have been used in the same sentence on a food blog in the history of the Internet!

Lucia said...

I never heard of this recipe in Europe but I saw it once at Good Eats. Milk and cake can never go wrong.

What kind of cake would you make if you were in a place they don't sell cake mixes. Pound cake style or more like the "genois" style where you incorporate lots of air in the eggs to make it fluffy and the fat is just provided by the eggs? (now that i think about it seeing your mom added oil to her cake, this is a kind of lame question)

I have to point out your mom has awesome hands and nails. I find it so hard to keep pretty nails when you actually use your hands, so kudos for her.

Chef John said...

i would think the sponge cake is better than the pound cake.

asdf said...

I want an expanding bowl...

Anonymous said...

That bowl didn't expand. They simply switched with another bowl.

Casey said...

Just wanted to say that I had a piece of the cake in this video (several pieces in fact), and it is amazing.

John, good to see you, and thanks for the cake.

Chef John said...

Thanks! So great being able to see you and Brit! Good luck with the wedding planning.

Anonymous said...

can you use butter instead of vegtable oil for the cake?

Chef John said...

not sure, but butter is solid when cold, oil is not, so maybe not

Jamie said...

Chef John, I've been coming here since Jan. Love the site, BTW. I don't know how many viewers you get in Ukraine, but as an American who lives in Poltava, Ukraine; I've tried many recipes for the wife. She loves what you have done and we watch your videos together and try to find some of ingredients here to try the ones we want to cook. Just a quick comment, but I just made this using pumpkin bread (same recipe as banana bread but use 1 cup pumpkin puree instead. It's really tasty and something to think about for a future desert.

Anonymous said...

I'm up to ten people asking me for this recipe.

So simple, so yummy and elegant.

I hope when you do your cook books you keep it like the real Foodwishes - simple and elegant.

That is what makes you so special.

Good cooking for the common man/woman.

I hope Michelle realizes how special you are.

Love C.

Melanie said...

My grandmother would make this for me when I was a kid. She didn't have a fancy name for it so now I am complete. Thanks for the therapy.

ms. edwards said...

Just made this cake tonight for Easter. Hope it tastes as good as it looks, I also made a mango topping for it.

Cheri Witmer said...

A dear friend of mine had a tres leche's cake made for my birthday a couple of years ago...haven't had any since and am now sooooo craving it! I am definately going to make this soon!

shirley said...

how do you make the whipped frosting?

Chef John said...

It's just whipped cream with a little sugar.

Genesis said...

hi chef! ive made this recipe thousands of times already cuz my family loves it! (we're Mexican)
and im making it for a very special occasion today and i was wondering if i can stack it, cuz i want to fill the middle with strawberries and whip cream, will it be ok if i stack it?or will it fall apart?

Chef John said...

Sorry, can;t say. I've never tried!

Alina said...

I don't know the amounts, but I do know that my mom used rum in the milk mix, it gave it a great taste.

Pauline said...

I just found your blog today and could not be happier! This recipe I deffinitely want to try around the end of Summer when the humidity finally ends out here on Long Island. Been wanting to make this as a nice treat for my friends at work and this will be great as we get ready for the holiday season. Thank you so much for this amazing blog!

Chef John said...

thanks!

Anonymous said...

mmm i tried it out and it was delish!!

Anonymous said...

What a great recipe...thanks!

Anonymous said...

If I used cake flour instead of the box yellow caked mix would it taste ok?

Chef John said...

no, not even close.

Anonymous said...

Since you mentioned that your mom would normally make the cake mix from scratch instead of having to buy it, how would you make the cake mix ?

Anonymous said...

Man oh man, was this good! I had never heard of this until my boyfriend asked a server if they had it...then I saw you had a recipe for it. I even messed up by accidentally putting coconut extract in, thinking I had grabbed the vanilla, but I think it still was tasty. Thanks again for making me look good!!!

icfigueroa said...

first time in your blog, i've just learned how i can find half and half (or a substitute) here in Venezuela, Tres leches is very popular here and a guy at work makes it in many ways, sometimes with chocolate, with fruit or a little of cinammon. so if anyone feels like giving it a try, you can play with it.

Carman said...

I made this cake, using your recipe, for my husband right before he deployed. He always daydreams back to a Tres Leches cake he had as a child in Chicago, saying no other place has ever matched it. I gave it a try and he fell in LOVE with it! He said it was borderline just a good as the one he had in Chicago. The only thing missing was the topping. Thankfully I found a recipe for a topping that is what he described. I'm making it tonight for when he comes home tomorrow. Its going to be a GREAT surprise! I cant wait to eat it either. I hate soggy cakes, but I couldnt stop eating this! Thought I'd let everyone else know this is a FABULOUS recipe! Thanks for posting it :]

Cindythia Oliva said...

If I want to use peach filling; should I put the filling in first & then soak the cake with the milk batter, or should I soak the cake first then put the filling in?

Chef John said...

Not sure, but would be too hard to work with after its soaked, so there you go.

xjar said...

My mother makes this cake from scratch once in a while and is always sooo goood... I'll try the one in here too!!

Greetings from Costa Rica

xjar said...

My mother makes this cake from scratch once in a while and is always sooo goood... I'll try the one in here too!!

Greetings from Costa Rica

xjar said...

My mother makes this cake from scratch once in a while and is always sooo goood... I'll try the one in here too!!

Greetings from Costa Rica

Danielle Stephens said...

My boyfriend loves tres leches cake and he loves your recipes! Instead of buying this at the store I'm going to make it especially for his birthday tomorrow! Thanks Chef John!!

lorena castillo said...

I made this cake today it was just amazing and everybody loved it !! Thanks Chef John !!

J Frazier said...

Im gonna make this Sat...I think I will add lemon...my neighbors tend to LOVE Lemon and Coconut...BTW cld you do a coconut cake..I just bought one at Wegmans and cant find THAT recipe anywhere...and would love to try a different version of mine. My icing never works...

Rachel Page said...

Wonderful cake and love the bright berry sauce you have made.