Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series of Holiday inspired pieces, brought to you by Target. Seasons Greetings!
I never tried a pastel de tres leches until I moved to Florida. My new Cuban friends raved about it and it brought back sweet childhood memories of lady fingers cake with fresh peaches soaked in rich, condensed milk.
Pastel de tres leches (three milks cake) has many other versions: Cuban, Mexican, Dominican, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, among others.
Nevertheless, this tres leches cake—which can also be served for breakfast or merienda—is basically a sponge cake or butter cake soaked in three different types of milk: evaporated, condensed, and whole.
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Some people use heavy cream instead of whole milk or even both and they add rum or brandy to the creamy soaking liquid. Since the cake is soaked in a creamy, sweet combination of different leches, the end result is thick, sweet, and very moist .
SPONGE CAKE VERSUS BUTTER CAKE
To know which cake we should use, butter or sponge, for a tres leches…we need to understand their basic natures. A sponge cake is a cake made of flour, sugar, eggs. See note *
While a butter cake (also known as pound cake) also uses sugar, eggs, flour, its main ingredient in this cake is butter. And the key in a pound/butter cake is to use equal amounts of butter, sugar, flour, eggs. Thus, the name pound cake, synonym for a dense, rich cake.
You can use either. But since this is already a quite heavy cake, adding more heaviness or richness won’t make it more delicious. Therefore, a sponge cake is best suited for a tres leches cake.
*Some tres leches cake recipes might call for a small amount of butter. I skip it since I already have the fat and moistness from the oil.
Though a bit time consuming, this dessert is worth every bite and can be part of any special occasion.
PASTEL DES TRES LECHES
1½ cup cake flour
Pinch of sea salt
1 TSP baking powder
1/3 cup organic vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 TSP pure vanilla extract
5 large eggs
½ cup whole milk
12 oz. evaporated milk
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup heavy cream with ¼ cup whole milk
1 TBSP rum, brandy or cognac (optional)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 TBSP confectioners sugar
Dulce de leche (optional)
- Preheat oven to 325ºF.
- In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In another bowl, combine the oil, sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
- Add eggs to the sugar mixture one at a time until well combined. Stir in the milk, then gently fold in the dry flour mixture a little at a time.
- Lightly butter a cake pan or baking dish.
- Pour batter into pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean when inserted in the center.
- Let the cake cool at room temperature until easy to handle. Turn it over onto a platter with high edges. Using a fork, pierce cake 20-30 times. Let it cool in the refrigerator for another 30-45 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare soaking liquid:
- In a bowl, whisk together the three milks with the rum (brandy or cognac, if you are using any). Slowly pour the liquid over the cooled cake.
- Let refrigerate for about 1 hour or so, occasionally spooning the milk runoff back onto the top of the cake.
- Prepare topping and get ready to serve:
In a mixing bowl add heavy cream and confectioners sugar. Using a hand electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until firm peaks form. Spread it over the cake. For an extra latin touch, serve with dulce de leche on the side.