… Tres leche cake is a:
- sponge cake drenched with a milk sauce, and topped with whipped cream
- rich dessert, very high in calories and carbohydrates
The basic core components to make a 3 leche cake are:
- sponge cake
- dessert sauce made with 3 type of milk:
- sweetened condensed milk
- evaporated milk
- heavy cream, half & half, or milk (cow, soy, coconut, almond, rice, etc.)
- whipped cream topping
There are many variations to make 3 leche cake, according to cultural region, background and preference.
The sponge cake flavoring does not have to be limited to vanilla only. Other flavors can be:
- dulce de leche
Below, I share the reasons why I have chosen specific ingredients, the chemistry analysis, selected calculations, and preparation to create my recipe version for tres leche cake.
To create the sponge cake, I use only cake flour.
- Reason #1: cake flour has very low protein value compared to all-purpose, pastry or bread flour; the very low protein in cake flour allows the baked cake to be tender and light (airy).
- Reason #2: cake flour is bleached; this causes the protein (its gluten) to weaken, hence produces a finer texture and will not cause the cake to rise, too much.
The protein percentage in flour is related to the amount of gluten it has. Gluten develops when the flour protein combines with liquid and form elastic strands. The strength and weakness structure of these elastic strands are based on the enzymes from the type of flour being used.
Flour with higher protein percentage will cause the gluten to be elastic and expand (stretch), especially in yeast products, and have a more dense and chewier texture. High protein flour, such as all-purpose (10 to 12%), bread (13 to 14%) or gluten (45%) flour, is best for:
- firmer textured cake
Lower protein percentage flour is made from soft milled flour. Most cake flour are bleached and causes the protein to form weaker gluten. Lower protein flour, such as cake (7 to 8%) or pastry (9%) flour, is best for
- pie crust
- soft texture cake
I add baking powder to the cake flour, since it is a leavening agent, to help the cake expand or self rise a bit in volume. It also lighten the texture to be more soft and airy. Basically, adding baking powder, gives it a subtle boost to lift the cake. This is similar to self-rising flour, except, it has a lower protein percentage to make the cake a smoother and airy texture.
I sift the flour and baking powder together, to removes lumps and aerate it. This process allows the wet ingredients to easily moisten completely with the sifted dry ingredients.
For my sponge cake, I separate the egg yolks from the albumen (egg whites). The reasons are as follow:
- The flavoring for my cake is made with a “ponche de huevo”, which is raw egg yolks whipped with sugar until it becomes a creamy consistency (a process known as egg foaming). In the Puerto Rican culture, this egg foaming creamy mixture is mixed with a carbonated barley juice known as Malta, for a drink known as “ponche”. The English translation is “eggnog punch”. For my recipe, the egg foaming and dry ingredients are then blended with milk to create a cake batter.
- The next process is beating the albumen (egg whites) until it becomes frothy and foamy. This helps the cake become light and smooth in texture, similar to angel food cake. The frothy egg white is gently folded into the batter, then bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 35 to 45 minutes. The reason for a 10 minutes difference, is due to whether temperature changes, barometric pressure, and also humidity affects the baking process. After 35 minutes, I check the cake by piercing a knife in the middle, if it comes out clean, the cake is done. After baking, the cake is cooled for 15 to 30 minutes.
One important thing, I only use stainless steel bowl to whip eggs, sometimes glass. I never use aluminum or plastic bowls.
The tres leche sauce has 3 type of milk combination. Two are commonly known, which are sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. The 3rd milk is considered a variable. It can be any type of milk (regular, skim, low-fat, half & half, almond, coconut, soy, etc). My personal preference favorite is heavy cream. I like my milk sauce to be similar to a Puerto Rican coquito drink (minus the eggs).
I add 1 1/4 cup heavy cream. It is OK to increase the heavy milk to 1 1/2 cup, instead of using 1 1/4 cup, or any other type of milk, you prefer. I simply like the creaminess heavy cream provides and the 1/4 cup difference will not alter the taste or texture, since not all the milk syrup will be saturated into the cake. Some will be set aside as a complimentary dessert sauce to serve with the cake.
In addition, I add 2 to 4 Tablespoon (1/8 to 1/4 cup) of Malibu coconut rum. Seriously, the fusion with the milk mixture enhances the flavor. The Malibu brand is a smooth coconut rum, unlike Bacardi light rum, which tends to gravitate a bit strong when blended for this dessert sauce. Bacardi light rum taste great for drinks, but as part of the milk sauce for this cake, I prefer a more gentle tasting Malibu coconut rum. This is strictly my person opinion. If serving 3 leche cake to minors, it is recommended to eliminate the rum liquor altogether.
Every now and then, I add a can of Nestle media crema to give it an added boost in flavor. It is optional, but wanted to focus on the three milk for this recipe. I tend to interchangeably use the word “milk sauce” and “milk syrup”, since both have the same meaning in regards to this type of cake.
Once the cake is cooled, it is flipped over and poked with a fork. The milk mixture is poured over the cake and allow to soak in. I cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate to blend the flavors for 2 to 3 hours. If the cake is to be served for a casual affair, I keep the cake in the baking pan. If it is a special occasion, I flip the cake over on to a jellyroll baking sheet with a lifted edge to prevent the sauce from spilling out.
I like to set aside some of the milk in a separate container, and add a small portion to the cake being served.
The frosting is usually topped with a dairy whipped dessert topping, such as the aerosol canned whipped cream (ie: Reddi-Wip), the frozen tub whipped topping (ie: Cool Whip) or homemade whipped cream (beaten heavy cream and sugar). I prefer making a homemade marshmallow creme frosting. This marshmallow topping enhances the flavor to the sponge cake.
First, I create a simple syrup using:
- light corn syrup
This concoction is gently boiled until clear and bubbly, about 15 to 30 minutes. Once the syrup is bubbly, I whip egg whites into a meringue by adding cream of tartar. This helps produce volume and stabilize the structure to hold its shape and prevent from collapsing (this process is what makes it a meringue). Adding cream of tartar to the egg whites also prevents the hot simple syrup from crystallizing (harden) while blending together to create a creamy and silky smooth, thick frosting.
The marshmallow meringue creme is refrigerated for at least 1 hour before spreading on to the cake. Any leftover creme is stored in a sealed jar or glass container for future use as a topping for brownies, cupcakes, pies, dessert salads or ice cream. To make the creme into solid form to create marshmallow, I add 2 to 3 packets of Knox unflavored gelatin into the prepared simple syrup.
Once the cake has been coated with the marshmallow meringue, it is covered with aluminum foil that has been tented with enough gap to avoid touching the frosting. It is then refrigerated for another 2 to 3 hours.
Before serving, each cake is topped with a maraschino cherry.
Now you have the analytic reasoning and food chemistry to why I utilize specific ingredients and techniques to create my tres leche cake.
I have seen “tres leche cake” written and spoken as “tres leches cake” with an “s” added to the end of the word “leche”, in which is incorrect. Milk is milk, whether singular or plural, regardless if English or Spanish etymology. Milk is a non-count noun. This means 2 milk, 3 milk, etc., not 2 milks or 3 milks.
Using the plural form “leches” is considered incorrect linguistic of speech and improper grammatical word structure, in both languages. Leche or milk, whether by itself or more than one content, is written and pronounce the same, without the “s” added to the end of the word. It is spelled and pronounced as tres leche cake (three milk cake), not three milks cake or tres leches cake. Now, on to enjoy this scrumptious dessert.