Monday, May 3, 2010

Tres Leches para mi Cumpleaños

I like making myself birthday cakes. I also like throwing parties near my birthday so I have an excuse to make a goodly-sized cake that I won't then eat all by myself, one shameful bite at a time.  The best part is that if the party is not actually on my birthday, no one feels compelled to sing to me before we all dig in.

Last year I made a rum cake, but a baker friend of mine [You know those beautiful little tarts in the case at Whole Foods? Those are hers.]  brought over a tres leches or "three milk" cake... made all the more fantastic because where she's from in Brazil, they use coconut milk in lieu of heavy cream... It was the best tres leches I've ever had.
So I decided it had to be tres leches for mi fiesta... but, being The Whole-Grain Texan, I had to mix things up a little. Diana Kennedy has a recipe for an almond sponge cake in her Cuisines of Mexico that uses almost the same ingredients for the cake itself [crucially: 5 eggs, separated, and no butter] but used almond meal in lieu of flour... really more like a financier. I wasn't sure how it would hold up to the thorough dousing required of a tres leches so I opted to use more [white whole wheat] flour... and fat-free milks and light coconut milk....and was well pleased with the results. It tastes decadent, but it's only a little heavier than a stack of pancakes... and with a lot more protein!

This isn't a traditional tres leches, but I think we've pretty well established that I don't think traditional=better.... and it tastes fantastic, if I do say so myself. As one guest -- and San Antonio native -- put it, "This is really, really good; but you could never sell it at a Mexican bakery." I'm sure he's right, but I bet I could put it on the menu at a fancy hotel restaurant in Mexico City and have it singled out in at least a few travel books.

Am I getting a little too full of myself on this one? Well, you'll just have to make it [for Cinco de Mayo?] and decide for yourself.

Recipe: Tres Leches de Maria
If you have a standing mixer, you can whip the egg whites while you're mixing the batter, but keep an eye on them. This cake is "frosted" with whipped cream, which I whipped myself [which actually makes it Quatro Leches, plus the coconut milk]. I imagine you could use a lower-fat pre-made something, but I won't vouch for the texture. You could also just garnish it with a big pile of fresh or macerated strawberries... I think I might do that next time. The pictured cake is actually 1.5 recipes, 3-8x8 pans, because I wanted it to be tall and square like a fancy cake... but two layers would have been plenty... and you can certainly bake it in a more traditional 9x13 sheet pan.
5 eggs, separated
1 cup milk [I used skim]
1 cup sugar, divided use
1 tablespoon amaretto [almond liqueur]
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal [2 oz, ground]
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter [or 1 teaspoon lemon juice]
1 can fat-free evaporated milk
1 can fat-free sweet and condensed milk
1 can light coconut milk (3rd press)
Optional Cream "Frosting":
1/2 pint, heavy cream (optional)
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Slivered almonds or fresh fruit to garnish
Preheat oven to 300F. Line the bottom of 2-8x8 baking pans with parchment, then grease and flour the pans.
Put egg yolks in a big bowl and whites in a suitable one for whipping, and allow both to come to room temperature. Add milk, amaretto and 3/4 cup sugar to the yolks and whisk together to dissolve sugar, then whisk in remaining dry ingredients except the cream of tartar.
Whip egg whites on low speed until foamy, then add tartar and gradually increase speed as you slowly pour in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat on high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy.
Add about 1/3 of the whites to the batter and whisk in to incorporate and lighten. Switch to a rubber spatula and add remaining whites, gently folding the batter over itself until no big clumps of whites remain and batter is pretty much the same shade all over. Divide into two pans and bake for 60-75 minutes or until cake is evenly toasty golden brown and does not jiggle when moved. Move to a cooling rack and allow to cakes to cool to room temperature without removing from the pans.
Once cool, go around the edges of the pan with a knife, then turn out the cakes and remove the parchment. [Cake layers can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored on the counter for a day or in the freezer for a week. Thaw completely before continuing.]

One to 4 hours before serving, combine leches in a 4-cup measuring cup or medium bowl. Place bottom cake layer on a serving plate or platter with a deep rim [and place that plate in a larger roasting pan, if possible]. Poke holes all over and slowly pour or spoon about half of the soaking liquid over the top. Try to get as much of the edges as possible. Let it sit ten minutes, then place the second layer on top and repeat the process. You will likely overflow your plate, but the cake will do its best to soak up everything you give it. Whip cream with sugar and almond extract and refrigerate until ready to serve. [The cake can sit out.]
To serve, use a big spoon and offset spatula to dollop and spread whipped cream all over the cake. Garnish with slivered almonds or fruit as desired.


  1. Beautiful cake!

  2. AnonymousMay 06, 2010

    Actions speak louder than words. ........................................

  3. AnonymousJune 20, 2015

    Thank you for this recipe -- it's what I was hoping to create with the whole grain and almond meal! Much appreciated.