Tres Leches Cake
In this version of tres leches cake, a dessert that’s popular in many parts of Latin America, a simple white cake is soaked in a luscious sauce made from three milks and a hint of rum. For a colorful presentation, garnish the fluffy, glossy meringue frosting with tropical fruits such as papaya, mango and pineapple.
For the cake:
- 1⁄2 cup (4 oz./125 g) vegetable shortening
- 1 1⁄2 cups (12 oz./375 g) sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 1⁄4 cups (9 oz./280 g) sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) whole milk
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
For the tres leches sauce:
- 1 can (14 fl. oz./430 ml) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 can (12 fl. oz./375 ml) evaporated milk
- 1⁄2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) heavy cream
- 3 Tbs. dark rum
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the meringue frosting:
- 3⁄4 cup (6 oz./185 g) sugar
- 3 egg whites
- 1⁄4 tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) baking pan. Dust with flour and shake out the excess.
To make the cake, in a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the shortening on high speed until fluffy. Add the sugar a little at a time, beating until fluffy between additions. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition, about 2 minutes total. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and vanilla. Add one-third of the milk mixture to the egg mixture and beat until well mixed, then add one-third of the flour mixture. Repeat twice more, beating well after each addition. Scrape the batter into the pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a platter and let cool completely.
To make the tres leches sauce, in a bowl, whisk together the condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream, rum and vanilla. Poke the cake all over with a fork and spoon the sauce over the surface, a little at a time, allowing the cake to absorb the sauce before adding more. A little sauce may pool on the platter, but the cake should absorb almost all of it. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
To make the frosting, in a saucepan, bring the sugar and 1⁄2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer, washing down the sides of the pan as crystals form with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. While the sugar is cooking, in a clean metal bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until stiff peaks form. Cook the sugar syrup until a candy thermometer registers 230°F (110°C), 10 to 12 minutes. Slowly add the boiling syrup in a thin stream to the egg whites while continuing to beat them until all the syrup is incorporated. Continue beating until the meringue frosting is cooled and glossy. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Spread the meringue frosting on the cake, cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours and up to 8 hours. Serve chilled, cut into squares. Serves 10 to 12.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Dessert of the Day, by Kim Laidlaw (Weldon Owen, 2013)