Tres leches is a moist and subtly sweet cake made with sponge cake and three different kinds of milk. It's easy to make (only 30 minutes of active time!) and it gets even better after a day in the fridge.
For the sponge cake:
- 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter, for brushing the cake pan
- 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (178g) granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups (173g) cake flour, sifted
For the milk mixture:
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the whipped cream topping:
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- Ground cinnamon
1 Preheat the oven and prep your pans: Preheat your oven to 400°F. Brush the inside of a 9x13x3-inch cake pan with a thin layer of the melted butter.
Place 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar into an oven-safe container and let the sugar warm in the oven as it’s heating up. Warm sugar helps give the egg yolks more volume when you whip them.
2 Whip the yolks: Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the egg yolks, the warmed sugar, and the vanilla extract together on medium-high speed until the egg yolks have doubled in volume and are a very pale yellow color. This should take about 5 minutes. Set the bowl aside.
3 Whip the egg whites: In a separate, very clean bowl with clean beaters, whip together the egg whites and the salt on medium-high speed until the whites are foamy.
Once the whites look foamy, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar to the egg whites. Continue whipping until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 4 1/2 minutes. The whites should stand up with a peak that folds over just slightly when the beaters are pulled from their surface.
4 Make the batter: Working quickly to prevent the eggs from deflating, sift half of the cake flour into the bowl with the yolks. Use a wide rubber spatula to gently fold the flour into the yolks. Once the flour has been incorporated, fold in half of the egg whites gently so as not to deflate the eggs. Repeat again with the remaining flour and whites.
5 Fill the pans: Fill the prepared cake pan with the cake batter and use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly into the pan. Gently tap the pan against the countertop a couple of times to release any air bubbles that may be trapped in the batter.
6 Bake the cake for 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springs back quickly when pressed with your fingertip. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan, or turn it out onto a deep, rimmed serving platter.
7 Make the milk mixture: In a large pitcher or bowl, combine the three milks, the brandy (if using), and the vanilla extract. Whisk together until combined.
8 Soak the cake: Once the cake has cooled, use a toothpick or the tines of a fork to poke small holes all over the cake. Pour the milk mixture over the cake, covering it entirely. Don’t worry if it seems to be a lot; the cake will soak up virtually all of the milk as it sits.
Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or up to 24 hours.
9 Whip the cream: In a large mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream with an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed. Once the beaters begin to leave ribbons in the cream, stop the mixer and then add the vanilla extract and the powdered sugar.
Increase the speed to high, and whip until the cream is thick and holds its shape when the beaters are removed (this should take anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes).
10 Finish the cake: Spread the whipped cream in an even layer over the top of the cake using an offset spatula. Sprinkle with a liberal dusting of ground cinnamon.
11 Serve the cake: Refrigerate the cake up to three hours until ready to serve. Cut into 12 squares. Enjoy up to 3 days after preparation—keep it refrigerated.