Friday, May 28, 2010

Mexican Dessert Classic, Made Easy

photo by Anthony Palatta

When I used to teach English to immigrants in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, one of my students brought in a freshly made tres leches cake from a nearby Mexican bakery.  The light, sweet taste and soft, moist texture were a revelation.

Little did I think that one day I could make my own.

That's where Martha Stewart and the June issue of her handy-dandy Everyday Food Magazine came in with an easy, almost foolproof recipe.  Unfortunately, it isn't yet posted online, but you can easily buy a copy of the magazine at your local grocery store, along with all the necessary ingredients.

The nice thing about Everyday Food dessert recipes is the way they manage to simplify techniques and ingredients, yet still achieve impressive results.  I noticed that in many tres leches recipes, you have to separate eggs and beat the yolks and whites separately.  Not in this one.  You just throw in the whole eggs and then beat them up with sugar.  Another unusual feature of the recipe is that rather than creaming the butter, you melt it into a liquid and then fold it into the batter at the end.

This was the first time using the oven in my new apartment for baking, and luckily for me I checked the cake a bit more than halfway through because it was done 15 minutes early!  (Something tells me my oven is quite a bit hotter than the temperature dial indicates...)

The "tres leches" or "three milks" in the cake's name refer to a mixture of three types of milk—evaporated, sweetened condensed, and regular—that get poured over the cake, once it comes out of the oven.  A student of mine from Mexico told me her mother used to cut off the top crust of her cake to get it to really absorb all the liquid, but I just poked my cake with holes using a toothpick.  At first, I was a bit nervous at the idea of pouring all that milk, about 3 cups total, over the cake, but it absorbed the whole thing.

After it cooled, I whipped up some heavy cream and then decorated the cake with sliced strawberries, supremed orange sections, and blackberries.

The result was a deliciously moist and spongy cake with hints of tangy fruit in each bite for contrast in texture and flavor.  The perfect summer dessert.


  1. One of my favorites. La Palapa on St. Marks makes a good one, when I make it to dessert.

  2. I agree! They do a wonderful double layer version.

    La Palapa is definitely one of my all-around favorite Mexican places in New York. Though strangely, I prefer the St. Mark's location to the one in the West Village. Don't know why, but I always have better food at St. Mark's.

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