Tres Leches Cake Recipe for Shavuot

A traditional Cuban cake made with three kinds of milk.

Cuban cuisine may boast some outrageously flavorful and delicious savory dishes, but I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to our desserts, the list is short and sweet. Sure, we have our version of flan, and there’s always the go-to guava and cheese pastry, but Cuban meals tend to really focus on the heavy hitters, like the main dishes. That is, of course, until someone brings a Tres Leches Cake to the party.

Much like most cultures have their version of a dumpling (hello, matzah ball), most Latin countries have their version of tres leches. Tres Leches, which literally translates to three milks, features a light, spongy cake that is then drenched by a mixture of three equally decadent forms of milk: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and whole milk. Lastly, it’s topped with a light-as-air, fresh whipped cream and crowned with a brightly colored piece of fruit.

As in Jewish tradition, numbers play a special role in the making of this cake. Yes, there are three milks included, but it’s also best to consider breaking down the making of this cake into three sections: the cake, the milks and the frosting. With all the dairy included, this may be a winning option for replacing a classic cheesecake at your next Shavuot gathering.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup milk

For the milks:

  • 1 12oz can evaporated milk
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon

For the frosting:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 4 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Make the Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, vanilla, sugar, and milk until frothy and well-combined. Add to flour mixture in three batches, mixing well after each bit is added.
  4. Pour egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat until stiff peaks form (you can use a hand mixer for this step, but I found it easier to use the stand mixer).
  5. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until just combined.
  6. Pour batter into greased and floured metal 9×13 inch pan, and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown. If you’re using a glass casserole dish, cook a few minutes longer.
  7. Let cool in pan completely, and poke holes in cake using a fork or wooden skewer.
    I recommend poking the entire surface of the cake with pokes about 1 inch apart. The more pokes, the more opportunities for the milks to soak in, making it a super moist cake.

Prepare the Milk

  1. Next, prepare the milks. In a pitcher, combine the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, and cinnamon together. Mix with a whisk to ensure an even consistency.
  2. Pour all but ¼ cup over the whole cake, making sure to moisten each part of the cake. Reserve the ¼ cup for serving.

Make the Frosting

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla, until desired whipped cream consistency is reached, and spread evenly over the cake. Top with colorful fresh fruit. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. To serve, drizzle a bit of the reserved milk on the plate, and add a slice of cake to the milky puddle.

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