Happy Cinco de Mayo! For those wondering, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, it is the commemoration of a Mexican military victory over the French in 1862. True story. In the U.S., Cinco de Mayo has become a holiday to celebrate Mexican culture, and that’s what we’re going to do with a little help from our Tres Leches cake. Most often Tres Leches (which gets its name from the three milk mixture that is poured over the cake after baking) is finished with whipped cream, but today we’re going to use Italian meringue.
Like so many other recipes, the exact origins of Tres Leches are murky at best. A few sources point to Nicaragua for the original Tres Leches recipe, but most claim Mexico as the originator. What seems to be most agreed on is that a recipe for Tres Leches, printed on the back of a can of sweetened condensed milk sold by Nestle, is responsible for its widespread popularity. Nestle built a factory in Mexico in the late 1930s and the cake took off from that point on.
I have worked in kitchens my entire adult life, at this point for over fifteen years. During that time, one of the greatest things I’ve experienced is the opportunity to meet and work side by side with people from all over the world, because like it or not (and I love it), the kitchens of this nation run on the hard work of immigrants. I have always thought proudly of this country as a melting pot, a safe harbor in the world for people of all backgrounds. America is and has always been a country of immigrants so now more than ever we must continue to embrace that ideal.
With my soapbox safely stored away for today, I’ll simply say this cake is for all of the amazing Mexican immigrants I’ve worked with, especially the crew from my time in San Diego – Valente Juan Juan, Filiberto “Macho” Comacho, Gerardo and Pancho. Todos chingon guey!
tres leches cake
190g cake flour
5g baking powder
115g butter unsalted
250g whole eggs
3g vanilla extract
475g whole milk
396g sweetened condensed milk
240g evaporated milk
Before starting, bring the butter and eggs to room temp.
Combine and sift the cake flour and baking powder and reserve it use later.
Combine the butter, vanilla extract and sugar and mix in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until it is light and fluffy.
Add the whole eggs in two additions, mixing well with each addition and scraping the bowl well to avoid lumps of butter in the batter. Once all of the eggs have been added, the batter will be very thin and appear broken. Not to worry, all is well.
Add the flour to the mixture in three additions, mixing until incorporated with each addition.
Pour the cake batter into a greased cake frame (I use a silicone cake pan which doesn’t need any greasing or prep).
Bake at 350F/175C for approx. 30min. Let the cake cool completely and then pierce thoroughly with a toothpick or skewer.
Combine the whole milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Pour the mixture over the cake in several stages, allowing it to soak for 3-5min. with each addition. Eventually the liquid will no longer soak into the cake, which means you’re all set. Keep in mind you may not end up using all of the liquid mix. Let the cake sit for another 15min. or so to fully hydrate.
186 g egg whites
Combine the sugar and water in a sauce pot over high heat, whisking well to dissolve the sugar. Bring the syrup to a boil, and cook it to 250F/121C (once the syrup comes to a boil, stop whisking to avoid crystallization).
While the sugar syrup is heating up, begin to mix your egg whites in the stand mixer on medium speed with a whip attachment.
Once the syrup reaches 250F/121C, turn the egg whites in the stand mixer on high. There should be no clear albumen left in the whipping egg whites at this point.
Carefully pour the syrup over the whipping egg whites in a steady stream. I usually count to three to add the first addition of syrup and allow the egg whites to whip for 5 seconds or so. This let’s them temper a little and prevents the egg whites from cooking into a stringy mess.
After the first addition of syrup, add the remaining syrup in one steady stream.
Let the mixture whip on high for 20 seconds to further temper and cool the mixture and then turn the speed down to medium. Leaving the mixer on high speed for too long will cause the meringue to over-inflate and fall.
Continue to whisk the meringue until it has cooled and thickened and has developed a glossy shine.
From there the world is your oyster! I chose to give my cake a thick coat of meringue and then piped borders using a St. Honore tip. A little sliced fruit on top and ole! Ready to eat.