Dish of the Week: Tres Leches

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re taking a look at tres leches.

Also known as pan tres leches, or “three milks bread,” tres leches is a sponge or butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, which is fresh milk with about 60 percent of the water removed to make a shelf-stable product; condensed milk, which is canned milk that has been thickened by evaporation and sweetened; and heavy cream.

The cake has become a staple of Latin American cuisines, though its exact origins are debated. According to the article “Got Milk?™ On the trail of pastel de tres leches” from the Austin Chronicle, the history extends from colonial Mexico back to Medieval Europe, where the method of drenching bread or cake in liquid was common. Similar desserts include the British trifle and Italian tiramisu.

We’re sure living in Houston, you’ve had a piece or five in your lifetime, but the super-moist, ultra-sweet cake is a cinch to make yourself.

This recipe, from Emeril Lagasse, is as classic and delicious as it gets. Of course, you can always add a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin spice to punch up the flavor for fall.

Tres Leches Cake (Three Milks Cake)

For the cake:
6 large eggs, separated
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cream topping:
1 14 -ounce can evaporated milk
1 14 -ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream

For the icing:
3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites
Optional: 1 ripe mango, peeled, seed removed, and thinly sliced; 1 ripe papaya, peeled, seeds removed, and thinly sliced


To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually with the mixer running and beat to stiff peaks. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after the addition of each.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. (Do this quickly so the batter does not lose volume.) Add the vanilla.

Bake until golden, 25 minutes.

To make the cream topping: In a blender, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream and blend on high speed.

Remove the cake from the oven and while it's still warm, pour the cream mixture over it. Let sit and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the icing: Once the cake is completely chilled, in a saucepan combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cook until the mixture reaches the soft boil stage, around 235 to 240 degrees F. Remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. While beating, add the hot syrup in a stream. Beat until all the syrup has been added, the mixture cools and a glossy icing forms.

To assemble: Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the icing evenly across the top. If using, arrange the mango and papaya slices over the top and serve.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano