A very light batter that results in a spongy cake. © 2012 Sugar + ShakeFor family dinners, my sister-in-law and I generally trade off responsibility for either pupus (appetizers) or dessert. Someone usually prefers handling one to the other for one reason or another. I got to pick last time, so my SIL handed off dessert duty to me for Father’s Day Dinner.

Wisdom really would have dictated that I just go to a bakery and buy something, since Shake and I spent the previous weekend on Maui, and the week was not shaping up to be conducive to grocery shopping or advance preparation. But I’m stubborn, and slightly insane. Maybe the chemical smell our refrigerator has been exuding is eating away my brain. (That’s a topic for a completely different post.) My father also says I have no common sense, and why disabuse him of his notions on Father’s Day, after all?

So I decided to make a from-scratch dessert. I’d always wanted to try making a Tres Leches cake, and it seemed like a good choice for this busy week—not too many ingredients or steps, and pretty light. (My parents aren’t into heavy desserts.)

I texted my SIL, “I think I’m gonna make tres leches cake.”

“What’s that?” she replied.

I Googled it and sent her the first link to a reputable (and attractive) site, which turned out to be The Pioneer Woman’s.

Tres Leches cake is one of those recipes that has about a million different variations and origin stories. One thing that all agree on: the cake is Latin American in origin and “tres leches” means “three milks.” However, as you browse various recipes, you’ll find that they don’t all agree on which three milks to use. Some (like The Pioneer Woman’s) even technically use four milks (one in the batter and three for the soaking liquid). “Milk” can mean regular (whole) milk, evaporated, condensed, half-and-half or cream.

Tres Leches means “three milks.” So here they are. (It only takes one can each of the condensed and evaporated milks, but this made for a prettier picture.) © 2012 Sugar + Shake

Recipes also vary on which ingredients to combine together and at which points. Ages ago, I’d stashed away a Martha Stewart Living recipe for the cake. I managed to dig it up in my clippings folder and discovered—hallelujah!—that Martha kept her homemaker psychosis in check for this recipe, and it was actually extremely simple. She didn’t even want me to whisk my egg whites and yolks in separate batches, as most of the other recipes did. One big bowl in subsequent steps was good enough for Martha. Awesome. (Note: Martha has, like, five different tres leches recipes on her site; the one I used is found here. Other recipes have different steps and ingredients.)

I really like this recipe for the simplicity and because it contains cinnamon—yum—but it does also call for seven eggs, which is at least two more than other recipes. (Heh heh, whenever I see a pile of egg yolks like this, I always think of that one episode of The Golden Girls where Blanche is delirious and finds a bag of egg yolks in the kitchen, “Little balls of sunshine in a bag!”)

Many eggs. But it’s not a heavy cake. (Both the yolks and whites are used, but who wants to see a photo of egg whites, right?) © 2012 Sugar + Shake Whip it. Whip it good. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

Tres Leches is a Latin American recipe with a lovely cinnamon flavor. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

This recipe called for mixing the flour with cinnamon and sifting it into the wet batter ingredients in batches, then “folding gently.” Apparently, I folded too gently; I found gobs of flour and melted butter at the bottom of the bowl later, which I had to hastily mix into the batter that was already in the baking pan. Oops. The moral of the story is to fold gently, but dig deep.

There are many different recipes, and they all seem to call for mixing the various ingredients in different combinations. The particular one Sugar followed adds the flour at the end, sifted in in batches. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

Even before it’s baked, you can tell how spongy this cake is going to be. Look at all the air bubbles!

Lots of little air bubbles. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

Leche! More leche! And even more leche! Martha said to whisk the milks together in a medium bowl. I dunno what kind of big-ass medium bowls she has in her house, but I was really glad I chose this big purple one (I picked it for the pretty color so it would look nice in the photos) since there was no way all this liquid (just over 4 cups worth) would have fit in what I call a medium bowl.

Leche, leche and more leche! © 2012 Sugar + Shake

Baked up, it looks just like a sponge. But a yummy sponge.

The cake bakes up very quickly, in about 20 minutes. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

The milks get poured on as soon as the cake comes out of the oven. You can imagine how fun it was to try to pour milk with my left hand while holding the camera with the right, squinting through the viewfinder and trying to focus on the moving stream of milk. I am truly surprised these came out as well as they did. And without spilling any milk all over the floor. Could I have asked Shake to do the pouring? Well, yes, but that would have made sense.

The leche is poured over the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

It’s a VERY spongy cake and absorbs all the milk right away. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

Seriously. Sponge-like. Once I finished pouring, the whole pan looked like a lake of milk. After an hour or two, it looked like this. By the time we served it for dessert, it was all absorbed.

Astonishing, isn’t it? Approximately four cups of liquid all gets soaked up. After another few hours, there was almost no visible liquid left. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

The cake was a hit with the fam. I didn’t have time to let the cake soak overnight, as per the recipe, only for about six hours, but it wasn’t a problem. I’m eating a piece as I write this, and can report definitively that there’s really no significant difference. I topped it with strawberries and my homemade maraschino cherries, but you can use any fruit you like.

Tres Leches Cake topped with Strawberries and Maraschino Cherries. © 2012 Sugar + Shake Tres Leches Cake topped with Strawberries and Maraschino Cherries. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

Tres Leches Cake topped with Strawberries and Maraschino Cherries. © 2012 Sugar + Shake

You know who loves leche?

Leche, man.