Tres leches (or “three milks”) cake uses a combination of condensed milk, evaporated milk, and regular cow’s milk to create a spongy, custardy cake that’s soaked through with a sweet, milky sauce. The combination of milks creates a rich, layered flavor that’s mild enough to use as a blank slate for adding caramel, coffee, toasted coconut, lime zest, cinnamon, and much more.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking dish or a nonreactive metal pan. Line the bottom of the baking dish or pan with parchment paper and lightly butter the parchment.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl with a whisk and sift together. Set aside.
- Separate the eggs, putting the whites and yolks in separate clean, dry bowls. With an electric mixer, beat the yolks with half of the sugar on medium speed until the mixture is pale and ribbon-like, about 3 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until combined, 1 minute more.
- Clean and dry the beaters and then beat the egg whites, gradually increasing the speed to high, until they reach soft peaks, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup sugar little by little, continuing to beat on high, until you reach firm but not dry peaks, about 1 to 2 minutes more.
- Whisk about a third of the dry ingredients into the yolk mixture until thoroughly combined. Gently fold in a third of the egg whites with a spatula. Fold in the remaining dry ingredients and egg whites, alternating, in two more batches each, until fully incorporated, making sure not to overmix and deflate the eggs.
- Pour the batter into the prepared dish or pan and bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto the rack, remove the parchment, and let cool completely.
- Return the cake to the baking dish or pan and cool. Meanwhile, prepare the soaking liquid.
- In a small-medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together the evaporated milk, heavy cream, and salt. Cook, stirring once in a while to avoid scorching, until it begins to bubble around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, whisk in condensed milk until it is well blended and add the liquor if using. Pour into a heatproof 4-cup measuring cup.
- With a toothpick, prick the cake to the bottom in 1/2-inch intervals. Pour the soaking liquid slowly over the cake, starting at the edges and pausing to let it soak in before adding more. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the cake is well chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- To make the whipped cream topping, beat the heavy cream with an electric mixer on medium speed with the whisk attachment on medium speed. When it begins to thicken, slowly add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat just until it holds firm peaks, 3 to 4 minutes (be careful not to overbeat). Spread the whipped cream all over the top of the cake, top with fruit if desired and serve.
Fany Gerson has been featured in the New York Times, Gourmet, Fine Cooking, Saveur Magazine, Fine Cooking, Food and Wine and New York magazines, among others. She launched the acclaimed La Newyorkina, an artisanal Mexican frozen treats and sweets business in 2010. She is also the Chef and co-owner of Dough, an artisan gourmet doughnut shop in New York. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Fany has worked in a range of fine-dining kitchens around the world including 3 Michelin starred Akelare in Spain and Eleven Madison Park in New York. She has written two books, My Sweet Mexico which was nominated for a James beard award 2010 for Best baking and pastry cookbook and Paletas. Fany also opened her first brick and mortar for La Newyorkina on October 2016 in the West Village of New York City.