TRES LECHES CAKE

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In case you haven't looked at a calendar, watched the news, or glanced at your phone... today marks the first day of May! Normally I would feel pretty indifferent about this, but this year I'm welcoming May with open arms: next month my sister, Tianna, is getting married! To say that I am ecstatic is a complete understatement, and even though a lot of planning and coordinating must be done from now until the big day, I know it will all come out perfectly!

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For the wedding, not only am I in the wedding party, but I also have been asked to make ALL the desserts, including the wedding cake (the wedding will have over 100 people). When my sister had asked me months ago to do the desserts, I was pretty hesitant (read: HORRIFIED) and was worried that I would mess something up and ruin the day. But after much thought and talking to my friends and family, I decided I would be crazy not to. Doing the desserts for a wedding will be my biggest accomplishment thus far in my baking career, and I know that after the day is over, I will feel pretty triumphant. And if I screw something up, like burning the cookies or making an uneven cake (knock on wood), life will go on and I'm sure we'll all get a good laugh out of it.

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I'm not going to reveal what I'm baking just yet, but one idea I had was to make this Tres Leches cake. For dinner at the wedding, we are eating tacos with rice and beans and plenty of chips and salsa, catered by an amazing taco spot in Los Angeles (Sky's Gourmet Tacos), so I figured a Mexican/Latin American cake would work out perfectly. But alas, my sister and her fiancé decided on something more simple and easier for me to bake, so I happily obliged. 

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With that said, a Tres Leches cake is still a wonderful option for any type of celebration, especially considering what this Saturday is (Cinco de Mayo!!!). I personally have made it for birthday parties (including my boyfriend's 30th) and backyard BBQs and it's always a hit. For those of you who don't know, "tres leches"  translates to "three milks". This has to do with soaking the cake in a combination of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream.  Additionally, there is whole milk baked into the cake so it's safe to assume that anyone who is lactose-intolerant should stay far away from this cake and allow the milk fans to enjoy it!

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The recipe for a Tres Leches cake can be broken down into three components: 1) the baking of the cake 2) the "poke and soak" aspect that entails filling the cake with a liquid and 3) the topping. All three components are quite straightforward and shouldn't give you any trouble unless you are not familiar with beating egg whites into soft, and eventually, stiff peaks. This step is important in making a perfect texture for the cake, and so I would suggest clicking here if you need some guidance.

Lastly, you may choose to decorate the cake in whichever way you wish.  Usually, the cake slices will have a maraschino cherry on top but I also like to add a good amount of sprinkles (I got this idea via the restaurant Trois Familia in Los Angeles). Whichever way you choose, it'll still be beautiful with the fresh whipped topping.

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Tres Leches Cake

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

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  • Butter and flour for cake pan, or nonstick cooking spray

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

  • 2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

  • 6 large eggs, whites and yolks separated, room temperature

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup whole milk

  • 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk

  • 1 14oz. can sweetened condensed milk

  • 1 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 1-2 tbsp. dark rum (optional)

  • 2 cups heavy cream (this is for the whipped cream topping)

  • 2 tbsp. confectioners' or granulated sugar (for whipped cream topping)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter and flour (or spray with nonstick cooking spray) a 9" by 13" baking pan and set aside.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.

  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer still going, slowly add the sugar and bring the speed up to medium-high until stiff peaks form. Add the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.

  4. To the bowl, add one egg yolk at a time, mixing thoroughly before adding another. Add the whole milk and beat until combined, followed by adding the flour mixture in three additions.

  5. Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake in the oven for 18-24 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Allow cake to cool completely before moving on to the next step.

  6. In a large bowl, ideally one with a spout, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and rum (if using). Using a toothpick or a fork, poke holes all over the cake including the edges, and pour the liquid milk mixture on top. Refrigerate the cake for at least a couple of hours, but if time allows, refrigerate overnight. The more time the cake sits, the more time for the cake to absorb the liquid.

  7. After refrigerating, make the whipped cream topping. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat together the heavy cream (2 cups) and sugar (2 tbsp.) until soft peaks form. Spread evenly over the cake, top with maraschino cherries and/or sprinkles, and enjoy!