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Cafe Con Tres Leches Cake (Coffee Tres Leches Cake)

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Serves 12 to 16

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 117

This coffee-spiked dessert tastes like a delicious cross between classic Mexican tres leches cake and tiramisu.

For the cake:
  • Unsalted butter, softened, for the pan
  • 4-1/2 oz. (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
For the soaking liquid:
  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
  • Pinch kosher salt
For the topping:
  • 1 tsp. instant coffee
  • 2-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Chocolate curls or toasted slivered almonds, for garnish
Bake the cake:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch Pyrex baking dish or a nonreactive metal pan. Line the bottom of the baking dish or pan with parchment and lightly butter the parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a medium bowl and the yolks in a large bowl. With an electric mixer, beat the yolks with 3/4 cup of the sugar on medium speed until the mixture is pale and creamy, about 2 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 1/4 cup sugar in a stream, continuing to beat on high, until you reach firm but not dry peaks, 1 to 2 minutes more. Whisk a third of the dry ingredients into the yolk mixture until thoroughly combined. Gently fold in a third of the egg whites with a rubber spatula. Fold in the remaining dry ingredients and egg whites, alternately, in two more batches each, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared dish or pan and bake 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 (the cake will soak up more of the liquid if returned to the pan it was baked in), or invert it onto a rimmed platter.

Soak the cake:

In a 2 quart saucepan, stir together the condensed milk, evaporated milk, heavy cream, coffee, and salt until the condensed milk is well blended. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring to avoid scorching, until it begins to bubble around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and 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.

Top the cake:

In a large bowl, stir the instant coffee into 2 Tbs. of the heavy cream until dissolved. Add the remaining cream and beat with an electric mixer 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, sprinkle the chocolate curls or almonds over the top, and serve.

Make Ahead Tips

You can soak the cake in the milk mixture up to a day ahead and top it up to 2 hours ahead.

Photo: Scott Phillips

Awesome cake. A few suggestions: -20 minutes bake time is plenty, it will begin to burn at 25. -When the cake was hot out of the oven, I accidentally flipped it onto a rack without a cover and when it cooled it formed a grid of depressions in the top of the cake. These channels helped guide the soaking liquid evenly and keep the slices even. Despite being an accident, it was extremely helpful. -For the whipped cream, I highly advise against instant coffee, it tastes pretty bad. Add in maybe 1/2 cup of real coffee and whip it well with all the cream while adding the sugar and vanilla. -As a garnish, since I'm too lazy for chocolate curls, I used a zester to shave bits of Baker's chocolate off, then mixed them with finely ground coffee beans and sprinkled that on top. It still looked attractive, and the slightly bitter, dry kick of the ground coffee complemented the intense sweet moistness of the cake. Overall, the recipe was a huge hit and we ate it all within the day, then used the leftover coffee whipped cream as strawberry dip!

I should note that my cake soaked for ~36 hours and I didn't measure exactly how much of the tres leches liquid I poured over it (could have been less than the 4 cups that were called for). I also added a splash (or two) of Amaretto Liquor which I thought was a GREAT addition. For whatever reason, my cake started to get way too brown on the top long before it was finished baking so I had to drop the temperature 200 degrees and cook it much longer. Ultimately though, it turned out perfect. I made it for a Mexican themed potluck at my office and everyone could not stop raving about it. Two separate people described it as a "home run" and even a coworker who lived in Mexico for several years said it was perfect. I found it to be a great dessert for a crowd because it's not overly sweet so it's tasty for a wide variety of pallets. Seriously, this cake made me the star of our luncheon! Would definitely recommend.

This is a wonderful version of tres leches cake. I made it at Christmas and all 13 guests raved. I cut back on the coffee and used Kahula for the rest of the measure. This will be my go-to recipe for the future.

This cake is a keeper for sure! Very rich & delicious. I wouldn't change a thing about it either so it's a well-tested recipe. Thanks FC :)

This was amazing! The subtle flavor of coffee was a perfect enhancement for the classic tres leches. It was easy to make and it was absolutely delicious, but evil! I don't want to know how much fat and calories is in this, but it is soooooooooooooooooo delicious!

I made this for our Cinco de Mayo party and it was incredible. I made it exactly as written. I baked and soaked the cake about 20 hours ahead and then put the whipped cream on the top about 4 hours ahead. I was worried about soaking it for that long but it was perfect, we even enjoyed it the next night. Great flavors and very impressive to guests, but was really quite straight forward to make and easy to make ahead.

Delicious! I was under the gun to make dessert for our Cinco de Mayo dinner. I managed to make it, bake it, let it cool, soak it, and then chill it and frost in just over 3 hours. It was a HUGE hit. I had to make a few minor changes based on what I had on hand. I used whole milk instead of cream for the soaking cream & instant espresso powder for the whipped cream instead of regular coffee. I only had 2 cups of heavy cream to whip for the topping, but it still came out rich and creamy and had a nice subtle coffee flavor. I don't even want to guess how many calories this comes out to but I would gladly spend an hour on the treadmill for a slice of this heavenly concoction.

I have yet to make this cake but want to know if it can be frozen? It sounds wonderful.

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