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Classic Vanilla Tres Leches Cake

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Serves 12 to 16

  • by Fany Gerson from Fine Cooking
    Issue 117

This is the ultimate summer party cake, and its simplicity lends itself well to many variations and ways of dressing it up. For a few ideas, see the Cafe Con Leche, Coconut, Chocolate, and Boozy Berry versions.

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 12-oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Pinch kosher salt
For the topping:
  • 2-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
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, 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, beat the heavy cream 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 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

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 370; Fat (g): 22; Fat Calories (kcal): 200; Saturated Fat (g): 13; Protein (g): 7; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 7; Carbohydrates (g): 37; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1; Sodium (mg): 160; Cholesterol (mg): 135; Fiber (g): 0;

Photo: Scott Phillips

I have made this cake at least 5 times for potluck events. It is ALWAYS a huge hit with everyone of all ages. The flavor, the texture,and the appearance are all excellent. It's my "go-to" dessert recipe right now.

Unexpectedly delicious! At first I looked at this recipe askance, but it turned out great. Scrumptious is the word to describe it. I topped the vanilla cake with plain sliced strawberries, to add a bit of color and it worked great. And it holds up well as leftovers for the second day - the whipped cream doesn't sweat or deflate at all. Definitely something to try.

Served this last night for my ladies curling team and got rave reviews. I served it with strawberries soaked with Grand Marnier. I will definitely make this again especially next summer when all the fresh local berries are available.

This makes a perfect Tres Leches cake. My family loved it!

Absolutely fantastic. I made the classic version this time and it was inhaled by a group of women that usually just pick at goodies. The cake holds the liquid beautifully so it's very moist but not dripping all over the place. We all loved it. You can read my full review here: http://bit.ly/O7uVD2

This is an awesome dessert! Made the cake and soaked in sweet milk the night before and topped it just before serving. Topped it with fresh rasberries and strawberries, delicious combo. Awesome reviews by kids and adults.

Not gonna lie, I had fears this cake would be soggy and flavorless. Not the case. I made it for a family dinner and everyone asked for seconds and my husband even declared it one of the top three cakes I've ever made. The only change I made was using 2 cups of heavy cream for the topping, which turned out fine. Thanks for another great recipe, Fine Cooking!

I thought this might be soggy, but it was really delicious-- soft and moist. I made the classic vanilla and topped it with strawberries-- a little fruit complements the rich, soft, creamy cake very well. I needed cakes for two different occasions, so instead of one 9x13, I made two 9" round cakes, which worked perfectly. The cakes rise high and then deflate, making them a beautiful sponge for all that dairy.

Delicious! Holds up very well too. I made the classic vanilla and served with unsweetened strawberries, raspberries and blackberries on top. Everyone loved it and the leftovers were still good for a couple of days. The only criticism is that it made too much whipped cream and I threw some away. I felt like I put quite a lot on top and still had a lot left, just wasteful in my opinion. I will only whip 1 1/2 cups of cream next time.

Easy and delicious.

I made the vanilla version with strawberries on top. This is a very easy recipe and was a big hit with everyone! I will make this cake again and again!

A dear coworker who loves coconut gave her notice that she was taking a new job. I was tempted to throw a pity party for myself, but I put my big girl panties on and organized a potluck for Robin in celebration of her advancement. The coconut version of this cake was a HUGE hit with everyone; most declared it the best Tres Leches cake they had ever eaten. I will be making this again soon. It would be perfect for a potluck after church!

Delicious and oh so rich! A little goes a long way! I would maybe cut down the amount of whipped cream on top, next time. Really enjoyed the subtle coffee flavor. Can't wait to try the coconut version! This is the perfect summer pot-luck dessert. The portions should be small because of the richness so it will feed a lot of people. Enjoy!

Easy and delicious. A perfect make ahead dessert. It's nice for the summer since the cake is served chilled.

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