Pastel Tres Leches – Three-Milk Cake

A close up of a slice of tres leches cake with layers of milk-soaked cake, raspberries and milk crumbs, more milk soaked cake and a covering of toasted meringue.

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If you don’t think pastel tres leches (Mexican three-milk cake) is the best cake in the world, you just haven’t had it yet. I’ve been told tres leches is finally gaining traction in the US, but in Europe it’s still a sight for sore eyes.

This classic Mexican cake is the cake that will bring the word moist back en vogue. It’s a sloppy wet kiss of a cake and I love it more than any cake in the world.

A close up of the burnt meringue coating the tres leches cake.

White Cube, white cake

The first time I had pastel tres leches was in London. On a rainy terrace in Hoxton Square after a visit to a now-closed gallery. I have never forgotten about this cake, but I haven’t seen it on a menu since. The recipes all seemed quite intimidating for a shit baker like me. So it took me a few years to work up the courage. But work up the courage I did, because this cake is just that good and I have to get my fix in somehow.

The cookbook Mexico The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte with pieces of pastel tres leches on a cake stand off to the side of the image.

Mexico: The Cookbook – Margarita Carrillo Arronte

Color me superficial but I bought Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte because the dust cover is worth the money alone. Luckily it’s also one of the most complete cookbooks on Mexican cooking and I’ve had many a good meal because of it.

On orange plate with a slice of pastel tres leches with milk seeping out of it and a bamboo knife to the front of the image, on a soft pink background.

Raspberries and milk crumbs

Originally this cake is made with strawberries, but I’m a big raspberry fan so I used raspberries. I also thought it’d be fun to try and add a little extra texture to the cake in the shape of milk crumbs from Christina Tosi‘s All About Cake. But you do you.

The cookbook All About Cake by Christina Tosi with an orange plate with a wedge of pastel tres leches in front of it.

On orange plate with a slice of pastel tres leches with milk seeping out of it and a bamboo knife to the front of the image, on a soft pink background.

Pastel tres leches - Mexican Three-Milk Cake

Dorothy Porker
A recipe for the best cake ever: Mexican pastel tres leches, from Mexico: The Cookbook, with the addition of Christina Tosi's milk crumbs (which you can totally skip should you be so inclined).
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Birthdays, Dessert
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 8 - 10 people

Equipment

  • Oven
  • Sheet pan
  • Parchment x2
  • Small bowl
  • Round cake pan ⌀ 11" - 28 cm
  • Large bowl x2
  • Sieve
  • Small bowls x2 to separate eggs
  • Metal serving spoon
  • Food processor or blender
  • Large rimmed plate or cake plateau
  • Heatproof bowl
  • Saucepan that the heatproof bowl can sit on comfortably
  • Handmixer
  • Spatula
  • Blow torch

Ingredients
  

To make the milk crumbs, for added texture (optional)

  • 1/2 c - 40 g milk powder
  • 1/4 c - 40 g flour
  • 2 T - 30 g extra fine sugar
  • 1 T - 15 g corn flour
  • 1/2 t - 2 g salt
  • 4 T - 55 g butter melted - unsalted (or skip the salt above)
  • 1/4 c - 20 g milk powder
  • 3 oz - 90 g white chocolate melted

To make the pastel tres leches

    For the cake

    • butter for greasing the cake pan
    • 2 1/2 c - 275 g flour
    • 1 T - 15 g baking powder
    • 8 large eggs yolks and whites separated
    • 1 1/2 c - 230 g extra fine sugar
    • 1 T - 15 ml vanilla extract
    • 4 T - 60 ml milk
    • 2 c - 240 g strawberries raspberries or other slightly more tangy soft fruits work well too

    For the cream

    • 1 can condensed milk 14 oz - 395 g
    • 1 can evaporated milk 5 oz - 150 ml
    • 1/2 c - 150 ml single cream
    • 3 egg yolks whites set aside for the meringue coating
    • 1-2 T - 15-30 ml brandy I used rum cause that's what I had - if you're feeding kids use 1 T - 15 ml of vanilla essence instead

    For the meringue

    • 3 egg whites set aside from when you made the cream
    • 1/2 c - 100 g extra fine sugar
    • juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 2 T - 30 ml golden (corn) syrup

    Instructions
     

    Make the milk crumbs (optional)

    • Preheat your oven to 120° C - 250° F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
    • In a small bowl, mix all dry the ingredients together except for the 4 T - 55 g of melted butter, 1/4 c - 20 g of milk powder and 3 oz - 90 g of white chocolate.
    • Now add the 4 T - 55 g of melted butter and stir until the mixture comes together in small clumps.
    • Spread the clumps out onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until dry and sandy and leave to cool completely.
    • Once the clusters have cooled completely toss with the remainder of the 1/4 c - 20 g of milk powder.
    • Melt 3 oz - 90 g of white chocolate and toss to coat. If you toss this every 5 minutes or so until dry the milk crumbs should develop a nice even layer of white chocolate.
    • Store in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container until ready to use.

    Now make the pastel tres leches

      First, make the cake

      • Preheat your oven to 180° C - 350° F. Line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment and grease the sides with a little butter.
      • Run 2 1/2 c - 275 g of flour and 1 T - 15 g of baking powder through a sieve into a bowl and set aside.
      • In a separate bowl, whisk 8 egg yolks with 1 1/2 c - 230 g of extra fine sugar and 1 T - 15 ml of vanilla extract until ribbons form.
      • Now, in small portions, gently fold the flour and baking powder mixture through the yolks and sugar, alternating with 4 T - 60 ml of milk.
      • In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gently fold these egg whites into the egg-sugar-flour mixture. This is best achieved in small portions with a metal serving spoon, taking one scoop of fluffy egg whites at a time, folding them in until almost fully incorporated, before folding in the next scoop. You really want to be gentle here so you don't knock the air out.
      • Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

      Make the cream

      • Place all the ingredients for the cream into a food processor or blender and blend until thoroughly mixed. If you are planning to feed kids, please use 1 T - 15 ml of vanilla essence instead of 1-2 T - 15-30 ml of liquor.

      Back to the cake

      • Once a toothpick has come out clean from the center of the cake, remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.*
      • Cut the cake in two layers while it's still warm and slice the outer top crust off the top layer of the cake, this will make for easier soaking (if you zoom in on my photo you'll see the top layer is relatively dry.
      • Place the bottom layer on a rimmed plate or cake plateau (I say rimmed because this cake will leak) and divide 2 c - 450 g of strawberries and the milk bar crumbs (if using) across the bottom layer before placing the top layer of cake back on top.
      • Pour the cream all over the cake, making sure you hit all the areas of the cake. Ideally the cake is still a little warm when you do this.

      Now make the meringue

      • Place the whites of 3 eggs, 1/2 c - 100 g of extra fine sugar, the juice of 1/2 lemon and 2 T - 30 ml of golden (corn) syrup in a heat proof bowl and place on top of pan with barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.
      • Whisk vigorously using a hand mixer until the mixture becomes fluffy. Remove the bowl from the pan and keep going until a meringue forms, this should take 5 minutes or so. It'll still look a little floppy but will hold fine on the sides of the cake.
      • Use a spatula to cover the cake in whatever look you fancy. slapdash, prim and proper, what have you, and burn the meringue with a blowtorch to your desired level of browning. Dig in.

      Notes

      • The milk crumbs will keep for 1 month in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.
      • The cake will keep for 3 days or so in an airtight container in the fridge. 
      * The book says you should 'leave the cake to cool completely' but then later says you should soak in the cream while the cake is still hot, so I'm doing a bit of both. 
      Keyword all about cake, cake, christina tosi, dessert, margarita carrillo arronte, Mexican food, milkbar, tres leches

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