Jan 18, 2010

Torta de las Tres Leches

I blogged about this cake on May 29, 2009, so I had crossed it off my list of cakes-still-to-be-baked. But Hanaâ wanted to bake it for her husband's birthday, and who am I to interfere with a birthday celebration? So I asked her to be the guest blogger for today. And--here's Hanaâ....

Hi everyone, it's me, Hanaâ. This week's recipe, Torta de las Tres Leches, was picked by yours truly. Yay! I chose to make this cake for my husband's birthday. And since Marie already made this cake before, I'm your guest host for this week :o)

A little history lesson... Although nobody knows for sure where this recipe originated from, it's thought to be somewhere south of our border. The Leches Leches cake, which stands for "3-milk cake", is a sponge or butter cake, soaked with a milk mixture, usually containing 3 types of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream. In some instances, sweetened condensed milk is replaced with Dulce de Leche, which is caramelized sweetened condensed milk. I have done this before and that's really good too.

Rose's version of this cake uses a sponge cake and 4 types of milk: sweetened condensed milk, cream, skim and whole milk. The latter is cooked until reduced by half. I "cheated" and used 2 1/2 cups of evaporated milk instead.

About 30 seconds after removing the pan from the heat; not much volume and still pretty yellow

About halfway through the beating; at least doubled in volume and paler in color.

After 5 minutes; close to quadrupled in volume and very pale. Ready for the flour.

Poured the batter into my makeshift 3" pan and baked for 30 minutes, with convection turned OFF.

The sponge cake was easy to put together: heat up eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla au-bain-marie, and followed by a good beating in the stand mixer until quadrupled in volume. Gently fold in the flour and you're done. Since the sugar dissolves into the warm eggs anyway, I used regular granulated sugar, whereas normally I would have used the food processor to make superfine sugar.

Here's the baked sponge cake; nicely domed in the middle with a couple cracks.

I don't have a 9" x 3" round pan so I used my 9" x 2.5" spring form pan with a parchment paper collar. This worked very well too. I probably could have omitted the collar altogether because the cake didn't rise above the pan on the sides, like it did in the middle.

Removed the top crust but preserved the hump in the middle

While the cake is cooling, I prepared the milk mixture and then sat it in the fridge. After the cake is completely cooled, I removed the top crust. Normally I would have used my cake leveler for that but Rose specifically says to leave the hump in the middle. So I used a serrated knife instead. This brought back memories from when I sculpted two Bundt cakes into a volcano :o) Nothing goes to waste in this house (not often anyway) because I hate wasting food. I tasted the crust and it reminded me of lady fingers. Yum! I poured some Tres Leches over it and voila, there's your mini-torta!

The cake is ready for its milk bath

Nice and slow otherwise it'll end up in the gap between the pan and the cake.

After lining my 9" spring form pan with plastic wrap and putting the cake back in it, I slowly poured the milk mixture on the cake. This was the thirstiest cake I had ever seen. I could have easily poured in another 2-3 cups of milk, it seemed. Into the fridge it goes for an overnight rest before frosting it.

Instead of plain whipped cream, I made caramel whipped cream. Now don't get me wrong, I love sweetened whipped cream, but this is a birthday cake after all and I wanted it to be extra-special. To make caramel whipped cream, you start out by making a dry caramel. This means put sugar in a pan with a heavy bottom on low-medium heat, and wait until the sugar melts and caramelizes. The first 10-15 minutes is like watching paint dry. No change whatsoever. After that it goes pretty quick. After it's amber colored, you add cream at which point some of the caramel will seize and consequently harden, so you return the pan to the heat and re-melt it. Refrigerate overnight, then whip into luscious caramel-flavor whipped cream the next day and frost your cake of choice with it.

Ta-dah! The rose and leaf decorations are Caramel Panna Cotta which is cooked cream/milk/sugar + kosher gelatin.

After taking the cake out of the pan using the bottom of my 11" tart pan, I frosted only the top of the cake. There was too much milk oozing from the bottom. I contemplated using a straw to drink it (obviously the cake had more than it needed so I wasn't "stealing" it)... but I didn't. In any case, I feared that frosting applied to the sides would slide off the cake so I abstained. For next time, I think I will use less milk.

As you can see, there is quite a puddle of milk surrounding the cake. I need to find a straw!

A slice of milky goodness. Bon appetit!

Final thoughts/tips:
  • Hubby and I both liked the cake. The caramel whipped cream gave it a another dimension of milky-ness. We didn't feel it was overly sweet. The cake is not soggy at all. It's pretty sturdy when you cut it into it, but still melts in your mouth.
  • For a change of pace, you could try substituting Dulce de Leche for the sweetened condensed milk. Especially if you like caramel flavor.
  • The sponge cake is so good that I will use it to make other desserts as well.
  • The roses and leaves I used on the cake for decoration are Caramel Panna Cotta poured into candy molds, left to firm up in the fridge overnight. I got the recipe for the Panna Cotta from my dear friend Jane. Thanks Jane! :o)


lanier said...

Beautiful! I love the decorations, I've never heard of doing that, great idea!

Melinda said...

Pretty cake. I like the idea of the panna cotta decorations too. Really good idea! I personally don't like fondant icing in decorations but LOVE
panna cotta. Lovely post Hanaa.

Mendy said...


The Caramel Whipped Cream sounds great!

Lois B said...

What a beautiful cake! I applaud your ingenuity in creating a 3" pan! I'll have to remember that trick. :)

Marie said...

It's perfect! The panna cotta decorations are ingenious, and the caramel whipped cream sounds delicious (but a little tricky?). And thanks for giving me a day off.

Hanaâ said...

@lanier: Thanks! Me neither but when the idea popped in my head, it sounded pretty good :o)

@Melinda: Thank you. This was my first time making and eating panna cotta. It’s pretty rich so the small roses and leaves were the perfect size.

@Mendy: Thanks Mendy. Try it sometime. I can send you the recipe. There are only 3 ingredients: cream, sugar, and LOTS of patience :o)

@Lois B: Thanks! I can’t take credit for that. Rose has recommended it in a different recipe, so I “borrowed” her idea :o)

@Marie: Thanks for the opportunity, Marie. Would love to do it again sometime! As I just told Mendy, you need a lot of patience with the caramel whipped cream, but it’s definitely doable. The taste is amazing.

gartblue said...

omg! that's the best looking tres leches cake ever! gosh .. you put me to shame by just slathering the whipped cream ..

and you're right .. milky-delight!

Kathleen said...


This is a very beautiful cake, worthy of a birthday. Congratulations!

doughadear said...

Your cake is lovely and the decoration is beautifully done.

Hanaâ said...

@GartBlue: I’m glad Rose and I convinced you to make it :o) Looks like it was a big hit with the adults (not so much with the kids, huh?!).

@Kathleen: Thank you. The birthday “boy” enjoyed a big slice yesterday :o)

@Doughadear: Thanks! I had fun decorating it :o)

Jenn said...

Happy Birthday to your husband. And great job! It's a very beautiful cake. I love love love the decoration! Never seen or heard panna cotta used this way. Genius!

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Fantastic job Hanaa - I love the way you decorated the cake. Your piping is stunning, and the panna cotta accents are perfect! I look forward to trying your caramel whipped cream some time.


evil cake lady said...

Great guest post, Hanaa! Your piping is beautiful, the panna cotta decorations ingenious! Happy birthday to your husband!

Anonymous said...

For Mendy:


Anonymous said...

Monica, where can we find your recipe for tres leches?

Woody said...

Hi all,
All of your renditions look wonderful and virtually all of you loved it.
This was one of the first cakes that Rose had me test back in 2005 and pre-camera test reporting days. She may have had me make it as there is large Latino population in Minnesota. I bought slices from two Latino bakeries, since I had no idea what this cake was. Rose's version of Mary Sue Milliken's recipe tasted better than the two Latino versions.
If you have any leftover cake, you may want to compares yours to a Latino bakery or deli Torta de las Tres Leche

Vicki said...

It's gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
This is one of the prettiest designs on a cake I've seen in a long time. Simple and elegant.

Hanaâ said...

@Jenn: Thank you!! The panna cotta decoration was a successful experiment :o)

@ButterYum: Thanks Patricia! I appreciate the compliment. As for the caramel whipped cream, it’s easy: ½ cup of sugar, 2 cups of heavy cream.

@ECL: Thanks! I’m sure hubby will feel extra special after all of your happy birthday wishes :o)

@Woody: I had made America’s Test Kitchen’s versions many times and loved it. We like Rose’s version just as much. Will have to remember to try a slice from the Latino bakery at the Midtown Global Market next time I’m there.

@Vicki: Thank you so much! I was debating how to decorate it up to 5 minutes before actually doing it. So many options but I went with “simple and elegant” as you put it. I also didn’t want the cake to be “too girly”, ha ha.

NancyB said...

Beautiful cake, Hanaâ!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if Woody knows why Rose decided to evaporate her own milk?

Jenn said...

Marie - I love the free choice option on the 22nd! It would be fun to see what people choose. I hope everyone explains why they choose what they'll bake.

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

I'm so sorry that I didn't like this cake more. Personally, I think I would have liked it much more if there were some vanilla in there somewhere. That would have made all the difference to my tastebuds.


Mendy said...


Hooray! Fairway market in NYC has Seville Oranges. They are also labeled "sour oranges."

Cakesthatrock said...

Love your cake. Please please tell me the recipe. I seen the ingredients but would love to know how much and how long to heat the eggs and sugar, etc.
Thank You.

Alpha Baker Joan said...

Wow Haana - I am just getting ready to bake this and was snooping around for comments - Your cake is luscious! The decorating beautiful. I definitely want to do the caramel whipped cream! Great idea.