Anyone who’s been to Latin America, will know how much the people LOVE their cake. Throughout Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, we were amazed at how many cake shops or panaderias lined the streets, and how integral sweets are to South American food.
In Argentina dulce de leche cakes and ice cream ruled the desserts; in Bolivia, cakes were decorated as art with sickly sweet icing; and in Peru, the smell of warm sugary and doughy churros would fill the market streets.
Yet one cake was prominent throughout all three countries: Tres Leches cake.
Tres Leches cake, or “three milks” cake is typically Latin American, with a Spanish European influence. It’s a light and fluffy cake, egg-rich and heavy with sweet milky flavour. Yet there are different variations of the cake.
In Mexico, you are likely to find the cake served like a pudding; moist, stodgy and soaking in a sweet milky sauce (only eaten with a fork!). Whilst the Tres Leches we came across in Bolivia and Peru, were more like normal cakes, not necessarily dripping in the sweet sugary syrup, but still full of the flavour and texture. For example the cakes picture below, sampled in Huancayo, Peru, were delicious.
Just looking at the photo makes me salivate. I decided I wanted to recreate this delicious sweet and sickly treat. Yet with so many different recipes online, and different measurements, it was going to be a challenge.
An added obstacle for us Brits, is that the Tres Leches recipes available on the web are al from the US. This meant struggling to work out how much a “cup” of flour was, in relations to a “cup” of milk! There’s a whole encyclopedia of unit conversions online, but eventually, I took a risk with my own calculations and gave it a shot.
Sadly, I have to admit right here, right now, that it didn’t go to plan. I’ll explain why, but you should please note that I’ve swallowed my pride, and have published my failed attempt. I would appreciate it if you would take it as a gesture of my honesty. Here’s what happened…
My Unconventional Tres Leches Cake
- 180g flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 6 eggs (separated)
- 130ml whole milk
- 225g sugar
- 1tsp vanilla essence
For the syrup:
- ¼ can of evaporated milk
- 130ml condensed milk
- 85ml cream
I started by sifting the flour and baking powder together, to make sure the mixture is fine. I then took the egg yolks and whisked them together with sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Leaving that to the side, I then whipped the whites until stiff. This is used for maximum leavening of the cake mixture. I gently folded the whites into the mixture, bit by bit, making sure the mixture stays fluffy and light. I then poured the mixture into a greased baking dish and baked for 30-40 minutes at 160°C.
It was only once the cake had been baking for 15 minutes, that I realised why I had that horrible “what have I forgotten?” feeling. BUTTER. I looked on the counter, then at the recipe that I had a compiled from the web. No butter. No oil. I double checked online, and the recipe I had followed, had not actually included butter. I was sceptical…
Well, aside from the cake sinking in the middle for some reason, the outer edges also had a distinctly bready texture. Not happy.
Still, I continued with what I had, making the syrup by mixing all the ingredients together. I left the cake in a deep dish, and poured the mixture over the cake, leaving it to soak for an hour or so.
Originally I had planned to ice the cake with yet more cream, but decided that due to my failure already, I would leave it be. To be honest, despite the fact that it really wasn’t the Tres Leches Cake I had planned or hoped for, my strange Tres Leches butterless version, was still demolished by my family. I guess the rich creamy syrup saved it.
So there you have it – my Unconventional Tres Leches Cake. Sure, it doesn’t look as appetising, and may have been a bit dry round the edges, but come on, I’m a self taught baker and cook: these things were bound to happen! I must admit it was an anti-climax, after so much promise. But I will pick myself up and bake again. I will review the recipe and rise above my mistakes (unlike the cake).
Until then, Brits, a little advice: do not try to decipher US “cup” measurements…