Tres Leches with Toasted Meringue
I’m starting off 2020 with one of the best cakes of all time: tres leches. I’m not gonna even say it’s arguably one of the best, because it just IS one of the best. Light, airy sponge cake made decadent by soaking it with THREE kinds of milk.
Despite all the dairy, it still manages to be refreshing to the palette just like having a spoon of ice-cold cereal in the morning. Don’t even think of letting this come up to room temp; you just HAVE to keep it chilled and eat it that way as well.
I made this cake for my cousin’s birthday who doesn’t really care for decorated, fancy cakes nor does he care for fruit on them either…much to my disappointment.
So instead I topped the cake off with a toasted Swiss meringue instead of the usual sweetened whip cream. The fluffy marshmallow-like texture actually went really well with the milk-soaked sponge cake.
When my cousin saw it, he said I didn’t have to get fancy with it, not knowing that this was me toning it down; apparently, he would’ve been fine if I had just crumbled KitKats on top…the guy is an enigma I tell you.
Making this cake is a pretty stress-free process! Even more so if you decided to top this off with whip cream instead of meringue. The hardest part I would say is whipping the egg yolks and the egg whites with enough air – but don’t worry, I’ll try my best to describe how the texture should look, as well as provide a visual reference in my story highlight on my Instagram @pokethedough
Makes a 9×13 cake
For the sponge cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 large eggs
1 cup sugar, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 cups
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole milk
For the milk syrup:
12 oz evaporated milk (1 can)
9 oz sweetened condensed milk (2/3 of a 14 oz can)
1 cup whole milk*
1/2 cup heavy cream*
*Yes this is technically 4 milks instead of 3 but because different recipes use either whole milk, heavy cream, or a combo of both, I made this to my preference. I like my cake almost puddling milk on the bottom – if you know you like it with less milk, I would adjust the amount of whole milk, or omit the whole milk all-together and just use the 1/2 cup of heavy cream. I’ve seen recipes with just a 1/3 cup of heavy cream so I know it’ll be fine that way. The result from that would still be a moist and ever-so-slightly soaked cake – think tres leches level of soaking. Personally, I prefer my tres leches veering more towards absolutely soaked and full of milk, but again, go with your preferences.
For the Swiss meringue topping:
1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large eggs)
1 cup sugar
Sponge Cake Base:
Preheat the oven to 350 °F and butter a 9×13 casserole pan. Set up three mixing bowls.
In a large bowl, sift together 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 salt. Separate egg whites and yolks into the other two bowls.
Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer on high speed, until yolks are thick, pale yellow, and almost doubled in size (2 minutes). Stir in 1/3 cup milk and 1 tsp vanilla.
Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form (1 minute). Beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in increments on high speed until egg whites are opaque and stiff (when you lift up your beater, the peaks should stand up straight) but not dry and crumbly (1 minute).
Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and combine gently with a spatula.
Gently fold in egg white mixture with the spatula until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface and bake at 350˚F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
In a large measuring cup or bowl, whisk together one 12 oz can of evaporated milk, 9 oz condensed milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and 1 cup whole milk.
When the cake is cool, pierce the surface all over with a fork. Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the cake.
Let it sit overnight, or at least 3 hours, in the fridge.
Swiss Meringue Topping:
Begin this process when the cake is properly soaked and chilled.
Whisk together 1/2 cup egg whites and 1 cup of sugar in a heatproof bowl.
Over a double boiler (place bowl over a pot of 2-inch simmering water), keep whisking the mixture until the texture is thinned out and the sugar is completely dissolved.
Transfer mixture to a stand mixer. Whisk on high until stiff peaks form (make sure the bowl is clean and there are no traces of egg yolks; fat and oils keep the egg whites from whipping up properly).
When you lift up the beater, the top might droop a little, but the full peak should stay in place (see my Instagram story highlight for visual reference).
Spread the meringue over the chilled cake and swirl it around to make it look pretty. Brown the top to your preference with a kitchen torch.
Serve immediately or keep chilled in the fridge for up to a couple days; the meringue might deflate or seep a little after a day but it’ll still be ok to eat.