What's for Dessert: Tres Leches Cake

What's for Dessert: Tres Leches Cake
By The Cooking World, Editorial Staff
January 30, 2023

Whipped Cream Tres Leches Cake

We are back with our We Cook Books Series! Today we bring you a fantastic Tres Leches Cake from the newest book from Claire Saffitz — What's for Dessert.

Tres Leches Cake is a delicious and moist sponge cake originating in Latin America. Made with three types of milk - evaporated, condensed, and whole - this cake is soaked in a rich and creamy mixture, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth dessert experience.

Claire changed things a bit in this recipe by substituting the evaporated milk for heavy cream. Either way, this recipe is a must-try if you're looking to impress guests at a dinner party or satisfy your sweet tooth.

1 hour and 15 minutes
30 to 35


For the Whipped Cream Hazelnut Sponge

Neutral oil for the pan
57 g (½ cup) blanched hazelnuts
300 g (1¼  cups) heavy cream, chilled
8 g (2 teaspoons) vanilla extract
270 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
8 g (2 teaspoons) baking powder
3 g (1 teaspoon) Diamond Crystal kosher salt or ½ teaspoon Morton kosher salt
2 g (¾ teaspoon) ground cinnamon
7 large eggs (350 g), at room temperature
200 g (1 cup) sugar

Soak and Assembly

480 g (2 cups) whole milk
298 g (1 cup) sweetened condensed milk
4 g (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt
960 g (4 cups) heavy cream, chilled, divided
Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling

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  1. Brush the bottom of a 33 x 22 cm (13 × 9-inch) pan with a thin layer of oil (do not grease the sides). Line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment paper, cut to fit (don't extend it up the sides), and smooth to eliminate air bubbles. Brush the parchment with more oil and set the pan aside.
  2. Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 160 ºC (325 °F).
  3. Place the hazelnuts on a small sheet pan and toast until they're golden brown and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. Let the hazelnuts cool completely on the sheet pan, then transfer them to a cutting board and chop as finely as possible (there will be a mix of some larger pieces and dusty bits, which is fine). If you have a food processor, you can pulse the nuts until they're finely ground, but a knife and a little patience are all you need. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the chopped hazelnuts for sprinkling over the finished cake, then set aside the remaining nuts.
  4. In a medium bowl, with a hand mixer, whip the cream and vanilla on medium-low speed to start and gradually increase the speed to medium-high as the cream thickens, until you have medium peak. Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator while you assemble the sponge.
  5. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon until combined. Set aside.
  6. In a large bowl with the hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-low speed until the eggs are broken up, then increase the speed to high and continue to beat until the mixture is pale and mousse-y and forms a slowly dissolving ribbon as it falls off the beaters back into the bowl, about 6 minutes.
  7. Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift about one-third of the dry ingredients over the egg mixture, then mix on low speed with the hand mixer just until it's incorporated. Sift in the remaining dry ingredients in two additions, mixing after each addition just until combined. Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator and scrape it into the bowl with the egg mixture. Add the chopped hazelnuts (not including the 2 tablespoons you set aside for topping the cake) and fold with a flexible spatula just until the cream and nuts are incorporated and you have a thick, airy batter..
  8. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth it into an even layer. Bake until the surface of the sponge is risen, golden brown, and springy to the touch, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan front to back after 20 minutes. When the cake is done, immediately remove it from the oven and invert the pan onto a wire rack. Let the cake cool upside down (still in the pan) until the bottom of the pan is completely cool to the touch (cooling upside down prevents the sponge from sinking).
  9. In a medium bowl or any 1.2 L (5-cup) vessel with a pour spout, whisk the whole milk, sweetened condensed milk. vanilla, salt, and 480 g (2 cups) of the heavy cream until combined. Turn the pan right-side up and use a toothpick or skewer to poke dozens of holes across the cooled sponge, pressing down to the bottom of the pan. Slowly pour the soak all over the cake. If it starts to pool on the surface, stop pouring and wait for it to absorb before continuing. It will seem like an excessive amount of soak, but use it all. Cover the pan and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to allow the cake to evenly absorb the milks.
  10. Just before serving, in a large bowl, with the hand mixer, whip the remaining 480 g (2 cups) cream on medium-low speed to start and gradually increase the speed to medium-high as it thickens, until you have a softly whipped cream that holds a droopy peak. Set it aside.
  11. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and use a paring knife or small offset spatula to cut around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto a cutting board or serving platter and tap sharply on the counter to help release it from the pan — it might take a few moments to release, but gravity will eventually do its job. Carefully remove the pan and peel away the parchment paper. A bit of the soak will pool on the board or serving platter, which is normal.
  12. Scrape the whipped cream onto the surface of the sponge (the bottom is now the top) and spread it all the way to the edges, making large swooshes with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the reserved 2 tablespoons of hazelnuts over the cake and dust with several pinches of cinnamon. Out into squares and serve.
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