Day 534265 of quarantine… Spring has made a temporary detour bringing snow to many parts of Michigan. There’s a running joke among Michiganders that there’s always a “fake spring,” then third winter about this time of year. Mother Nature certainly can be fickle when all we want to do is spend some time in the sunshine! Something certainly not fickle is this coconut tres leches cake aka “three milks cake,” a request from my husband for Easter this year.
The tres leches cake is simply a chiffon sponge cake that has been soaked in a “milk syrup” or a “sweet cream sauce” traditionally made from three milks: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream, hence the name. My coconut version starts with the classic then swaps out the heavy cream for flavor-filled coconut milk for a taste of the tropics. It’s sweet, creamy, coconutty and sooo good.
This coconut tres leches cake is simple to make and is topped with a cloud of easy peasy whipped cream “frosting” that’s great for kids to help out with, minus the rum of course, and a perfect compliment for a spring or summer get together (once social distancing comes to an end). The versatile cake base is a chiffon sponge with a touch of coconut and vanilla that would make a wonderful cake on its own topped with whipped cream and strawberries or perhaps a Swiss meringue buttercream.
History of the Tres Leches Cake
From what I can tell, the history of the tres leches cake is a bit unclear. While it is now popular across Central and South America, the recipe first appeared in print on the back of a Nestle Evaporated Milk can in the 1960s in Latin America to help promote the product and bolster sales. Both evaporated milk and condensed milk became a staple in pantries across North America due to their long shelf life and not being needed to be refrigerated, and it’s no surprise that they would become commonplace in dessert recipes.
Where to find it
Hit up your local Latin bakery stat! Most have some delicious version of coconut tres leches cake, like chocolate, caramel and of course, the original. While you’re there, be sure to sample a few of their other treats. Churros and flan are some of my faves!Print
The tres leches cake is simply a chiffon sponge cake that has been soaked in a “milk syrup” or a “sweet cream sauce” traditionally made from three milks: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream, hence the name. My version starts with the classic then swaps out the heavy cream for flavor-filled coconut milk for a taste of the tropics. It’s sweet, creamy, coconutty and sooo good.
FOR THE CAKE:
- 5 eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 1–1/4 cups (250g) plus 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (use 1/2 tablespoon if not using vanilla bean)
- 1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups (195g) flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (152g) unsweetened coconut cream
FOR THE TRES LECHES:
- 1 cup (228g) full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 (14-oz) can (375ml) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12-oz) can (350ml) evaporated milk
- 1/3 cup (78ml) dark rum
FOR THE TOPPING:
- 2 cups (473ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup (30g) confectioners sugar
- 1/2 cup (50g) toasted coconut
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×9 or 9×13″ baking pan (I used 9×9 because I wanted a thicker cake).
- In a stand mixer or large bowl and a hand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and 1-1/4 cup (250g) of the sugar on high until light yellow in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Scrape the beans from the vanilla pod and add to the sugar mixture along with the vanilla extract and coconut cream, blending until combined.
- In a separate large bowl, sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing until combined.
- Add the flour mixture into the egg yolks and sugar blending on low until just combined, being careful not to overmix, about 1 minute.
- Transfer batter to a large bowl and set aside.
- In a clean and completely dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
- Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until the egg whites form stiff peaks.
- Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and mix by hand until incorporated. Add the second 1/3 and continue to fold in gently, then add the remaining 1/3 of egg whites, folding in even more gently until there are no streaks remaining, being very careful to not over mix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden, the cake springs back when touched or a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Set aside in pan to let cool.
- While the cake is cooling, prepare the Tres Leches liquid by whisking together the coconut milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk, and dark rum, strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any lumps from the coconut milk.
- When the cake is cooled to room temperature, use the blunt end of a thick skewer to poke holes over the entire surface of the cake.
- Slowly pour the milk mixture over the cake evenly until absorbed, making sure to thoroughly soak the edges.
- Tightly cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
- When ready to serve, whip the heavy cream with confectioners sugar for 3-5 minutes until stiff peaks are formed and spread evenly over the cake.
- In a small fry pan, lightly toast the coconut until fragrant and light brown in color.
- Top the cake with shredded coconut and enjoy!
Cake must be kept refrigerated and will keep for up to 3 days.