Pastel de Tres Leches


 Have you ever had one of those sweet tooth urges that is so overwhelming that it simply MUST be satisfied?  I suspect that that is the case for most of us!  One day last week I preheated the oven to 350°, hoping that that very act would be the springboard for a baker’s inspiration.  Well, unfortunately that wasn’t the case!  I did know, however, that I craved something that was easy to bake, was light and satisfying, did not have chocolate as an ingredient (incredibly surprising since I am an avowed chocoholic)  and sported a minimal number of ingredients.  Somehow I wasn’t in the mood to be too fussy…

After a bit of cookbook and internet browsing I knew a decision had to be made, especially because I was wasting a wonderfully preheated oven!  My thoughts finally centered around a lovely Pastel de Tres Leches.  I had seen several on one of my recent trips to our local Hispanic supermarket, Los Montañas… I was finally inspired!  Little did I realize what a challenge it would be to make the perfect cake that would absorb all of the milks called for in the recipe without it becoming mushy and unappealing.  Without naming names I printed out and compared the recipes of a number of well-known celebrities many of us foodies watch on the Food Network.  I was appalled at what I discovered.  Most of the recipes called for so much sugar they would have been sickeningly sweet… one called for half a pound in the cake alone!  Another famous chef touted the use of cake flour rather than all-purpose flour.  Another miss, I surmised.  This cake was in need of the structure that all-purpose flour would provide.  With a bit of trepidation I moved forward.  The end result was a product that was far from satisfying.  The resulting cake prior to adding the milks was dense and lifeless… there was no spring to it which indicated to us that it would probably end up as a soggy mess.  Not only was it unappetizing the cake was so grainy and dense that there were pockets scattering within that simply had not absorbed any of the milks at all… simply put, it was a disaster and was promptly discarded!

I was now determined more than ever to create the perfect  Pastel de Tres Leches if for no other reason than to show up the celebs… the challenge was on!  In our discussions Dayton and I concluded that each of the recipes we had reviewed did not use enough eggs.  This cake required more than the allotment of three so commonly used by all of the others.  What we needed to create was a sponge cake, rich with eggs that would be whipped and filled with as much air as possible to provide a wonderful structural lift.  A decision was also made to use the folding techniques that are an integral part of successful angel food cake baking.  The result… a gloriously delicate cake, fully saturated with the three milks, yet maintaining an eye and palate-pleasing structure when transferred to dessert plates for service.  This Pastel de Tres Leches is subtle in its sweetness and, because of that, showcases the flavors of the milks in an exquisite way.  Food Network, you can have your cake and eat it too… I’m not interested or impressed.  You’ll not find a more exquisite Pastel de Tres Leches than this!

Pastel de Tres Leches

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Carefully line a 9″ X 13″ baking pan with aluminum foil, carefully folding and creasing the edges to prevent any tears in the foil.

Baker’s Note:  We chose to line the pan with foil in order to allow the cake to be readily removed from the pan following the addition of the milks, rather than removing the cake from the pan and then attempting to completely saturate the cake with liquid.  If the cake is first removed from the pan is is nearly impossible to adequately saturate the edges of the cake.  Admittedly, it takes a bit of time and patience to line the baking pan with foil but the end result is a perfectly saturated cake throughout, edges included!

Spray the sides and bottom of the foil-lined pan with cooking spray and dust with all-purpose flour:

Place in the bowl of a food processor:

  • 1 C granulated sugar

Process for 1 minute to create a super fine powder.  Set to the side.


  • 9 whole eggs, room temperature

Place the whites in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk.  Add:

  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Whisk on medium-low speed until the whites have begun to break down and are frothy:

Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until the whites have reached the soft peak stage (when the whisk is lifted the peaks of the egg whites will gently fall over).  Increase the speed of the mixer to high and slowly add:

  • the 1 cup of super fine sugar

Continue beating until the whites are stiff and glossy.  Using a clean rubber spatula transfer the whites to a large stainless steel bowl:

Quickly wash, rinse and dry the mixing bowl and whisk.  To the mixing bowl add:

  • the reserved 9 egg yolks

Beat on high speed for 6 minutes.  The yolks will be almost cream colored in appearance, as well as creamy and puffy with increased volume.  Add:

  • 1 T vanilla extract

Continue beating for an additional minute.  Gently pour the egg yolk mixture over the whites:

Using the spatula, gently begin folding the mixture together… fold only to the point that white and yellow streaks are still obviously visible in the batter:

Do not overfold or air volume will be lost!  Place in a sifter:

  • 2 C all-purpose flour

Sift the flour in three separate additions over the batter, gently folding to incorporate after each flour addition:

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan:

Place in the preheated 350° oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  The cake will be lightly tanned in appearance and feel light and springy to the touch:

Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes.  While it is cooling place in the bowl of a blender:

  • 1 C heavy whipping cream
  • 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 C marsala

Blend on high for 45 seconds to 1 minute.  Set to the side.  Using a fork poke many holes over the surface of the cake, including close to the edges, to allow the milk sauce to easily penetrate the cake:

Pour all of the liquid across the top of the cake.  It may seem like an excessive amount… but trust me on this one.  The finished cake will be perfection!  When most of the milk has penetrated the cake, cover the pan with foil, place in the refrigerator and refrigerate overnight… no shortcuts allowed here!

Prior to service remove the chilled cake from the refrigerator, place a serving platter on top then invert them together:

Lift off the baking pan and gently remove the foil to reveal the cake:

To the bowl of your mixer fitted with a whisk add:

  • 2 C heavy whipping cream, well-chilled

Whip on medium-high speed until the cream begins to thicken. Add:

  • 1/4 C confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Continue whipping until the cream holds stiff peaks.  Using an offset spatula frost the top and all sides of the cake with whipped cream.  This cake can be served immediately or refrigerated for service at a later time.  One bite of this delectable dessert will be cause for serious addiction!  Eating a slice of this Pastel de Tres Leches is akin to enjoying a sensuous moist fluffy cloud… a true slice of heaven.  Bon Appetit!

©2011 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved


Categories: Cakes, Dairy, Desserts

Author:Steve Meyer & Dayton Azevedo

Food and fine cooking have been our passion for many years, fueled by the year-around abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats, as well as aromatic spices and herbs readily available to us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, making adventuresome, creative and delicious 5-star cooking a reality in our kitchen. Our aim is to make it yours as well by utilizing our step by step instructions and serial photographs. Bon Appetit from our kitchen to yours...!


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