Tres Leches Cake

Tres leches translates into “three milks”, and that’s what makes this nondescript cake so delicious. The three milks are heavy cream, condensed milk and evaporated milk, and this mixture is poured over the light, airy cake that then soaks up the milks overnight. Conceptually, this cake is similar to a tiramisu, where a cake is left to soak up a liquid. The reason why this cake doesn’t get soggy is because it uses a recipe very similar to a sponge cake, which makes use of whipped egg whites.
Sad to say, my own version didn’t turn out quite so airy. I don’t have an electric mixer, and beating egg whites to a soft peak by hand is not easy. (Which reminds me of this mise en place relay race in Top Chef Just Desserts…) Despite the slightly gummy texture, it still tasted good. And I’m going to have to attribute that to the liberal amounts of rum I used. The recipe I used didn’t actually include rum in it, but the tres leches cake that inspired me to make it was from a restaurant called Amor Cubano and I had detected rum in it.

Also, my cake is frosting-less. I figured all that moisture from the milks would be enough to give it good moisture. I did NOT want to whip cream after having to whip egg whites.

Tres Leches Cake
Makes one 9-inch round cake
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup clear rum

Cream topping:

  • 1/2 14-ounce can fat-free evaporated milk
  • 1/2 14-ounce can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half (feel free to use full fat heavy cream for this and non-fat free for everything else)


To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 inch round pan and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat the egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually with the mixer running and peak to stiff peaks. Add the egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after the addition of each.

Sift together the flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk. (Do this quickly so the batter does not lose volume.) Add the vanilla. Bake until golden, 25 minutes.

To make the cream topping: In a blender, combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream and blend on high speed.

Remove the cake from the oven and while still warm, pour the cream mixture over it. Let sit and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Graham Cracker Balls

This is probably one of the easiest things I’ve ever made. It’s made out of graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, condensed milk and shredded coconut: essentially a mix of all the sweet, gooey, and chewy things you can find in the kitchen. Feel free to play around with the proportions and add different kinds of fill-ins or toppings. I put mine in the oven for ten minutes just to get the coconut toasted but you can feel free to skip that step.

Graham Cracker Balls
Makes 25 balls
Adapted from this Taste of Home thread

8 graham cracker sheets
14 tbsp condensed milk
1 cup shredded coconut (I used sweetened)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven at 350 F. Crumble 10 graham crackers very fine. Add condensed milk and chocolate chips. Mix well. Form into balls and roll in shredded coconut. Bake for 10 minutes till coconut is lightly toasted. Remove and let cool on pan. Refrigerate (optional).

Chinese Coconut Cocktail Bun

If you don’t know my baking style by now, I’ll have you know that I am generally very much a fuss-free baker. I don’t accessorize my baked goods much. If I could get away with not frosting a cake, I could – not having an electric mixer really makes the process a lot more labor-intensive. Therefore, my coconut cocktail buns had to deal without having a glossy egg wash too.

Chinese baked buns are generally glazed with an egg wash, and sometimes have a crusty shortening topping too. This one in particular actually has an interesting explanation to its nomenclature. The reason why it’s called a cocktail bun is because its filling was a way for bakers to use up old buns. They would create a blended “cocktail” of old buns, sugar and some shredded coconut and make it into a filling for new buns to sell the next day.

Here’s a cross-section of the bun. Bread is one of those things that’s easy to make but hard to perfect. My bread had a good sweet taste to it, but certainly lacked the fluffiness and “compressability” that bakery buns have. I don’t really know what I did wrong, but dense bread is typically attributed to too much flour and/or not enough kneading. The filling recipe I used also created a more chewy than creamy filling, so if you don’t like the mouth-feel of shredded coconut, feel free to give it a whirl in the food processor. (Which I don’t have! Alas, such is the plight of a college baker.)

Chinese Coconut Cocktail Bun
Bread recipe from Allrecipes; filling recipe from About
Makes 8 buns

1/3 cup white sugar
1 cup milk (I used skim and it turned out okay)
1/4 cup softened butter
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour, or more if needed

Filling (makes enough for 7 buns – be creative with the last bun’s filling!)
1 1/3 cups (325 ml) coconut flakes (I used sweetened angel flake coconut and omitted the sugar)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) hard margarine or butter, melted
1 large egg yolk

1. Place 1/3 cup sugar and milk in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup softened butter, and gently warm the mixture until the butter melts and the mixture is warm but not hot (no warmer than about 100 degrees F (40 degrees C). In a large bowl, stir together the yeast with 2 1/2 cups flour until well blended, and pour the milk mixture into the flour-yeast mixture. Stir in 1 beaten egg, and mix until the mixture forms a sticky, wet dough.
2. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead for about 10 minutes, gradually kneading in 1 cup of additional flour or as needed to make a smooth, elastic dough. Form the dough into a round ball, place into an oiled bowl, and turn the dough around in the bowl a few times to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a cloth, and allow dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
3. Coconut Filling: Process coconut and sugar in blender or food processor until very fine. Turn into small bowl. Stir in margarine and egg yolk until paste-like consistency. Makes scant 2/3 cup (150 ml) filling.
4. Working on a floured surface, punch down the dough, and cut into 2 equal pieces. Cut each piece into 8 equal-sized pieces (16 pieces total). Form each piece into an oblong bun, and flatten the bun with a floured rolling pin. Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of filling with a spoon, and place in the center of a bun. Pull and pinch the edges of the dough together to enclose the filling in the bun. Repeat with all dough pieces, and place the filled buns, seam sides down, onto the prepared baking sheets. Cover the buns with a cloth, and allow to rise in a warm place 1 hour.
5. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Bake in the preheated oven until the buns are golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

P.S. Feel free to freeze it once it has cooled to preserve the texture of the buns. Baked goods generally aren’t affected by freezing and really helps preventing bread from going stale.