A Tres Leches cake is a traditional cake popular in Central and South America. Although if you search for Tres Leches on the internet you can see it’s pretty popular all over America. Just like my Nanaimo Bars last week, this is a recipe that I have repinned from dozens of food bloggers and always vowed I would make myself. I usually get caught up in my own individual cravings though and cakes I intend to make inspired by other people’s recipes often get placed on the back burner. I am pleased then that last week I perfected my Nanaimo Bar recipe and this week I managed to balance my craving for a traditionally British coffee and walnut cake with the Tres Leches cake I had been wanting to make for so long.
Sometimes I have to make cakes a few times to get them right, either re-addressing the amount of sugar, especially when I’m adapting American recipes as I don’t like things too sweet, or adding vanilla here and there or maybe ramping up all the ingredients if the cake turns out too shallow. Here especially there was a lot to balance out as I was doing a bit of a recipe mash-up but oh my did I get this one bang on first time round.
If you are not familiar with a Tres Leches Cake then the name is Spanish (which you had probably worked out yourselves) and means ‘three milks.’ This refers to the soak that the cake is given after baking, drizzled usually with a mixture of evaporated milk, condensed milk and whole milk (although I have seen the latter frequently substituted for single or double cream). Technically in my recipe I have drizzled the cake with four milks though as I also added some coconut milk which is an idea I stole shamelessly from Joy the Baker, as well as the basic method, but then she adapted her recipe from Alton Brown so it’s natural recipe evolution.
Wikipedia says that although the Tres Leches cake has its traditional home overseas the origin is probably Medieval European. This makes complete sense as when Luke came home from work and I thrust a piece of this cake at him to try I caveated it with the breathless sentence, ‘I think this is one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever made. You won’t like it.’ He hates trifle, which to me is incomprehensible, as he claims that he doesn’t like the soggy cake at the bottom. What the deliciously vanilla scented thick doorstop at the foundation of a trifle, lightly fragranced with sweet sherry and dripping with fruit juice? He’s insane. Still you can see how this three-milk soaked cake bears a resemblance to the British Trifle or French Rum Cake or Italian Tiramisu.
I’m not sure what made me marry up my Coffee and Walnut craving with the Tres Leches but the two cakes have come together in blissful harmony. I haven’t included large pieces of walnut in the sponge but rather ground up some toasted walnuts and mingled them with the flour which adds a density to the sponge, creating an even better carrier for the après soak. I used the best instant coffee I could find as it seemed a bit of a waste of time to fiddle around with the cafetiere for the job. Instead I used Nescafe’s Azera Americano, a barista style instant coffee apparently, which although I am not a coffee drinker I am assured is a great substitute if you can’t be doing with cafetieres.
This cake is most definitely latte inspired, not only due to the heavy amount of dairy involved but also because the coffee taste is subtle, especially in the whipped latte cream adorning the top. The caramelised walnuts give the finished cake a textured crunch, contrasting wildly to the soft sponge and dreamlike latte cream. However, you must keep the cake in the fridge due to all the dairy involved and I found the next day when I had some for breakfast (yeah, so what – pregnancy cravings, ahem) that the caramelised walnuts had slightly softened overnight which was just as good as the crunch the day before. Although, this cake really could do no wrong in my eyes. Despite the amount of moisture added to the cake after baking the cake still retains a solid yet light structure and is moist rather than soggy, it’s actually really rather amazing.
Oh, and Luke did like the cake and believe me after 14 years together he doesn’t worry himself with tact when it comes to giving me his honest opinions on my baking and cooking, so if it converted him to the idea of a soaked cake and you are already a fan then you are in for an absolute treat.
Walnut Latte Tres Leches Cake
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 16 squares
200g plain flour
75g walnuts, toasted then ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
225g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 heaped tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water, then cooled
200g evaporated milk
200g condensed milk
75ml single cream
75ml coconut milk
½ cinnamon stick
1 cardamom pod
pinch of salt
For the whipped latte cream:
1 heaped teaspoon coffee
2 teaspoons boiling water
300ml whipping cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
For the caramelised walnuts:
75g caster sugar
50g chopped walnuts
Also: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pre-heat the oven to 170°C then grease and line an 8 inch square baking tin.
- In a large bowl whisk together the flour, ground walnuts, baking powder and salt and set aside.
- In a separate mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition then add the vanilla.
- Spoon in half of the flour mixture and mix in well then add the coffee, beat into the rest of the ingredients then add the rest of the flour. Mix in until just combined.
- Pour the cake batter into the tin then place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until an inserted cocktail stick comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven, turn out of the tin and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile prepare the soak by whisking the evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream, coconut milk, cinnamon and cardamom pod in a saucepan over medium heat until it is just warm. Remove from the heat.
- Portion the cake into 2 inch squares and poke four holes into each square with a cocktail stick.
- Arrange the cake in a dish with high sides then spoon the glaze over.
- Cover the dish with clingfilm then refrigerate overnight.
- Remove the cake from the fridge to take the chill off whilst you prepare the toppings.
- Begin with the caramelised walnuts by the placing the walnuts on a baking tray in an oven pre-heated to 180°C for 5 minutes until toasted. Remove and set aside.
- In a smallish saucepan pour the caster sugar evenly into one layer and heat over a medium heat. The sugar will slowly melt, beginning at the sides. Carefully shake the saucepan every so often so the sugar melts evenly, do not stir. As soon as all the sugar has melted drop in a pinch of salt.
- Prepare a baking sheet with baking parchment before pouring the walnuts into the molten sugar and stir in with a silicone spatula. Quickly coat the walnuts with the sugar then tip onto the baking parchment, spreading out in 1 layer. Leave to cool then chop finely.
- To make the whipped latte cream, mix the coffee with the water, stir in until dissolved then set aside.
Whip the cream for a few minutes with the icing sugar until thick and cloudlike. Pour in the coffee and mix in well.
- Remove the cake squares from their dish, spread the whipped cream over each one, sprinkle some caramelised walnuts over then add a final dusting of ground cinnamon.