Summer may be winding down but I can’t help but serve up Tropical vibes in the form of this Pina Colada Tres Leches Cake. This lighter-than-air cake is pierced all over with a toothpick before being doused with coconut milk, whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, pineapple juice, and white rum. The cake is finished with a layer of lightly sweetened whipped cream and topped with shredded coconut, dried rose petals, and gold flakes. The gold is optional by the way but it is pretty and why say no to pretty? Let’s dive in!
This dessert is the marriage of two Latin American classics – tres leches cake and the pina colada. Let’s talk about Tres Leches cake first. This cake’s name means “three milks” which is truly a descriptive moniker for this classic dessert. Tres Leches Cake is a sponge cake drowned in a mixture of whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. The cake is then left to soak before being topped with fresh whipped cream and usually some kind of fresh fruit. The earliest recipes for this soaked cake are Mexican in origin and date back to the 19th century.
The Pina Colada is a classic cocktail with murky origins. This coconut and pineapple heavy drink comes from Puerto Rico. It’s generally attributed to Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, who created the drink in 1954 while working at Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan. The drink was declared the Caribbean island’s national drink in 1978. The drink’s name Pina Colada translates to “strained pineapple”. Traditionally the pineapple juice in the drink was squeezed from fresh puréed pineapple and strained into a shaker. The rest of the drink consists of coconut cream and white rum, though there are many variations some blended and some served on the rocks.
So that’s what these classic treats are but how does one combine the two? Well, fairly easily actually. It all starts with cake as so many delicious desserts do. I didn’t muck around with the traditional tres leches sponge. This cake doesn’t need any enhancement. It’s airy perfection all on its own. I did however add coconut extract and rum extract in place of vanilla to hint at the cake’s boozy future. This cake gets most of its lift from whipped egg whites so spend your time carefully folding them into the batter for the best results.
Once the cake is out of the oven and cooling, it’s time to bring the pina Colada into this. We flirted with the rum and coconut extracts in the cake, but now we’re ready to commit to the cocktail fully. The soaking liquid for the cake consists of rum, pineapple juice (pressed from puréed fresh pineapple, naturally), coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk. Now, this mixture is a little thick so you may have a creamy layer on top of the cake. When it comes to coconut milk, the fat rises to the top, so the liquid may not completely soak into the cake as the traditional tres leches mixture does. It does fully hydrate the cake, though. And you may actually prefer that creamy layer. I certainly did. I also barely noticed it once the whipped cream was placed on top.
Once the liquid is all over the cake, it’s time to wait. Give the cake a good 12 hours to get to know the soaking mixture. And chilling the cake overnight makes it easier to slice and serve this relatively delicate cake anyway. When the liquid has mostly soaked through, top the cake with freshly whipped cream, coconut, dried rose petals, and gold flakes. As I mentioned, the petals and gold flakes are optional but lovely. You could also opt for fresh pineapple chunks instead. Or try your hand at making dried pineapple flowers.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Pina Colada Tres Leches Cake. It’s boozy, tropical, festive, and most importantly delicious. And if you’re in denial about summer’s end, this is absolutely the dessert for you.
Pina Colada Tres Leches Cake
- 1 9×13" cake pan
- 1 hand or stand mixer
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 5 large eggs separated
- 1 cup granulated sugar divided
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- 1/2 a pineapple core removed
- 2 oz white rum
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- ½ cup whole milk
- 414 ml (14 fl oz) can sweetened condensed milk
Whipped Cream Topping
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp coconut extract
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
- ¼ cup dried rose petals
- 1 tbsp gold flakes
For the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter and set it aside.
- In a bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set it aside.1 cup all-purpose flour, 1½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt
- In a separate bowl, place the egg yolks and add 3/4 cup of the sugar. Whisk until the two are combined and yolks turn a lighter shade of yellow. Set the yolks aside.5 large eggs, 1 cup granulated sugar
- In another bowl, place the egg whites and the remaining sugar. Using a hand or stand mixer, beat the whites on high until stiff peaks form. Set them aside.5 large eggs, 1 cup granulated sugar
- Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the yolk mixture. Pour in the milk and stir until a batter forms.⅓ cup whole milk
- Add a third of the whipped egg whites to the batter and carefully fold them in until no streaks remain. Repeat with the remaining 2/3 of the egg whites.
- Pour the finished batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top using an offset spatula. Place the cake in the oven and bake until golden, about 25-30 minutes.
- Take the cake out of the oven and let cool completely.
For the Milk Mixture
- Place the pineapple in a large food processor and blitz until smooth. Pour the puree into a fine mesh strainer and force the juice through using a rubber spatula. You should have about a cup of juice.**1/2 a pineapple
- To the juice add the rum, coconut milk, milk, and sweetened condensed milk. Stir to combine.2 oz white rum, 1 cup full-fat coconut milk, ½ cup whole milk, 414 ml (14 fl oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- Poke the cooled cake all over with a toothpick and pour the milk mixture evenly over the cake. Cover and transfer to the fridge. Let the cake soak for 8 hours. A layer of coconut fat will settle over the surface of the cake but the cake should feel thoroughly hydrated to the touch.
For the Whipped Cream Topping
- Pour the cream, sugar, and coconut extract into a bowl and, using a stand or hand mixer, beat the cream until stiff peaks form.2 cups heavy cream, 2 tbsp powdered sugar, 1 tsp coconut extract
- Spread the cream over the surface of the soaked, chilled cake and sprinkle with the coconut, rose petals, and gold flakes. Slice and serve immediately or chill until ready to serve. ***¼ cup shredded coconut, ¼ cup dried rose petals, 1 tbsp gold flakes