If you’re familiar with this blog, you know I don’t write a ton of dessert recipes. Generally, I throw in a little sugar every fourth or fifth post. It’s not that I don’t enjoy dessert, I do. But my bf and I are a little lacking in the sweet tooth department. And honestly, when the tooth does kick in, I’m content with a bag of wine gums. I do enjoy the activity of baking but I’m not a fan of the output, that’s why I tend to stick to savory things. We try our best to eat everything I shoot and we’re much better at doing that when copious amounts of butter and sugar aren’t involved. But every now and then I get an idea for a treat that I can’t ignore. A dessert that almost wills itself into existence. Today’s Strawberry Tres Leches Cake is one such dessert.
Tres leches cake is hard to hate. Quite frankly, I’ve never met a person who didn’t like it. I do know a lactose-intolerant person who eats it on the regular. She knows what this cake will do to her and she accepts it as a reasonable price to pay. That’s the power of this cake. Honestly, you can’t find a Latin American restaurant in Toronto that doesn’t have this cake on its menu. It is truly a phenomenon. And it’s not hard to figure out why.
For those of you who have never experienced the magic of tres leches cake, allow me to enlighten you. Tres leches cake is a vanilla sponge cake doused in three milks: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and regular ol’ cream. Essentially it’s a rich, sugary cake saturated in a rich, sugary mixture of various dairy products. See? It’s hard to hate. It has the addictive one-two punch of flavor: fat and sugar.
Before making this Strawberry Tres Leches Cake, I had indulged in many MANY slices of the original. When I look back on 2015 in particular, all I can remember is tres leches cake…well, that and meeting my boyfriend …probably should’ve mentioned that first. Anyway, I say all of this to illustrate that I am a seasoned tres leches veteran. I appreciate and adore the charms of the original, but I could not resist the lure of berry season.
Yes, in my neck of the woods, glorious strawberries are cropping up everywhere. And when you spy them, you cannot deny them. So, when I spotted my first basket of local, perfectly ripe strawberries, I initially thought of strawberry shortcake…Actually, that’s not true, I initially thought of smashing the basket into my face because hulling is overrated and it was a very VERY long winter. After I reminded myself that I was in public, I thought of shortcake. But by the time I got them home, shortcake seemed ho-hum. A classic, yes, but less than exciting. Then I thought about homemade strawberry milk, a sort of healthy-ish Quik strawberry syrup dealie. But then I thought about strawberry milk in tres leches cake and the healthy-ish part sort of went out the window.
Did you know the recipe for tres leches cake initially appeared on the back of Nestlé brand cans of sweetened condensed milk? It’s true. In the 1940s, a recipe for Pastel de Tres Leches appeared on the back of Nestlé’s canned milk products. These cans were disseminated throughout Latin America, which is probably why the cake’s geographical origins are often disputed.
Of course, the culinary method of soaking cakes in everything from coffee to alcohol was nothing new. The Europeans had been enjoying soaked cakes since Medieval times and brought this practice to Latin America in the 19th century. There are numerous recipes that predate the milk can version that are very close to the contemporary treat we enjoy today. So, to say Nestlé invented the cake is a bit of a stretch. But the company was certainly responsible for the widespread popularity of the dessert throughout Latin America. Its recent global presence, however, has everything to do with the people who folded it into their social fabric, perfected it and shared it.
So, with its excellent forebearer in mind, here is my berry-fide version. What makes this Strawberry Tres Leches Cake more than a cake with strawberries on top? Well, the cake itself contains nearly two cups of cooked strawberry puree to create a subtly pink sponge cake. And the milks are flavored with the syrup strained from the strawberry puree. Add a smattering of freshly sliced strawberries and I’d say this cake provides a fairly berry heavy experience.
But why listen to me when you can make this Strawberry Tres Leches Cake and taste it for yourself. Seriously, bring this puppy to your next BBQ and no one will be disappointed by the brand of beer you bought. That last part might be more about me than it is about you – I live in fear of beer-related scoffs. Anyway, you should make this cake!
Strawberry Tres Leches Cake
- 2 lbs fresh strawberries hulled & sliced
- 2 cups granulated sugar divided
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup sunflower oil
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Strawberry slices for sprinkling
- Place strawberries and 3/4 cup of the sugar in a medium-sized saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and stir constantly until the berries begin to let off some of their moisture. Bring the berries to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 15 minutes or until the berries are very soft. Set the berries aside to cool.
- Once cool, strain the berries, retaining the liquid, and place them in a food processor. Blitz until very smooth. Refrigerate the strawberry syrup and puree until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 325° F.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, the remaining sugar, the baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
- Pour the sunflower oil in a separate bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the vanilla, lemon juice and the reserved strawberry puree.Add the oil mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine.
- Pour the batter into a greased 9x13-inch baking pan and place it in the oven. Bake the cake for 40-50 minutes or until fully set and golden brown. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let cool until just warm, about 30 minutes. Place the cake on a large baking sheet or platter and poke holes all over the surface using a toothpick. Set aside.
- In a pitcher or jug combine the evaporated milk, the sweetened condensed milk and the half and half. Stir in the reserved strawberry syrup and pour the mixture over the warm cake. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. Let chill overnight.
- An hour before serving pour the heavy cream into a large stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the cream on high until stiff peaks form. Using an offset spatula, spread the whipped cream on top of the cake. Top the cream with strawberry slices and sprinkles if desired.
- Slice and serve immediately.