Like many good recipes, the origins of Tres Leches Cake are shrouded in mystery. The name literally translates to “three milks cake” and that is basically what it is – either a light sponge or a butter cake soaked in a blend of condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk. It is very popular in South America with some claims that it originated in Nicaragua, others that it was a Mexican invention and yet others that say it was developed by a canned milk company who printed the recipe on their labels. While the latter claim is true, doubt surrounds the timing of the labels and their appearance in relation to the appearance of the cake.
The cake itself started to become popular early last century and a fondness for it has since spread into the United States and the Carribean. After baking, the cake is perforated and a mixture of the milks is gradually spooned over and allowed to soak in, resulting in a rich, moist, cooling cake which is then covered in either meringue or whipped cream and sometimes fruit. Because of this, it is best made at least eight hours before required or, even better, the day before to allow it soak up as much as possible. As you can imagine with such a moist treat, this is not the sort of cake that you can munch on the run but it is a wonderfully indulgent dessert cake – which is exactly what I wanted to serve after a barbecue for friends last weekend.
As ever, I had plans to tweak the traditional recipe as I had some luscious glacéd oranges which I’d bought from the famed fig folk, Willabrand, at Adelaide Farmers Market. I was wondering if I was just being sloppy in my hunting, but glacéd fruit seems to have all but vanished from the shelves over the last few years. It seems that, for once, it isn’t just me and in fact the company up in the Riverland that used to produce it closed down some time ago. Spotting a need, Willa Wauchope of Willabrand, is producing some gorgeous glacéd products including pineapple, apricots, orange, muscatel grapes on the bunch, figs and their glorious saffron pears.
Of course, this is all on top of their popular range of fig products and Willa has told me they have plans for even more glacéd fruit in the new year! Locals can get their hands on these delicious products at Adelaide Farmers Markets, good gourmet cheese stores, some of the Foodland stores and the Adelaide Central Market. Interstaters don’t need to miss out as they have an online shop for web ordering, too.
But, back to the cake! This is a simple recipe and quick to make, but I used my KitchenAid to mix the batter for this as it takes a bit of beating. You want to get the eggs as thick and creamy as possible before adding the flour. This is not a particularly sweet cake and I intended to scatter it with my chopped glacéd oranges so, in order to accent the orange flavour, I unearthed the bottle of Cointreau that was languishing in the depths of my pantry. I was quite happy with the result, even if it is a little off the beaten path for this style of cake. My guests were even happier!