I visited Puerto Rico with family and friends last year for the first time and had many foods I'd never even heard of. Some were familiar (because I'm Mexican and we have common recipes) and some were not (the pervasiveness of plantains was impressive).
We were treated to some desserts one night and I had tres leches for the first time. Now. I've done some research and the origins are widely disputed though most argue it is from Mexico. I was a little ashamed I'd never had it before but on further investigation, it's also considered a holiday (Christmas) dish so it's not an everyday sweet like pan dulce or anything. My shame was slightly alleviated.
I found a well-reviewed recipe from Emeril Lagasse and got to it. His recipe says to bake this deep, super wet cake for "25 minutes". At 25 minutes, it was 80% still solid liquid. I think my total bake time came out closer to 45-50 minutes so be prepared to let it go and start checking with a cake tester as you go along.
I did a little shortcut and used Cool Whip for the top because I'd heard it was just as good and it totally was! And the whole thing was terribly addictive and yummy. The leches made the cake nice and moist but not so much that it was falling apart. It was a lovely consistency that was sweet (thanks to the condensed milk) but not TOO sweet.
However. The version I had in Puerto Rico was less rich; more milky. It even left behind a little milkiness on the plate when you took a bite. I'm not sure if it was the relative density of this cake that soaked it all up or the thickness of the leches (evaporated milk, condensed milk and CREAM), but this one didn't bleed milkiness at all. It was delicious but not exactly the same as the one I had. And this was VERY rich. One piece (with a glass of milk because, clearly, there isn't enough in a cake called Tres Leches) and you're all good!
This is one easy recipe I know I'll be making again!
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
6 large eggs, separated
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tub Cool Whip
maraschino cherries for decoration
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 by 13-inch baking dish 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, 40-50 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.
To assemble: Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the icing evenly across the top. Add cherry to individual slices.