05 Mar Cereal Milk Tres Leches Cake
This nostalgia-spiked tres leches cake is responsible for my rapid transformation from a tres leches cake? soooo, soggy cake? thanks but no thanks person, to a nom nom nom sorry I can’t hear you over the sound of my own moans because this cake is so-fuh-king good kind of person. For any of you fellow Christina Tossi fans out there, it’s made infinitely delicious by the addition of Momofuku-inspired Cinnmon Toast Crunch cereal milk, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s chat tres leches cake.
Traditionally, tres leches cake — or pastel tres leches, if we’re being not-so-white-girl (am I allowed to say that?) – is a light, sturdy, butterless (as much as it pains me, this is very important – we’ll get to the deets later) sponge cake that, in it’s simplest form, is soaked in a combination of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream, or three milks, and thus, tres leches.
Its roots are quite obviously grounded in Latin American culture, though which specific one remains a mystery. It is widely debated where the tres leches cake first originated – Mexico? Cuba? Nicaragua? Who’s the daddy? All claim it as their own, and since I’m just the baker-person, it’s not a dispute I’m willing to weigh in on. <— Is this the Jerry Springer episode of the pastry world?
What I do know, is that growing up in Texas I had many many run-ins with this popular cake as a kid. And never once did I enjoy it. Womp. It could have been my undeveloped palate, or maybe I was never exposed to a well-prepared version, but I always found it to be akin to an unexciting, plain white cake…only…soggier.
It wasn’t until many, many moons later (so like, two months ago) that my interest in this notoriously mushy cake was renewed. While perusing the aisles of my local Fiesta Mart – one of my all-time favorite activities, they have the most affordable and well stocked international foods selection ever — I noticed a stall near the entrance of the store where a woman stood, dressed head to toe in all-white baker’s garb, dishing out tres leches cake by the fat, square slice, piling on scoops of chopped cherries, pineapple slices and shredded coconut at her customers’ command. I was instantly transported to the bakery and the local grocer that handed out free chewy chocolate cookies when I was a kid (perhaps the reason I am conditioned to forever love trips to the grocery store), only this was better.
And just like that, tres leches was back on the good list. I was intrigued. I had to make a version of my own.
There was still one problem to solve — the issue of soggy cake. Millions of tres leches loving people couldn’t be wrong, could they? They couldn’t all be making such a fuss over wet, mushy cake, right? I was determined not to let my childhood memory reign victorious. There had to be a key to finding that addicting balance between moist and mushy, and I was determined to unlock it.
And the answer (as is always the answer) was butter.
Only this time, the answer was to leave it out. You see, the added fat and therefore moisture that butter lends to sponge cake can be absolutely divine…if you’re just eating sponge cake. But when you add butter to a tres leches cake, it causes the cake to have too much moisture and too little structure, resulting in a softer version of tres leches that in my opinion feels, well, waterlogged (or I suppose milk-logged, in this case). Many of the recipes you’ll find online do include butter — it’s omission is not a hard-and-fast rule — but I found that by eliminating it, my cake had a perfectly airy texture that held its shape for several days. No mush, no sog, only dreamy, lightly soaked, spongey cake.
With all this chit chat about soggy cake, I should note that there is a place for sogginess in this recipe and that’s in the cereal milk. Yes, cereal milk. That dreamy liquid that you slurped from the bottom of your breakfast bowl as a kid. Recently, it’s made a comeback — widely popularized among adults by Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tossi. And in my opinion, she’s the tits. What I’d give to just crawl up inside her brain for a day!
While Christina’s recipe for traditional cereal milk calls for whole milk and corn flakes, I upped the ante and soaked this tres leches cake in a kicked-up version where we take all tres of the leches, add the yielder-of-the-best-cereal-milk-in-the-history-of-cereal-milk, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and let all them sit around for a while to get nice and smushy with one another. Then, if you’ve resisted the urge to dive in with your largest spoon and a bib, everything goes for a quick spin in the blender, a trip through a mesh sieve and voila, you’ve got the cereal milk of your childhood dreams. The stuff of Saturday mornings and afterschool snacks, only better because this time we’ve added sweetened condensed milk (what I imagine is what unicorn tears taste like) and we get to pour it over cake.
Good! Vamos a hornear un pastel tres leches! <– Thank you 10th grade Spanish!
And if you haven’t picked up on it yet – I’ve got a thing for desserts featuring the beloved, oh-so-sugary cereals of my childhood. For more of the madness check out this Fruity Pebbles Funfetti Cake from my last birthday celebration and this recipe for Party-In-Your-Mouth Rice Krispie Treats from the extremely embarrassing, way way back archives.
A New Notes About This Recipe
For the cereal milk, you can use either cream or whole milk for the third milk variety. Most traditional recipes call for cream, but I used whole milk to lighten mine up a little bit and it worked perfectly.
The tres leches mixture will make more liquid than you’ll need for the cake. I used about 1 3/4 cups but you could probably use up to 2 1/2 depending on how milky you’d like your cake.
For the step where you pour the milks over the cake, make sure the cake is on a rimmed dish. Some of the milk will run off of the cake at first, but the rim will hold the extra liquid close to the cake and it will soak it all up after you let it sit for 30 minutes.
Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman
- 1 14 oz. can evaporated milk
- 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup whole milk or cream
- 3 cup Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 cups
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Combine the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and whole milk or cream in a large bowl and give them a good stir to combine. Add the Cinnamon Toast Crunch and stir well to make sure all of the cereal is well coated with milk mixture.
- Let sit for at least 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Once the cereal is nice an soggy, pour the mixture into a blender and give it a good whirl. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, collecting the milk in a medium bowl. The milk will drain off quickly at first, then become thicker and starchy toward the end of the straining process. Using the back of a ladle (or your hand), wring the milk out, but do not force the pureed cereal through the sieve. You will end up with about 3 cups of liquid, give or take about 1/4 cup. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9 pan and set aside.
- Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk together to combine.
- Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in whole milk and vanilla.
- Pour the egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined. Quickly clean the bowl then beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry.
- Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Turn the cake out onto a rimmed platter or baking sheet and allow to cool.
- When cake is cool, use a fork to poke holes all over the top. Slowly drizzle all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture, try to get as much around the edge of the cake as you can.
- Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for about 15 minutes then drizzle over about another cup of the milks. Now let the cake site for another 30 minutes or so to soak up all of the milk. You'll end up with about 1 cup of cereal milk left. You won't need this for the recipe so you can drink it, use it in another recipe or discard.
- In a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip 1 pint heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable. In the last few moments of whipping, add in the cinnamon and whip until evenly distributed.
- Spread over the surface of the cake. Garnish cake with more Cinnamon Toast Crunch, then cut into squares and serve.