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The tres leches cake is so named because it is a fluffy paper soaked in three types of milk, covered with a cloud or film of vanilla or merengue whipped cream. Very popular in Latin America, it has also gained popularity beyond the region.
The origin of the tres leches cake is debatable. Most historians credit Nicaragua with the invention of the cake. Others give credit to Mexico as it had similar recipes for the tres leches cake. What virtually all historians assume, however, is that the recipe originated somewhere in Latin America, as a promotional campaign by a canned milk company to increase its sales. This may have happened towards the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century, as condensed and evaporated milk was first available in the 1850s to 1870s. The tres leches cake is particularly popular in Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala.
The three essential ingredients for making tres leches cake are evaporated milk, condensed milk, and either whole milk or heavy cream. These are combined to make a mixture to soak the cake, giving it its moist texture without making it too soft. Of course, you also need eggs, sugar, flour, yeast, and yes, more milk to make the cake itself.
The fourth type of milk, in some cases, cajeta, which is a Mexican thick syrup candy made with caramelized milk, can be used to transform the tres leches cake into one of four leches. Other ingredients that can be used include chocolate and various fruits and nuts.
In some parts of Central America, the cake is soaked in a mixture of water, rum or brandy, and sugar to create a “drunk cake.” In the Caribbean, condensed milk is often substituted with coconut cream.
Popularity beyond Latin America
The tres leches cake is well known beyond the Latin American region. For example, Häagen-Dazs and Blue Bell launched tres leches ice cream for sale in 2003. Today, tres leches cake can be found on restaurant menus and various recipes for this cake can be found and exchanged online.
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