Macaroni Kid EATS! asked Maricarmen Chavez Walker, one of our amazing Florida Macaroni Kid publishers, to share a special Nicaraguan family recipe to celebrate and honor Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place Sept. 15 through Oct. 15:
Tres Leches was never a dessert that was made often in my home because it is so labor-intensive. It was a special occasion dessert.
My mom, her sister, and my grandmother always claimed to have the best version of it, which meant that as I was growing up, they were always competing to see whose dessert was better ... and the rest of us were all quite happy to sample all of them.
I always thought my grandmother made the best Tres Leches ... but I would never have been allowed to say that out loud! So when I was in my 20s, I decided it was time to learn from her.
It didn't go well.
She was the kind of cook who didn’t measure ingredients and my constant questions irritated her. So my first attempt at a Tres Leches was ... well, let's say ... disastrous. My grandmother told me my cake was so heavy I could use it as a weapon. After that, she claimed me hopeless and refused to ever try to teach me again.
So this recipe I am sharing is from my aunt Vilma, who is 85. A long time ago she typed up — on a typewriter — her Tres Leches recipe. When the paper gets worn from use, we photocopy it for her.
Over the years she has modified and perfected her Tres Leches recipe and was quite happy I wanted to share it.
I’ve translated her recipe from Spanish to English and enlisted a friend, Mychela Burke Marshall, to help me review and edit the translation.
I hope you take a chance and try it out. It is time-consuming — but very much worth it!
Nicaraguan Tres Leches
Ingredients for cake:
- 6 eggs separated
- 2 cups of flour
- 2 cups of sugar
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 9x13 baking dish.
- In a mixer beat the 6 egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Alternate between adding the sugar and egg yolks until they are well incorporated.
- In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder. In another bowl, add the vanilla extract to the milk.
- On a lower speed, alternate between adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the eggs. Make sure to begin and end with the flour mixture.
- Once all ingredients are well incorporated, pour into a baking container and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.
Ingredients for syrup:
- 2 cans of condensed milk
- 2 cans of evaporated milk
- 4 egg yolks, uncooked*
- Optional - flavoring extract or rum
- Beat all ingredients together. Set aside.
Ingredients for meringue:
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup Karo syrup (light only)
- 1/4 cup of water
- Add ¼ cup of water, 1 cup of sugar and ½ cup of Karo syrup (light) to a saucepan.
- Bring to a boil.
- Once it is boiling gradually add one egg white at a time and whip until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
To assemble your Tres Leches:
- Once the cake has cooled, poke holes throughout the cake with a fork or butter knife and pour the syrup mixture on top. It should be a very wet cake.
- Then spread the meringue over the top.
- The meringue should have a soft consistency similar to marshmallow fluff.
- To decorate, add colorful sprinkles, space out sliced maraschino cherries, or dust with cinnamon.
Refrigerate when complete. The cake can keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Keep in mind this is a very, very, very wet cake. The juice at the bottom is usually poured over every serving!
*Please note: Consuming raw or undercooked eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions. This syrup can be made as directed but without eggs, if you prefer.
Author Maricarmen Chavez-Walker is the publisher of Macaroni Kid Lakeland, Bartow and Mulberry, Fla.