Tres Leches Cake with Coconut and Lime

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  What better way to celebrate than with tres leches cake?  Okay, maybe a margarita.  But if you’ve never tried tres leches cake, you’re in for a treat.  Tres leches cake is a simple yellow sponge cake soaked in a sweet milk mixture and topped with dreamy whipped cream.

I’ve made a basic tres leches cake for Cinco de Mayo the last few years, and I had planned to do just that this year, too.  But on the day I planned to bake the cake, my latest issue of Fine Cooking Magazine arrived, and it had an entire spread on variations of this Latin American dessert.  After looking at the photos, I wanted to taste one of each.

So I decided to do something a little different this time by putting the lime in the coconut and mixing it all up.  For the soaking liquid, I replaced the cream with half a can of unsweetened coconut milk and some lime juice.  I have to say, it was a delicious change.

Tres Leches Cake with Coconut and Lime
Yields:  one 9 x 13 cake

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ can unsweetened coconut milk, light
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Zest of one lime
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper.  Spray the top of the paper and the sides of the pan with cooking spray.  Set aside.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  3. In the large bowl of a standing mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on medium speed until yolks are pale yellow, about two minutes.  Stir in milk and vanilla and beat until combined.  Thoroughly wash and dry the whisk attachment.
  4. Beat the egg whites, gradually increasing the speed to high, until soft peaks form. With the mixer on low, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and increase the speed back to high.  Beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry, one to two minutes.
  5. Mix in one third of the dry ingredients until combined.  Gently fold in one third of the egg whites with a rubber spatula.  Repeat two more times with the remaining dry ingredients and egg whites until fully mixed in.
  6. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The cake will be golden and just starting to pull from the sides of the pan.  When lightly pressed, it will spring back.  Let the cake cool ten minutes.   If necessary, use a small paring knife to release the cake from the edges of the pan.  Invert the cake onto a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper.  Let the cake cool completely.  Return the cake to the pan it was baked in.
  7. To make the soaking liquid, combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, and lime juice in a small pitcher. I used an eight-cup glass measuring cup with a pouring spout.  When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a toothpick all the way to the bottom in ½-inch intervals.  Slowly drizzle over the cake, pausing to let it soak before adding more, and try to get as much around the edges as you can.  Use all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture.
  8. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.  If it completely absorbs the liquid, add more of the reserved liquid if you’d like.
  9. To make the topping, beat the cream with an electric mixer on medium speed.  When it starts to thicken, slowly add the sugar and continue to beat just until it holds firm peaks.  Spread over the surface of the cake.  Decorate with lime zest.

Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine June/July 2012

The recipe is remarkably close to this one from The Pioneer Woman, but her method is a little simpler.

Need something to do with the other half of the can of coconut milk?  I used it to make coconut curry from Mel’s Kitchen Café.

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