Strawberry Tres Leches

I’ve been a fan of Rick and Deanne Bayless’s work in Chicago for decades. I’ve dined at Topolobampo and Frontera, studied their cookbooks, and even once had the coveted experience of spending a day in the restaurant kitchen where I learned a technique for roasting dry chilis. I continually admire the cultural boost for Mexico the Baylesses bring to the U.S.  New Year’s can’t come to my house without a slow simmering mole based on Rick’s authentic Mole Poblano plus a steaming cauldron of tamales, and lately I’ve been delighted with ideas from the Frontera newsletter. When the last issue featured a strawberry tres leches cake, I jumped right on it.

With dairy farming in my heritage I’m drawn to all things milk, cream and butter. This Mexican feather light cake, moistened with a three-milk syrup is a cake of my dreams. I’ve found it wonderful plain, and the addition of strawberries to lighten the milk sweet makes it even better. I’ve borrowed most of these ideas from the Frontera newsletter recipe using my own basic yellow cake and giving the finished dessert a different look. A strawberry tres leches makes a perfect celebration cake for summer.

This dessert may have been originally promoted in Latin America to encourage the sale of canned milk products and it soon became a favorite. The flavor depends on the combination of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and fresh milk or cream. You can quadruple the following recipe making a two layer 9-inch cake which will take the entire amount of both types of canned milk (a 12 oz. can evaporated and a 14 oz. can condensed) or you can make the smaller cake, divide the evaporated milk into four portions, using one and freezing the other three in small plastic containers for later. Follow the same procedure for the sweetened condensed milk; however, you can freeze the excess in one container since even frozen, it will remain soft enough to remove by spoonfuls.

Strawberry Tres Leches Cake (Gracias a Frontera)

3 oz. all-purpose flour (spooned in ¾ cup)

¾ teaspoon baking powder

2 oz. unsalted butter (½ stick)

3 ½ oz. sugar (½ cup)

1 large egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

scant ¼ teaspoon salt

2 fl. oz. milk (¼ cup)


3 fl. oz. evaporated milk (scant 1/3 cup)

2 ½ oz. sweetened condensed milk (2 heaping tablespoons)

2 tablespoons whole milk

¼ teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)


6 oz. strawberries (1 cup in small dice)

2-3 teaspoons shaved piloncillo (Mexican unrefined sugar) or sugar

¼ teaspoon balsamic vinegar (optional)

½ teaspoon Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)


1 cup whipping cream

½ tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

To make the cake: preheat the oven to 350º; butter and flour a 7- or 8-inch layer cake pan.

Sift together the flour and baking powder; set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light. Whip in the egg until the mixture is fluffy. Add and beat in vanilla and salt. Alternately add the flour and milk in three additions, beginning with the flour and ending with the milk. Scrape the thick batter into the prepared pan, and bake in the preheated oven for  20-25 minutes. When the cake tests done, remove from oven, cool 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.  Cool completely.

Prepare the strawberries by combining the diced berries with sugar and flavorings. Allow to macerate at least 10 minutes.

Combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk and flavorings.

Once the cake is cool, split the layer. Place the bottom half on a serving plate and drizzle over 1/3 milk syrup. Lay the top half, cut side up, on a sheet of plastic wrap and drizzle it with the remaining 2/3’s milk mixture. (note: since some of the filling will soak into the bottom half of the cake, use less of the milk syrup there to prevent a soggy bottom layer.)

Whip the cream with sugar and vanilla. Spread a heaped tablespoon of whipped cream evenly over the milk soaked cake on the serving plate. Drain a tablespoon of syrup from the sweetened berries and save. Distribute the berries evenly over the cream. Top the berries with several small blobs of whipped cream and use a palate knife to connect the dots forming another thin layer of cream. Slide your hand under the plastic wrap holding the top layer and place it cut side down on top of the cream and berries. Drizzle the reserved syrup over the top of the cake allowing it time to soak in.

Frost the cake with the remaining whipped cream, piping rosettes for decorations and topping the cake edge with halved whole berries if desired. (See photo) Serves 6 to 8. (note: if making a large cake, quadruple the cake recipe and the milk syrup; double the strawberry filling and whipping cream.)

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


One Response to “Strawberry Tres Leches”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    Hi Mary Jo,

    Just found your food blog from Catherine on Facebook. I look forward to reading it. Chuck is from Chicago land originally (LONG time ago……). Peg Carpenter

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