I’ve never tasted an authentic tres leches (in Spanish, “three milks”) cake. I set out to correct that on Mother’s Day, but after making this, my inexperience still holds true. Things don’t always go right in the kitchen, but it went wrong oh so deliciously.
The cake I decided was to induct me into the world of tres leches cakes was in fact a twist, a muchas leches (“many milks”) cake. Once I finally got over my visual hangup that the photo in the cookbook looked as if Frosted Flakes were covering a cake, I realized the recipe’s potential. An almond-based cake with muchas leches soaking liquid consisting of cream, dulce de leche, cream of coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk, with sugared almonds to garnish. Yes, please.
However, things don’t always turn out as planned. To my chagrin, the liquid simply would not soak into the cake, the hallmark of a tres leches cake. When a puddle stubbornly remained on the bottom cake layer for about 30 minutes, I finally decided it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I gently folded the liquid into the whipped cream, refrigerated it to firm up more, proceeded to frost and layer the cake, and hoped for the best.
I think we know where this is going. The cake, though not an authentic tres leches cake, was dreamy. The muchas leches soaking liquid that gave me such troubles was delightful in the frosting, lending an indescribable sweetness and flavor that dressed up the whipped cream, and coupled with the firm almond cake and crispy sugared almonds, it was by no means a failure.
Muchas Leches Cake with Sugared Almonds
adapted from Rebecca Rather’s The Pastry Queen
This cake is slightly reminiscent of a wedding cake with the almond, but the overall flavor is complex due to the muchas leches.
I halved this gigantic recipe, but if you are serving a big crowd, double all ingredients and bake in a 18 x 13-inch pan. Slice the cake into quarters (halve lengthwise and widthwise) and assemble.
2 cups (8 ounces) blanched (skins removed) almonds
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 1/4 ounces/120 grams) sugar; plus 1/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces/100 grams) sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
7 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce/15 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Muchas Leches Soaking Liquid/Frosting Mix-in*
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons dulce de leche or caramel
1/4 cup sweetened cream of coconut, such as Coco López
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
2 cups (6 1/4 ounces/177 grams) sliced almonds
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces/100 grams) sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup (3 ounces/105 grams) confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
Fresh berries, for garnish (optional)
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and butter and flour the bottom and sides of the pan.In the bowl of a food processor, finely grind the almonds with 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar on medium-high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Using a spatula, gently fold in the flour and baking powder and then the ground almond mixture.
Using a handheld mixer, in a large bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. (Be careful not to overmix! If the egg whites look curdled/grainy, you’ve beat them too much.) You can also whip the egg whites in the cleaned bowl of a stand mixer. (Or do this step in the stand mixer first, before the egg yolks, and transfer to another bowl.) Gradually and gently fold the egg whites into the batter until it’s fully incorporated and no streaks remain.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Evenly smooth the top with a spatula (important because the batter will not even as it bakes). Bake until the top is golden brown and firm, pulling away from the sides slightly, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a baking rack greased lightly with cooking spray to cool completely.
Make the muchas leches soaking liquid: Whisk together the cream, dulce de leche/caramel, cream of coconut, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and vanilla in a bowl or liquid measuring cup.
Make the sugared almonds: Preheat the oven to 325° F. In a clean, dry bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy. Stir in the almonds, sugar, and salt, being sure to coat each almond. Spread the almonds in a single layer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 20 to 25 minutes. Break up the almonds slightly with a spatula. Cool and then further break apart into small chunks.
Make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream on speed until soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and continue beating until stiff, spreadable peaks form.
Assemble the cake: Using a serrated knife, slice the cooled cake into thirds width-wise so that you have three rectangular pieces of cake about 4 1/3 x 9 inches each. Place a layer of cake on a serving platte, poke some holes in the top using a skewer or fork, and brush with a third of the soaking liquid. Frost with about 1/4 of the whipped cream. Top with another layer of cake, poke holes, brush with half of the remaining soaking liquid, and frost again with whipped cream. Top with the final layer of cake, poke holes, and brush with the remaining liquid*. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the whipped cream. Press the sugared almonds into the top and sides of the cake to cover evenly. Garnish with fresh berries and a light dusting of powdered sugar, if desired.
Cake will keep, refrigerated and covered in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.
*This process of soaking the cake with the muchas leches didn’t quite work for me. I folded the muchas leches soaking liquid into the whipped cream, refrigerated it to firm up more, and proceeded to frost and layer the cake.