Apr 30, 2012

Pastel Tres Leches Cake with Grand Marnier

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching, did you dust off your maracas yet?  

Before the big day we better get our facts straight.  Here is something that is going to shock you.  Ready?  The 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo) is not Mexico's Independence day.  Doh!  All those years of drinking margaritas after work with your colleagues on the 5th had nothing to do with liberating the Mexicans, ay caramba!

Actually Cinco de Mayo is a day of celebration to commemorate the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862.  And another surprise, it's not even celebrated throughout the entire country of Mexico, only the state of Puebla.  Well, and I guess all over the US...mostly during happy hour.  Geeze. 

So if you have some close Mexican friends, no need to pat them on the back and say congratulations on the 5th of May...well, except if they're from Puebla, then it's probably okay.

And since we're on the topic of Hispanic heritage, let's talk Pastel Tres Leches (meaning '3 milk cake' in Spanish). 

Oh boy, here is another surprise you for, and somewhat of a disappointment for me.  I always imagined Tres Leches to be one of those recipes passed down from one Latin generation to the next.  You know, one your Abuela (Grandma) kept hand written on some torn, yellowed piece of scrap paper that's so old it's almost illegible.  It's the recipe you'd make together during the holidays and she'd tell you about how her Grandmother taught her to make Tres Leches and how her life is now complete because she's teaching you, ahh such a nice moment that would be. 

Wrong.  Guess who REALLY invented Tres Leches?  The flippin' makers of sweetened condensed milk that's who!  They invented the recipe to help boost sales, ugh we've been shammed!

Ok so it's origin is from Latin America, this is still a fact.  It's still an old recipe, dating back somewhere around the 1860's; fact, it is OLD.  But invented by some old, sweet Aubuela named Rosarita...I think not.

Anway, it doesn't matter.  This cake is damn good no matter who came up with it.

The recipe for Tres Leches is fairly simple and I promise you totally fool proof.  The cake itself is mearly a yellow sponge cake, easy enough.  But the magic of Tres Leches comes from the mixture you pour over the cake once it's cooled: milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, Grand Marnier, cinnamon, and orange zest. 

Allow the cake to marinate (get tipsy) overnight and in the morning you will wake up to a slightly soggy, sensationally sweet and deep in flavor (due to the Grand Marnier and orange zest), but still spongy cake.  Before we are off to the fiesta you must prepare the fresh whipped cream which is signature for any Tres Leches recipe.   

Lastly, this cake doesn't totally absorb all the liquid (which is how it's supposed to be!).  Every bite is saturated with the milk mixture and is sweet, creamy, and very delicate. 

I do not suggest keeping this cake any longer than two days as the liquid will eventually start to break down the cake and it will turn to mush.  This is best served for a party or big group of people where it will be devoured completely.

Tres Leches with Grand Marnier
for a printable version click here


For the cake:
5 eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the milk mixture:
2 cups whole fat milk
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier Liquor (I used Cointreau)
dash of cinnamon
dash of grated orange peel

For the whipped cream topping:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 13 by 9 inch metal cake pan and set aside.  I use a sandwich baggie as a glove to thoroughly cover the pan.  Makes life easy.

 Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk to combine and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together in a mixer until fluffy, about 1 minute.

Lower the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl often.  Add vanilla and mix to combine. 

Keeping the mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to the butter mixture 2 tablespoons at a time.  Mix until well blended.  Give the bowl a final mix with a rubber spatula to make sure there is no flour left unmixed at the very bottom of the bowl.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Let cake cool completely before preparing the milk mixture.

Once the cake has cooled, pierce entire cake thoroughly with a fork.

Combine the whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, Grand Marnier, cinnamon, and orange peel in a large bowl.  Whisk to thoroughly combine.

 Pour milk mixture over the cake and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare the whipped cream, add heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand up mixer using the whisk attachment.  Start on low speed and gradually increase to medium once the mixture thickens.  Continue to beat until peaks form.

Using an offset spatula, spread whipped cream over cake until smooth and even. 

 Keep cake refrigerated until ready to serve.


Tres Leches recipe adapted from Masa Assassin 

Cinco de Mayo reference courtesy of Mexonline 


  1. I am making this on Monday for my mom's birthday. I am not much of a baker though. We love Grand Marnier and tres leches, what a winning combination.

  2. Yay! You will LOVE it! And every day it gets better and better as the cake gets more drunk. I think I loved it best on day 3 ;) Let me know how it turns out!!!