Magical Realism and Tres Leches

"Legend has it that the recipe for Tres Leches cake was first printed on the back of the can of Nestle's sweetened condensed milk," Michael CordĂșa, the chef behind the Cordua Restaurants in Houston, once told me.

The name tres leches, or three milks, refers to the ingredients used -- a can of evaporated milk and a can of sweetened condensed milk are blended together with cream and poured over the cake. So how did a dessert made with canned ingredients become a favorite in Cordua's homeland of Nicuragua and all over the rest of Latin America? I wondered.

"You have to understand that for many years in my country, imported canned products were considered superior to fresh products," Cordua told me. "Canned milk was expensive, it was a luxury. I know it sounds strange since things are the other way around in the United States."

The story of how the most popular dessert in Latin America descended from the back of a can of imported milk sounds like something from the school of magical realism.

Easy Tres Leches Cake

Don't worry if the cake doesn't absorb all the milk at first, just allow it to sit in the fridge for a while. Evaporated milk is fresh milk with 60 percent of the water removed before canning. Condensed milk is canned evaporated milk sweetened with sugar to form a sweet milk syrup.

1 box of yellow cake mix
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 can of whipped cream
Maraschino cherries

Bake the cake in a sheet cake pan according to the directions on the box. Allow to cool, but leave in the pan. Use a fork to poke holes all over the top of the cake. Combine the evaporated and condensed milks and the heavy cream in a mixing bowl. Pour over the cake. Allow the cake to sit in the pan in the refrigerator while it absorbs all the milk mixture. When ready to serve, cut square slices and top each with whipped cream and a cherry.

Serve with strong coffee.

-- Robb Walsh


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