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Tres Leches Cake: The History of a Traditional Mexican Dessert

Thursday, April 11th, 2019
origin of tres leches cake

Tres Leches is a traditional Latin American dessert that you’ll see in nearly every Mexican bakery, restaurant, and taquiera there is. You’ll certainly find this rich sponge cake on our  menu here at The Plaza Restaurant & Bar. This stellar dessert has origins and historical roots that are as rich as its dense flavor. There’s a fascinating history behind this milky sweet cake, and the following only scratches the surface of this decadent recipe. 

What is Tres Leches Cake?

Pastel Tres Leches (“Three Milk Cake”) is deceptively simple in both preparation and presentation. No matter what variation the cake may appear as, the authentic recipe of Tres Leches will yield a light sponge layer that is perforated after baking and then steeped in a succession of three milks: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream or whole milk. 

The end result of this soaking is a wonderful cake with a rich and moist density that gives it a luxurious taste. It can be compared to the Italian dessert of tiramisu, but Tres Leches is most certainly a dessert dish that is unique to Latin America and its cuisine. 

The Origins of Tres Leches Cake

origin of tres leches cake

There is much to-do and debate about the origins of Tres Leches Cake and quite a few dessert aficionados along with other curious bloggers have written at length about the facts and historical data gathered from their research. 

Tres Leches as we know it is a fixture in all of Latin American cuisine. While there is some lively debate on whether Nicaragua is the birthplace of the milky cake, the general consensus is that Mexico holds the strongest claim to that honor. 

For example, the recipe for Torta de Leche cake of the Mexican state of Tabasco is essentially cake batter baked in a pan of scalded milk and then served in a dish of the syrupy milk. Furthermore, there are 19th century recipes originating in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Sinaloa for soaked layer cakes (Sopa Borracha and Ante de Almendra)

When Is Tres Leches Cake Served?

Tres Leches Cake is a celebration cake! 

Many who have grown up in Mexico and the bordering states will tell you that Pastel Tres Leches was the cake they could expect to be served at birthdays, graduations, and weddings; it was often guaranteed that the milky cake would be the centerpiece of any celebration, family gathering or fiesta.

As Tres Leches has grown in popularity, the sponge cake has appeared to gain a foothold in American culture. The recipe has been happily adapted by chic eateries and casual Tex-Mex restaurants alike. You’ll still see this milk-soaked delicacy served at traditional Mexican weddings and quinceaneras on either side of the border. In fact, according to this fascinating article on the historical roots of Tres Leches recently published in the Austin Chronicle, the moist cake has enjoyed a surge in popularity as a frequent dessert offering at upscale “ladies’ events” such as engagement parties and formal afternoon teas.

chocolate tres leches cake

Ready to Order Dessert?

Come up to The Plaza Restaurant & Bar and try some of our delicious Tres Leches Cake today. You’ll love our traditional Tres Leches AND our decadent chocolate spin-off cake. Let us know if this lucky cake has won your taste buds over, too!

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Life Is A Fiesta At The Plaza Restaurant & Bar

Our specialty here at the Plaza Restaurant is to make delicious food for your whole family. Please check out our Locations so that you can find a restaurant near you. Be sure to have a look at our Menu to see the wide variety of options we have to offer you. The Plaza Restaurant has been serving our guests since 1982 from our family owned and operated businesses.