Friday, May 3, 2013

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

I enjoyed having a birthday to myself for all of two years. Then, on the day I turned three, my slightly bald, floppy-eared brother Raymond was born and I have had to share my birthday with him ever since. Luckily, we grew up sharing a mutual love of BBQ Ribs and Chinese Chicken Salad so one of those two dishes ended up being our birthday dinner while German Chocolate Cake was typically our choice for dessert. Actually, Raymond and I relished the fact that we were born on the same day. In fact, I was a fraternal twin at conception but my twin perished prior to birth. When Raymond came along, I always assumed that he was the reincarnation of my long-lost twin. And Raymond went along with that little theory until our parents delicately yet effectively squashed it by explaining that as Catholics reincarnation is not exactly a part of our theology.

Oh well, it was still cool to share a birthday together.

In fact, when I went off to college and Raymond and I were no longer able to celebrate together, my birthday always seemed slightly incomplete and lonely. It was weird to be the only person spitting across the cake in a desperate attempt to blow off all those candles. We always chatted on the phone and shared how we would each be celebrating, but it was never the same.

Finally, after three years apart, Raymond began his first year at Notre Dame while I began my final year. And that year, we celebrated our birthday in style - with food, friends, volleyball, and lots of cake and pie (my husband Paul actually orchestrated the whole thing).

Then, this happened.

And we moved away. I got pretty used to having my own cake for five years.

But this year, Raymond came to visit a few days before our birthdays and my family took full advantage of the opportunity to celebrate. Excited to be sharing a cake with my little brother once again, I really wanted to make something he liked. I asked Raymond what his current favorite dessert was and his reply was "anything with coconut."

One dessert my Mom makes often is Tres Leches Cake. I have actually never ever had it but my siblings have always praised it to no end. I decided to make a Coconut Tres Leches cake for Raymond. Basically, a simple, basic cake batter is whipped up, poured in a baking dish, and baked. After allowing it to cool, you poke the heck out of that poor little cake (I stabbed that cake for a good 10 minutes) and a mixture of cream of coconut, evaporated milk, and cream (tres leches!!) are poured over the top and allowed to soak into the cake. Now, when I poured my tres leches over the cake, it pooled over the top and looked like a disaster in the making. Paul walked by and sarcastically remarked: "yum!" My reply was: "Shut up! This is exactly how I want it to look."

But, in reality, I was worried.

So, the whole thing goes into the fridge for a rest period (I gave it a good 24 hours). And, magically, the milk does sink into the cake and it somehow is not at all soggy, but rather moist with the flavor of the milks permeating every crumb. Some sweetened whipped cream is quickly made using my handy-dandy stand mixer and carefully spread over the top. Garnished with sliced bananas and toasted coconut, the cake is ready to serve!

Paul threw some candles on our cake and our entire family gathered around to sing "Happy Birthday" to Raymond and I. As we prepared to lean over and blow out the candles, a small, impish child shot past us, clambered hastily up one of the kitchen chairs, and began blowing out our candles! Mr. Matthew has been very into birthdays lately and, since turning three, has assumed that every birthday cake is for him! Thankfully, he did not have a cold at the time because he showered that cake with saliva.

So, in the end, Raymond and I did not get to blow out those candles together. But, it was still great to be able to celebrate our birthdays together especially since we do not know how long it will be before we are able to do so again.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake
adapted from Cook's Illustrated and Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Note: I am sure as a shortcut, you could definitely just whip up a boxed cake per the packaged directions. Just let it cool, poke holes, and add the milk mixture.

For the Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

For the milk mixture:
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 can Cream of Coconut (NOT Coconut Milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the sweetened whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the garnish:
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
1-2 large bananas, sliced

To make the cake: Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 13x9 inch baking pan.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Heat butter and milk in small saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Set aside.

Beat eggs in a large bowl for about 30 seconds on medium speed, then slowly add in the sugar until incorporated. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture is thick and glossy, about 5-7 minutes. Reduce speed to low and slowly mix in the milk-butter mixture and vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions, scraping down the bowl as needed and then mix on medium speed until fully incorporated, about 30 additional seconds. Using a rubber spatula, scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for the milk mixture in a blender and blend for 30-60 seconds until completely mixed.

Poke holes all over the cooled cake. I mean ALL over. We really want the milk mixture to saturate. Slowly pour the milk mixture over the cake in 5-6 additions. Let the mixture soak in a bit before adding the next. Once all the milk mixture has been poured over, refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When ready to serve, whisk the whipping cream in the bowl of a stand mixer until frothy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue to whisk until the cream has reached the consistency of whipped cream. Carefully spread the whipped cream over the surface of the cake, sprinkle the cake with the toasted coconut and banana slices, and serve!


  1. Happy birthday!!! Such a sweet post. :) The cake looks delicious, too! By the way, I made your raspberry crumb bars and they are WONDERFUL! :)

  2. Replies
    1. It is usually in the drinks section of your grocery store near the sour mix, grenadine, club soda, etc. I also find it in the ethnic food section by the Hispanic foods. I used the Goya brand.

  3. I think I found the coconut cream in the Asian section too

  4. I think I found the coconut cream in the Asian section too