In its traditional, unmodified form, Pastel de Tres Leches is made from a vanilla-flavored sponge cake, and drenched with a mixture of three dairy products - sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and rich heavy cream - thus aptly known as Three milk cake. This delicate sponge cake is then often dressed with additional flavors and garnishes such as nuts, caramel, whipped cream, nuts, tropical fruits, chocolate, caramel, coconut, and is some cases liquor.
The three kinds of milk when blended together just create the right richness, sweetness, and density that makes this cake utterly mouth-watering. It's so moist that it completely melts in your mouth, but without being too mushy.
The true origin of the Tres Leches is disputed, however. It is believed that recipes for soaked-based desserts were earlier developed in Mexico during the 19th century. Spain claims Tres Leches as its own, while British believes to have created the famous recipe, and Mexicans call it their national dessert. Through large cross-cultural transfer that took place between America and Europe, this delicious dessert soon become famous in America owing to its rich taste.
In Mexico, Tres Leches is served as an autumn and winter delicacy and is often served in mini bites, topped with the fresh maraschino cherry or rich Meringue.
So what's the reason behind this Mexican food high popularity? The secret lies in its light, fluffy texture, combined with an airy sponge cake that is bathed in three kinds of milk, which is also a reason to its very short shelf-life.
The baking process of this Mexican dessert is extremely intricate. After baking, the cake needs to rest and then is immediately chilled at a suitable temperature, so none of the milk products change nature of the cake. This makes it extremely tricky to make, and thus in the early days of Mexican history, this cake was reserved for upper class and was served only in big society weddings.
But no sooner had Americans tasted this rich concoction of three milks, than this three milk wonder became a cultural ambassador to the Mexican culture. It's a gentle reminder that food no matter how good it tastes, is never ‘just food’, but an amalgamation of different cultures and cuisines.