My tres leches cake is a little different from many others you'll find. I make a two-tier cake, and add whipped cream, strawberries, and my secret weapon: arequipe!
I wish I could say that I grew up eating tres leches cake when I lived in Colombia or even when I was a kid here in the US, but I would be lying to you if I did. My family is not really big into baking and it seems like I was the only one who is crazy about it, so we never had it growing up. In fact, I didn't actually get to eat it until I was in college, and it was only because my mother gave me a leftover piece from a birthday party she had been invited to, and it was delicious!
You will read in many food blogs or even recipe sites that tres leches cake originated in Mexico, others say it was created in Costa Rica, others say South America, many in Colombia say it was born there even though they call it "torta genovesa" (Genovese cake), and they're all right... and wrong. No one really knows where it came from, even if they swear up and down that they do, but the reality is, no one can really say for sure. It does have a lot of Latin flavor though, so I'll give them that much. I guess the correct answer would be that it is considered a Latin American cake. How about that?
The traditional way of baking it is by using a sheet cake pan, usually 9 x 13 inches, so that it can catch all the extra liquid that the cake may not be able to absorb, plus it makes it much easier to bake. However, my favorite way of making it is by using a 9 x 2 inch round baking dish and then cut it in half to make it into a two-tier cake. It not only looks better but you can also fill it with whipped cream and fruit if you want. The trick is to use less liquid, or you'll end up with a huge mess. In this recipe I decided to add a little bit of arequipe to the whipped cream to give it a richer flavor, and the result was amazing!
In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Whisk egg whites until frothy. Then, slowly add sugar, whisking at high speed until it thickens, approximately 3-4 minutes.
Add egg yolks one at a time while mixer is still running and mix at high speed for another 3-5 minutes until they're blended thoroughly.
Add half of the flour mixture and keep mixing until it is well blended. Then, add the milk and the vanilla extract. Finally, add the remaining flour. Keep mixing for about 2-3 more minutes until everything is well blended.
Grease and flour a 9x2 inch, round baking pan and pour in the batter. Tap a few times so the air bubbles rise to the top and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the baked cake cool on a cooling rack.
Meanwhile, prepare the whipping cream by mixing a ½ cup of whipping cream with the arequipe. Mix well.
Put the remaining whipping cream in a mixing bowl that has been in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. Mix at high speed until foam forms. Add the arequipe mixture and keep mixing until it thickens, approx. 1-2 minutes. Then add the powdered sugar and the vanilla extract. Keep mixing at high speed until soft peaks form (about 3-5 minutes). Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a small container, mix the heavy cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Mix well and set aside.
Once the cake has cooled, cut it in half with a cake leveler or knife to end up with two pieces. Poke one of the cake pieces with a fork and then pour half of the milk mixture; let the cake absorb it thoroughly.
Once the milk has been absorbed, cover the cake with some of the whipped cream and then place the strawberry slices on top. Then cover the strawberries with another layer of whipped cream.
Put the second cake piece on top of the strawberries, poke it with a fork and pour the rest of the milk mixture, letting the cake absorb it. With the help of a spatula, cover the top and sides of the cake with the whipped cream.
Put the remaining whipped cream inside a large pastry bag with the tip of your choice to decorate the top of the cake, as well as the lower edge. Finally, put the strawberry halves on top of the cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.