For the Love of Milk: The Sweet History of Tres Leches Cake
Plus the best places to get this sweet treat in Manila.
(SPOT.ph) There are a lot of ways you can enjoy milk, from drinking it straight up to having it in pudding, soft-serve, or ice-cream form. But nothing tops tres leches—a dessert involving a sponge cake that’s poked and drizzled with three kinds of milk (usually evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream), hence the name. It’s then topped with meringue or whipped cream, and at times, some form of caramel, such as dulce de leche or cajeta (goat’s milk caramel).
How the Tres Leches Came About
There are multiple theories as to where tres leches cake originates from. Taste Atlas says that the dessert, according to most sources, hails from Nicaragua, but other South American countries—including Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico—also claim it as their own, according to Food52.
There are a number of people who say they first had the dessert at Los Ranchos, a Nicaraguan restaurant chain in Miami. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans trooped over to Miami between 1979 and 1990 in light of the Nicaraguan Revolution as well as the 1972 Nicaragua earthquake.
Others say the dessert goes back to the 1940s, which also happens to be the time in Central America that canned-milk products were more widely available. While canned milk goes way back to the 1850s, they increased in popularity during the World Wars. Canned-milk companies began operations around different locations in Latin America, Nicaragua included, and sales especially got a great boost during the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to The Spruce Eats, the recipe for tres leches cake was first published on the back of a can of Nestle Evaporated Milk in the 1960s.
Food52 also points out its possible European origins, which is plausible as Nicaragua was colonized by both Spain and England. The idea of soaking cake in liquid goes back to the Middle Ages in Europe, as a way of repurposing old or stale cakes so that nothing is wasted. In the Austin Chronicle, author MM Pack also shares similar soaked cakes found in old Mexican cookbooks, including antes, or bread soaked in wine and layered with milk custard and fruits and nuts; and Viceroy’s cake, or cake drenched in sherry, custard, fruit, and meringue.
Whatever the real origin story is, tres leches’ appeal is easy to understand. The cake is remarkably moist, having absorbed the liquid into every nook and cranny, yet light and fluffy like a cloud. It is also an ode to the pure, unadulterated flavor of dairy, which—as anybody who’s relished a drizzle of sweet, sticky condensed milk on toast or a spoonful of powdered milk straight from the jar would know—has a creamy, somewhat buttery note that’s worth savoring on its own.
Are you ready to dig in? Check out where to get tres leches cake in Manila:
Wildflour’s Pastel de Tres Leches (P780/good for four to six, P2,350/good for eight to 10) is as classic as can get, with a milk-soaked cake topped with whipped cream. It’s drizzled with caramel, which adds just a touch of depth without taking over the milkiness of the cake. You can order via their delivery website, Wildflour To-Go.
For orders, visit Wildflour’s delivery website.
Milkrun has a short-but-sweet menu dedicated to all things milky. Take your pick from the classic OG Tres Leches (P420), or the nutty-tasting Cereal Milk Tres Leches (P480) that’s topped with a toasty, cornflake crunch. You can order through this online form and either pick up your orders or book a courier for delivery. Payment options are via BDO, BPI, or Unionbank bank transfer, or GCash.
Missing Made Nice’s melt-in-the-mouth tres leches cake? You can now get your fix through their baked-goods leg, Baked Nice, where it goes for P595 per tray. Contact 0917-183-6423 for pickup or delivery orders. You can pay via BPI or BDO bank transfer, or via cash, credit, or debit card for pickup orders.
Eenie Minni PH
You probably know Eenie Minni PH for their uber-chewy cookies, but you’ve got to try their Tres Leches (P550/pan), too—a simple but stellar take with a vanilla sponge cake soaked with three kinds of milk and topped with fluffy whipped cream. You can send Eenie Minni a message on Facebook or Instagram to order.
Bakeys offers not just the Classic Tres Leches (P420), but also Strawberry (P500) and Cereal Milk (P470) variations. For orders, send Bakeys a message on Instagram for orders; you can pay via BDO bank deposit or GCash and pick it up yourself or book your own courier to pick it up from their Mandaluyong hub on Tuesdays and Fridays.
For orders, check out Bakeys’ Instagram page.
I Don’t Make Sweet Desserts
Contrary to the name, I Don’t Make Sweet Desserts makes some mighty fine sweet endings, including their takes on tres leches that are given fruity twists. Choose from the Original with Mangoes (P500), Vanilla with Fresh Strawberries (P600), and Ube Macapuno with Fresh Mangoes (P700). Just remember to place your orders four to five days in advance.
Cake2Go’s Quattro Leches (P750) gets an extra-luscious profile from the finishing drizzle of dulce de leche sauce. They accept pickup and delivery orders from their Makati, Timog, Banawe, Congressional, and Shaw branches, and pickup and walk-in orders from their Pasig, Don Antonio, BF Parañaque, Lilac Street in Marikina, Antipolo, Fairview, and Katipunan branches. Simply send Cake2Go a message on Facebook for their respective contact numbers.
See a list of open branches. You can also send a message to Cake2Go on Facebook for a list of contact numbers.
Bellefleur by Beatrix
Bellefleur by Beatrix's take on the tres leches cake goes the fruity route with their Strawberry (P1,500/eight inches) and Mango (P1,350/eight inches) Tres Leches variants. Each cake contains layers of leche flan, vanilla chiffon, and lady fingers soaked in a tres leches sauce, and are then topped with a mousse made of their respective fruits and more fresh fruit on top. You can send them a message on Facebook or Instagram for orders. They accept payments made via GCash or BPI, BDO, or Metrobank bank deposit.
Cakes by Miriam
Cakes by Miriam is known for their visually enticing cakes topped with a smattering of fresh fruit. Their Tres Leches Cake (P2,600/nine-inch round, P2,700/nine-inch heart, P4,700/nine-by-13 inch rectangle) takes the classic a notch up with a vanilla butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk, plus cream cheese, whipped cream, and strawberries and peaches. You can also get it in cupcake form (P2,050/24 pieces). To place an order, send Cakes by Miriam a message on Viber for orders; note that there’s a daily order cutoff of 12 noon.
The Sweet Life by Ange
The Sweet Life by Ange takes tres leches to the next level with their Tres Leches Leche Flan Cake (P1,600/five inches), which has a thick, creamy layer of leche flan in between the layers of cake and cream. Purple-yam fans are also in for a treat with their Ube Tres Leches Leche Flan Cake (P1,800/five inches). You can send them an e-mail or a message on Instagram for orders.
Papa Diddi’s merges ice cream and cake together in their ice cream cake line, which includes the oh-so-creamy Tres Leches variant (P500). Packed in a six-by-two inch bronze can, it’s made with condensada, carabao’s milk, and coconut milk layered with a sweet vanilla cake. You can place your order for this cold treat by sending them a message on Facebook or contacting 0977-372-2503.
For orders, send a message to Papa Diddi’s on Facebook, or contact 0977-372-2503.