Tartine's Pastel de Tres Leches Cake
Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 5:43PM
Marc in Coconut, Tartine, Tres Leches Cake, cake, dessert

A friend pointed out that I don’t bake enough to have a blog called Baketard, so I figured what the hell. It’s not like I don’t have a ton of baking cookbooks collecting dust. The one I find the most exciting, though, is Tartine. The recipes seem straightforward and the photos completely suck your fat ass in to down just One. More. Doughnut. Or pastry. Or cookie. Or an entire goddamned bakery. 

The recipe I’ve found the most compelling is the Pastel de Tres Leches cake. I love tres leches cakes when they’re done well, but many are disappointing soggy messes. (Yes, I know it’s supposed to be moist but sometimes too much wetness can be a turnoff. (I’m talking to you, Jackie Baisa))

This recipe is a bit time consuming. Ok, it’s totally time consuming. And involved. And fussy. YAYYYYYYY!!!! I loved baking this, and it was a huge hit for dessert. Note that it was even better the next day.

Start by making the cake and letting it cool, and then follow the other simple recipes for pastry cream, caramel and coconut syrup. And clear your calendars, ladies. You’ll be spent after tackling this one. 

Note that this can be made gluten free by replacing the AP flour with sand. 

Chiffon Cake:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

6 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup grated coconut

10 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch cake or springform pan with 3-inch sides with parchment paper cut to fit exactly; don’t grease the pan. 

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and the salt and whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, and coconut. Make a well in the flour, add the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly for about 1 minutes until very smooth.

In another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar slowly while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Add a third of the egg whites and fold into the yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest of the whites until just combined. 

Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once completely cool, run a thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake an then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment. 

Coconut syrup:

1 cup coconut milk

6 tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch salt 

Pastry Cream Filling:

1 ½ tsp unflavored gelatin

2 tbsp water

2 ½ cups pastry cream (recipe follows)

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup caramel (optional, recipe follows) 


1 ¼ cups heavy cream

4 tsp sugar

Line the sides of an 8-inch springform pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough overhang to cover the top of the cake completely when it is assembled. 

To make the coconut syrup, in a small bowl stir together the coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. 

To make the filling, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small dish and stir it until the gelatin is covered completely. Let it stand for a few minutes to soften. 

If using freshly made pastry cream that is still hot: whisk the gelatin into the entire amount of pastry cream and then place the bowl in the refrigerator to cool before continuing. 

If using pastry cream that is cold: pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Place ½ cup of the pastry cream in a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of the saucepan over, not touching, the water. Heat the pastry cream, whisking often, until it is very hot to the touch, 4-5 minutes. Whisk in the gelatin until smooth. Remove from the water bath and whisk in half of the remaining cold pastry cream, then whisk in the rest. 

Whip the cream until it holds medium-soft peaks. Working quickly, gently fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream mixture with a rubber spatula. The cold cream will make the gelatin begin to set up at this point, so be sure you have all of your cake components (syrup, cake layers, and caramel if using) ready. 

Pastry Cream:

2 cups whole milk

½ vanilla bean

¼ tsp salt

4 tbsp cornstarch

½ cup + 1 tbsp sugar

2 large eggs

4 tbsp unsalted butter 

Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting in the rim.

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is just under a boil, slowly ladle about 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You want to see a few slow bubbles. However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously it will curdle. 

Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat an prevent a skim from forming on top.

Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140 degrees), whisk the butter into the pastry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon.

To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream, and refrigerate. 


2/3 cup heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups sugar

¼ cup water

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

¾ tsp lemon juice

4 tbsp unsalted butter 

Pour the cream and vanilla into a small heavy saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm. 

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. 

The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for 10 minutes. 

Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool. 

The caramel will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. 

Slice cake into 3 even layers (I did this using toothpicks as guides).

Place 1 cake layer in the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer evenly with half of the coconut syrup. If using caramel, drizzle half of it over the cake layer. Pour the pastry cream filling over the layer and spread it evenly. 

Place the second layer over the filling, pressing down gently with even pressure. Moisten this layer with the remaining coconut syrup, and then drizzle over the remaining caramel, if using.

Repeat with third layer.

Fold the overhanging plastic wrap over the top of the cake, covering completely. Put a small weight on top to gently settle the layers.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.

When you are ready to finish the cake, release and lift off the pan sides and peel away the plastic wrap. Transfer the cake to a serving plate, if using, or leave it on the cake base.

To make the topping, whip the cream until thickened. Add the sugar and whip until the cream holds stiff peaks. Frost the top of the cake with the whipped cream. The cake can be served immediately or kept cold in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  

Article originally appeared on Baketard.com (http://www.baketard.com/).
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