Soaked. Drenched. Dripping. Wet. All uncomfortable words if you're talking about your drowned rat-resembling self after being caught unawares by a heavy raincloud. But, wonderful descriptors when discussing sponge cake webbed with strands of coconut, super-saturated with coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and thick cream.
Tres leches is a personal favorite, immortalized in my taste memory by my mother's recipe, here slightly modified to make room for a bit of tropical taste and texture. One of her signature desserts, it's a large fluffy sponge thirsting for a flood of the milky trifecta. Just when it seems there is much too much liquid, that the cake will drown, the cake slurps it up, gushing out only when prodded with a greedy fork.
Usually, I top tres leches with mounds of whipped cream, but here, a toasted marshmallow cap with bits of bronzed and toasted coconut seemed a more fitting match.
Notes: To toast the coconut for the topping, arrange it in a single layer in a large baking sheet. Bake 5 to 10 minutes on the center rack of a preheated 350°F oven, stirring the coconut halfway through baking, until crisp and golden. Transfer baking sheet to cooling rack and cool coconut completely, about 15 minutes.
It will look like there is too much liquid for the cake, but it is one thirsty sponge! Add the milk mixture to the cake about 1/2 cup at a time, one section of the cake at a time to ensure even absorption.
- For the Cake:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 6 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- For the Coconut Milk Bath:
- 2 (13.5-ounce) cans coconut milk
- 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- For the Toasted Meringue Topping:
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups toasted sweetened shredded coconut (See Notes)
For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.
Whisk flour and baking powder together in small bowl; set aside.
In large bowl, beat egg whites and salt with whisk attachment on medium-low speed until whites begin to loosen and froth, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and beat whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add egg yolks and beat just until combined. Decrease speed to low and add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with milk. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary. Add vanilla and beat just until combined. Fold in coconut with rubber spatula.
Scrape batter into ungreased 13- by 9-inch baking dish and smooth out top. Bake until cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes, rotating cake halfway through baking. Transfer cake to cooling rack and cool in pan completely, 1 to 2 hours. Once cooled, poke cake all over with fork or skewer and run a paring knife along the edges just to separate the cake from the sides of the baking dish.
For the Coconut Milk Bath: Whisk coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and cream together in large bowl. Pour mixture evenly all over cake (See notes). Transfer to refrigerator and chill at least 2 hours.
For the Toasted Meringue Topping: Stir sugar, water, and corn syrup in heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and boil syrup until it registers 240°F on candy thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes.
While syrup boils, in large bowl, beat egg whites and salt with whisk attachment on medium-low speed until whites begin to loosen and froth, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and beat whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.
With mixer running on medium-high speed, slowly and carefully add syrup to egg whites. Beat until outside of bowl is cool to the touch and whites are thick and glossy, about 7 minutes. Fold in toasted coconut.
Spread topping on cooled cake with a spatula, pulling up on meringue to create decorative peaks. Torch meringue to lightly toast. If you don’t have a torch, adjust oven rack to upper third and preheat oven to 450°F. Bake until golden, about 5 minutes.
electric mixer, rubber spatula, 13- by 9-inch baking dish, medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, candy thermometer, torch (optional, See Recipe Step 10)