I’ve received several emails criticizing my planned addition of dulce de leche to tres leches cake. A few folks writing in from Mexico are telling me that it’s an “American thing.” That’s a valid criticism, since from what I’ve learned dulce de leche-tinged tres leches cakes first became popular in south Texas and Miami. Yet those two locales are well-known for their dominant Spanish-speaking populations. So who knows? It’s very possibly that the “cuatro leches” cake is also an import.
I’ll tell you this: tres leches cake is a very difficult thing to pin down. Sure, sometimes Mexico or Nicaragua will try to claim it as a national invention, but I don’t think many people really believe that. Tres leches cake is a delicacy that’s owned by practically the entire hemisphere. Different “native” interpretations of it can be found from Chicago to Mexico City to Santo Domingo to Buenos Aires. The only common rules: that the cake be white and the frosting made of whipped cream or meringue. And of course the whole thing must be soaked in a sweet mixture of condensed milk and cream.
On which note I should add that the idea of soaking cakes with different sorts of creams or liquors is a European thing. So indeed it seems that the harder you look for a solid foundation for a tres leches cake history, the less you really find. Could tres leches cake ultimately be a figment of the imagination? If so then it doesn’t have any calories. I’ll have two pieces.