Low-fat Coconut Tres Leches (or, I Make an Awesome Tasting, Homely Looking Dessert)

March 17, 2013

After attending a food media event at Cuba Cuba, I was inspired to try to make some tres leches cake at home. But I thought I’d make coconut tres leches just for an added twist. I referred to a few recipes online, but definitely wanted to make mine much lower in fat and calories, since most recipes call for sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk, and even heavy cream. By using evaporated skim milk and light coconut milk (which I was delighted to find at Whole Foods with only recognizable ingredients on the labels), as well as skim milk, a reduced amount of egg yolks, and mainly erythritol for sweetener, I was able to make some completely delicious cake, with only about 1/3 of the calories and 1/4 of the fat of some tres leches recipes.

But then there’s the homely aspect of my cake making endeavors. Baking at altitude can be quite a challenge (and we’re at about 5430 feet here). I make a lot of quick breads, which are pretty forgiving, so I’ve been lulled into a false sense of baking-at-altitude competence over the years. It turns out that cakes are quite a different thing. (I don’t think I’d actually made a cake-cake since I’d lived in Colorado (which has been a long time). At any rate, if I did, it would have been at least 15 years ago, and therefore from a box with nice high-altitude adjustments printed on the side.) So, I had two different ‘not exactly what I was going for’ cake results while working on this recipe.

I made a 1/2 cake recipe both times. The first time I baked the cake in a large bread pan, confident that would better guarantee an even cake than a 9 x 9 cake pan. Things looked good for a while, until the middle of the cake fell, and I ended up with a nice canyon. (This symptom is quite common at high altitudes (I read after the fact) – with lower pressure and lower moisture the cake rises too fast, and the structure is compromised). But I carried on, and the result was fantastic tasting, albeit rather unevenly shaped.

Cake for Tres Leches - With Added Canyon Feature

Cake for Tres Leches – With Added Canyon Feature

The next time I thought I had a brilliant idea when I decided I would make individual cupcakes instead of one cake. Surely they would rise more evenly, and would have the added bonus of being individually sized automatically. That may have worked fine except for two issues. One, I should have made 14 cupcakes instead of trying to cram everything into 12. That probably would have let me avoid the magnificently spreading cake overflow which resulted in very wide flat-topped cupcakes.

Flat-Topped Tres Leches Cupcakes

Flat-Topped Tres Leches Cupcakes

Second, despite coating the muffin pan with a thin layer of butter and flouring all of the cups, there was some massive stickage. The process of removing them from the pan consisted of freeing and then popping the tops, and then excavating the bottoms from the muffin pan.

Poorly Prepared Pan Aftermath

Poorly Prepared Pan Aftermath

So plan B (C, I guess, since B was trying the cupcakes) was to invert the cupcakes in a large pan prior to poking them with a skewer and pouring the milk over them.

Plan B

Plan B – Inverted Cupcakes

For the milk mixture, since sweetened condensed milk is thicker than light coconut milk, I reduced the evaporated milk and coconut milk just a bit. I’m not sure it really made much of a difference, but since I did it the first time, I did it the second time as well.

I think the sunken cake in the bread pan was the better form to work with, so that’s what the following recipe uses.

For general ratios and preparation, I referred to a recipe in Bon Apétit

Coconut Tres Leches
makes 8 servings

3/4 c flour (I used white whole wheat)
1+1/2 tsp baking powder (use 1/8 to 1/4 tsp less at high altitudes)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
4 egg whites
8 Tbsp erythritol (if using all sugar, cut this to 6 Tbsp)
4 Tbsp sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1/4 c skim milk
1+1/2 c fat free evaporated milk
1 c light coconut milk
1+1/2 Tbsp erythritol (or 1 Tbsp sugar)
1/2 tsp coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350°. (Try 375° at high altitudes). Butter and flour a large bread pan, being sure that the flour coats the entire pan.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon together, and then set aside.

Using a mixer, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until firm peaks form. (Softer peaks for high altitude). Gradually beat in the sugar and erythritol. Add the egg yolks in two batches, beating well after each. Add the vanilla and 1 tsp coconut extract, and beat again. Add the flour and milk in five steps, and mixing well by hand after each step: flour, milk, flour, milk, flour. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat by 25° and continue baking until the cake is golden brown and the middle springs back when pressed, 10-20 minutes more. (It didn’t take that long for mine).

While the cake is baking, combine the evaporated milk, coconut milk, 1+1/2 Tbsp erythritol, and 1/2 tsp coconut extract, then cook in a saucepan on low heat, stirring often, until slightly reduced (about 15-20 minutes). You just want a low simmer while it’s cooking, so adjust the heat as necessary.

When the cake is done, remove it from the oven, and cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then remove the cake from the pan and place on a cooling rack set on large baking sheet or in a large pan.

Poke holes all over the top of the cake with a skewer. Slowly drizzle about 1/3 of the milk mixture all over the cake. Wait until the milk soaks in, and then drizzle another 1/3 over the cake. Place a large inverted plate on top of the cake, then turn it over so the cake is on top of the plate. Drizzle the remaining milk over the cake.

Store any left over cake in the fridge. (I actually preferred it chilled, so put it in there before I served it.)

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2 Responses to “Low-fat Coconut Tres Leches (or, I Make an Awesome Tasting, Homely Looking Dessert)”


  1. By large bread pan do you mean a loaf pan?


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