Honey, You Just Have to Accept that You’re Big-boned – Tres Leches Cupcakes

pastel de tres leches cupcakes
I have a lesson that I have to share. It’s something that took a while to learn.

My sisters are twins. They’re only two years younger, which isn’t a very large gap at the (still) young age we are now, but the age difference between, say, two and four years old is big. The difference between sweet, soft, tiny, two-year-old twin baby girls and a big, fat ugly four-year-old is even bigger. It’s ginormous. My sisters were small and cute and dressed in adorable, colorful matching little dresses. As they got older, they were pretty, built very un-Asian-like with more “Western” facial features like small faces and round eyes and long, thin arms and legs. They were taller, skinnier, and prettier than your average, and even above-average, Korean girl. On the other hand, I was short, stumpy, pale, and what is now popularly known as “plump.” I was dressed in dumpy tomboy cords and unmatching windbreakers. I had a disproportionately large head with a big broad forehead that earned me the nickname “moonface,” from my own family. As I grew up, the long narrow slits I had for eyes stayed the same size, but since my face continued to wax to the glory of the full moon, my eyes looked even smaller by comparison. My torso was long and my arms and legs were short, and though my sisters looked like a very desirable “mixed,” I looked like Hello Kitty’s very unattractive Asian older stepsister (except that I also have a very big mouth).

When we were little and blissbully ignorant, I never paid much attention, but later on in life when external pressures about appearance start to weigh-in hard, I looked back at pictures of us through the years to the present time and became increasingly aware of how much bigger (and uglier – but that’s kind of a different story) I was than my sisters. Were we really related? Did I really get that unlucky with my parents’ pool of genes? How can my sisters eat a pound of bacon for breakfast, Arby’s Beef n’ Cheddar for lunch, snack all day long on chips and cookies and have a huge steak for dinner, but if I so much as wash my hair with fruit-infused shampoo I gain ten pounds??! My sisters got all the cute skinny genes, and I…I guess I got the brains. LOL!

I gave in to those external pressures and did every ridiculous, gimmicky thing I could to look less like myself and more like I was related to my family. It goes without saying that it took a long time of failing before I finally realized that this body wasn’t ever going to get there. I can’t fight what’s natural. I will never be tiny, no matter what I do, and instead of trying to squeeze into a size *ahem* and being miserable when things spill out all over the place and I can’t zip my jeans, I should just rely on my sparkling personality and brilliant mind to get me through life ;)

This is the lesson I pass on to Tres Leches Cake. Sometimes, we just have to accept that we’re better when we’re bigger.

Tres Leches, honey, you’re never going to be little. You can try to be a cupcake, and at first it may appear that you’re succeeding, but you can’t maintain. Don’t be sad. It’s just not natural for you, and trust me, I’ve seen Dr. 90210 and you definitely do not want to go under the knife. Well, the cake knife, maybe, but not the scalpel. You, Tres Leches, were born to be big. You can be cute, but it won’t be small-cute. Instead of wallowing and focusing in on what you can’t be, how about we really play up your assets? You’re big. You’ve got a great personality. And you know how to party.

Pastel de Tres Leches is a simple Latin American sponge cake soaked with a syrup made of three different types of milk – sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. These are the “tres leches.” It happens to be one of my all-time favorite desserts, so when I see it on menus, I almost always order it. I had never made it at home before because it tastes like it would be complicated, but when I finally found out that Tres Leches Cake is fairly easy, I resolved to make it and thought it would be a fantastic idea to make them into cupcakes because every cake is cuter as an itty bitty babycake!

It was not a fantastic idea.

Baking the sponge cake is so simple it’s almost criminal. Then, making the milk syrup (to which I added a generous dose of rum) and soaking each cupcake with it is a little bit more of a hassle for multiple cupcakes than I would imagine for a single large cake. Though the traditional frosting is a meringue, I am afraid of raw eggs, so I used whipped cream which, aside from simply going au naturel, is the easiest way to finish off cupcakes. So far, none of this is bad.

pastel de tres leches cupcakes
quick and gimmicky only goes so small

The un-fantastic-ness of the idea starts with the milk syrup. After the milk syrup soaks into the cake, it also seeps out of the cake and through the cupcake liner! What an ickie sticky mess. This of course, could be remedied by using foil liners, but there is a bigger problem that cannot be remedied so easily. Regular Tres Leches Cake is eaten with utensils insmall, normal, civilized bites. Because the cake is so sopping soaked with syrup, you could even use a spoon. Cupcakes, on the other hand, are usually eaten with hands. When you bite into a Tres Leches cupcake, the sticky milk syrup gently flows out of the cake, dribbles down your chin and trickles through your fingers, down the back of your hand into tiny milky rivulets down your forearm. Tres Leches Cupcakes taste great, but they aren’t pretty.

It’s just better, Tres Leches, to be one big pleasantly plump cake that we can all eat with a spoon.

Tres Leches Cupcakes (Recipe) that Should Have Remained a Cake)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make sponge cake first by whipping 6 large egg whites until foamy. Gradually add 1½ c. sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Beat in 6 large egg yolks one at time.

Sift 1½ c flour with 1 T. baking powder.

Fold flour into eggs, alternating with ½ c. milk.

Pour batter into muffin tin lined with cupcake liners about 2/3 full. Be smart unlike me and use foil liners. Don’t go too low because this sponge cake sounds like it would rise and be sponge-y, but it doesn’t. Don’t fill too far over either because the pudgy little things will spread like my love handles over the tops of my one-size-too-small jeans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until they’re done.

While the cake is baking, combine 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 1 can evaporated milk, 1 c. heavy cream and ¼ c. rum of any kind.

Remove cupcakes from oven, and poke all over with a thin chopstick or skewer. Slowly spoon rum-milk over hot cupcakes allowing them to soak it up. I poured by the teaspoonful, about 5 teaspoons for each cupcake. Allow cupcakes to soak and cool for at least 4 to 6 hours. You won’t use all the syrup, and if you do, then you are going to have some soggy-ass cupcakes (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

Top cupcakes with lightly sweetened whipped cream. (Traditionally, the frosting is a meringue, but like I said, raw egg whites scare me).

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jeanne January 6, 2006 at 3:17 pm

Interesting idea…I’m a big fan of tres leches and have thought a cupcake would be a good deviation…why didn’t it work?


2 yun jae January 7, 2006 at 1:44 am

Hey Sarah!

Dude, how’ve you been? Maybe i can help you out w/ the korean side of some of your posts. =P I think it’s awesome that you’re sharing one of your passions thru blog. i’ll be dropping by quite a bit, so keep up the great posts!


3 Joycelyn January 7, 2006 at 10:44 am

hi sarah, funny post ;) i’ve never had the pleasure of trying a tres leches cake but it sounds absolutely divine (i love anything with condensed milk…)


4 Oishii Eats January 7, 2006 at 9:11 pm

Your post brings back my own memories of being the “hairy” child. And my mom still wonders why I shaved my arms in elementary school. I love reading your blog.

The cupcakes still look super cute.


5 Sasha @ Global Table Adventure January 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Awww… the things we do as kids. If it makes you feel any better, hairy arms are better than hairy cupcakes.


6 Michael January 7, 2006 at 9:56 pm

This is like the opposite of sushi. One time I bought a chunk of sushi-grade tuna and attempted to eat it like a steak. Not appealing at all…


7 Anonymous January 8, 2006 at 4:34 am

So did they actually taste any good?


8 Anonymous January 9, 2006 at 4:54 am



9 Rachael January 9, 2006 at 5:35 am

Ackkk. I can so relate. My sister is 5’10”, 110 lbs. and lives on pasta. Its a total drag. LOL.

As for the cakes, my South American family (forget about how thin those women are…its unreal. Must be all the smoking and eating dinner at 11:30) all use a recipe from a magazine to make this and swear it is a Mexican dessert. Every Mexican Ive ever asked claims it is Spanish, and my Spanish family claim it is, well, South American. Too funny.

I can honestly say though, it is my all time favorite cake. Makes my head swim. Thanks for the post and the recipe!


10 Tokyoastrogirl January 9, 2006 at 8:56 pm

OMG, these look delicious. I love tres leches cake (except the days I have to spend on the treadmill to get rid of the calories!). Maybe you can come up with a fat free, sugar free version for the next Sugar High Friday? Ok, that sounds gross but a girl can dream ok?


11 sarah January 10, 2006 at 4:20 am

hee! thanks all!

jeanne: i too (obviously) am a BIG HUGE fan of tres leches, but they are just too messy to eat by hand in a cupcake form. if you serve them on a plate with a spork, i think they will be okay, otherwise, the syrup runs everywhere, even through the cupcake liner (unless you use foil)

yun jae: s***! you found me! lol! did ryan tell you?!??! thanks for stopping and reading, and yes, i’ll need some tutoring on the korean ;)

j: thanks! you could so very easily make it, but it’s not something that you’d ever want to post on your blog ;)

jeni: thank! yours (blog) is cute, too :)

michael: true! though a big chunk of ahi very lightly seared is pretty good. just not a whole huge side of tuna.

anon: they were pretty good! messy, but still tasty!

l.a.c.: i have made tres leches with a regular butter cake recipe before. it doesn’t work. the cake has to be DRY in order for it to soak up all the syrup. the butter cake DOES fall apart when you put the syrup in it.

anon#2: thank you. :)

rachael: wha!? and i’ll bet you and your sister look exactly alike! you LA girl, you ;)

tokyoastrogirl: fat free and sugar free tres leches? sounds like…bread dipped in water. LOL!


12 Catherine January 24, 2006 at 12:59 am

YuuUUUuuUuUummmM! Tonight’s one of my only night’s off before I finish shiatsu so I’m really, really looking forward to spending some time in my office and trying out this recipe. Thanks for sharing! :)


13 Jaime April 28, 2010 at 10:04 am

Ha Ha Ha – I luv that you sad you’ll have one soggy ass cupcake! lol that was great and thanks for sharing!


14 Mupp February 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

unless you peel the cupcake liners and put them in a margarita glass before dumping on the syrup and topping – yum…can still eat it with a spoon too.


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