Heaven in a Pan: Dulce de Leche Cake

A week ago, my good friend invited us to a paella party.  She’s had quite a few and the results are always excellent.  Like a devoted food buddy, I offered to make something.  She finally gave in and asked if I’d make the Tres Leches cake featured in this month’s edition of Saveur:  The SAVEUR 10th Annual 100.  She gets her magazines before I do, so I hadn’t seen it yet.  I knew our weekend was packed, so wondered if I’d be able to get it done in time.  The recipe for “Pastel de Cuatro Leches” or Dulce de Leche Cake called for quite a bit of time in the fridge before serving and I’m not the fastest cook in the land.  To be on the safe side, I scanned my cookbooks looking for a similar alternative and found a recipe for something like a Tarte Tatin with dulce de leche.  Now that could be an interesting experiment.  The last dulce de leche I used was purchased from Williams-Sonoma and there was absolutely no way I planned on heading for the mall.  I was supposed to be helping my husband paint his office in the morning.  So sticking a can of sweetened evaporated milk in a pan of water for an hour and a half would be worth it and not exactly challenging, right?


I headed to the store for some of my ingredients and made an unplanned detour to my favorite cooking store Great News with a gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket.  I thought they might have dulce de leche in the event my experiment didn’t quite work out.  Isn’t it convenient they just happened to have a baking pan I’ve been salivating over that would be perfect to bake the cake in.

Needless to say, I bought more than the baking pan.  A digital food scale, a new All-Clad skillet, fleur de sal, four small tart pans, and Chuao’s Spicy Mayan chocolate later, I was on my way home to make the cake.  Incorrigible.

I began with the interesting dulce de leche “recipe” I found in Seriously Simple by Diane Rossen Worthington.  It would take nearly as long as the cake, and I was trying to be efficient.  Sometimes, pigs do fly, you know.

And yes, you’re looking at the photo below correctly.  That is a whole can sitting in a pan of water.  The directions call for a pan with sides that extend above the rim of the can of sweetened condensed milk.  The water is added until it is 3/4 of the way up the can.  The can is unopened.  (You have to supress images of the roof of your house exploding here.)  The water is brought to a good simmer, and then reduced to a low simmer with a lid partially covering the pan.  Cook for 45 minutes, then turn the can and cook for an additional 45 minutes.  Cool to room temp in the pan, remove it and open it.  It’s supposed to be done.  But I needed it to be more like frosting (which isn’t the kind of dulce de leche I’m familiar with, but that the photo in the magazine showed…)  So of course, I poured the contents of the can into a pan, stirred it, heated it for about 10 minutes with a bit of milk and let it thicken.

So while the dulce de leche experiment was being conducted, I began the cake.

The cake is extremely easy to make if you’re comfortable separating eggs, whipping a stiff meringue, and then gradually adding the other ingredients.  Please admire my new and fabulous 13.5″ round Revol culinary porcelain baker that I couldn’t live without.  And for the directions for Pastel de Cuatro Leches (that would be four kinds of milk…), click the link above.


  • Milk # 1: Whole milk goes into the cake batter in a well buttered and floured pan.  Although the recipe calls for a standard 9×13″ pan, this one worked out just fine with no adjustments to the cooking time of 30 minutes.  The cake has to cool for 30 minutes after coming out of the oven.
  • Milk # 2, 3, & 4: After using a sharp knife to make many slits in the top of the cake, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk are mixed and poured over the surface of the cake.  They are very quickly absorbed and it is difficult to tell that 34 oz. of liquid has been there at all. It was refrigerated for about 3 hours before eating.
  • This is all I brought home from the party.  They loved it.  The consistency of the cake and milk was excellent.  If I hadn’t poured the milk onto the cake myself, I’d never have known it was there. It was served with vanilla ice cream, the purchased dulce de leche and chocolate sauce with chunks of Chuao’s spicy Mayan chocolate sprinkled on for good measure.

No, I didn’t get a photo.  But we did enjoy the leftovers the next evening along with the home made dulce de leche which had firmed up to the consistency of frosting.  This cake is so lovely and so easy to make, forget the dulce de leche and eat it plain.  Unbelievable.