Milk, Milk, and More Milk: Chapter 5 — Connecting Food with Culture

On hot, sticky days in Chicago’s humid summers, where my family would crowd under the kitchen fan, one dessert would manage to cool us all down: tres leches. 

Tres leches is the king of all cakes all desserts in the Mexican culture. The rich, ultra decadent, and insanely moist cake wets the front of your shirt and makes your lips stick together, leaving your mouth to taste sweet for the rest of the evening. No matter how many glasses of milk you may drink afterward the sugary taste still lingers. It was the dessert least consumed in my family, but the one most desired by all. 

As you can see, I have always loved cake.

If you have never had the pleasure of digging into a thick slice of tres leches, try and picture this: a vanilla cake drowned in three types of milk, hence the name “tres leches,” and topped with whipped cream. It may sound a little too rich, but I promise you it is worth all the hype I am giving it. 

About a month ago, while sitting on the couch with my roommates, I suddenly decided I was going to make a tres leches. I don’t know what compelled me to do this, or what even prompted the idea, but the simple thought of slicing into the sinful, whipped cream-topped morsel made my mouth water. With this seed of inspiration, I took to an unsuspecting source for recipes: TikTok. 

Finding good Mexican food, let alone baked goods, in Manhattan is difficult. If you want the authentic taste that brings you back to eating meals with your family around your grandmother’s kitchen table, you have to go to Queens, and unfortunately, I simply don’t have the time to do that right now. So, I have resorted to recreating the dishes I crave from my past in my tiny apartment’s kitchen. Surprisingly, TikTok has been my main source of recipes when it comes to making Mexican dishes that my family never taught me. Not only is it a great way to visually learn, but many of the users are conscious of a careful-spending budget. When my sudden and very urgent craving for tres leches began, TikTok was the first place I searched for a recipe. 

I love to bake it runs in my blood. My maternal grandmother never leaves the house without a tray of freshly baked potato chip cookies: the most strange, but insanely delicious, shortbread cookies with crushed potatoes chips in them to offset the sweetness. Her love for baking was passed down to me as a child. For a few years as a teenager, my brothers could expect to finish dinner off with carrot cake cupcakes or some variation of cookies. I knew I would be able to make a good tres leches, but I wanted it to be more than its traditional form; I wanted it to remind me of the cake my dad would bring home in a neat white box, covered in whipped cream with a certain twist that no one could put their finger on. I wanted it to remind me of laughing with my cousins when we would get whipped cream on our noses, threatening to touch each other with sticky fingers left from the cake. I knew that those specific memories would be hard to grasp, but not impossible. 

After a quick search on TikTok, I came across a surprisingly easy and affordable recipe from the user @cici.soriano. With a quick trip to the grocery store, I felt prepared to make this cake. Although it didn’t exactly remind me of the scrumptious memories of my childhood, it provided me with something more important: the pleasure of knowing that I can bring aspects of my culture with me wherever I am. Watching the smile on my roommates’ faces as they tasted the fondest recollections of my past, their lips sticky from the condensed milk, reminded me of the joy I felt as a child when having my favorite cake for dessert. 

My first attempt at making tres leches. I made sure to make caramel from leftover cans of condensed milk and drizzled that on top.

Sometimes, finding delight in your cultural food means making it yourself, no matter how difficult it may be. My tres leches is not exactly traditional or completely “homemade,” but it allows me to briefly remember the joys of my childhood, and has provided my friends with a new favorite dessert. The next time you recreate your favorite cultural meals, desserts, or simple snacks, consider sharing them with your friends it may become their favorite, too. 

Tres Leches Cake


– 1 can of evaporated milk

– 1 can of sweetened condensed milk

– 1 can of whole milk (use leftover can of condensed/evaporated milk to measure)

– 1 box of vanilla cake mix 

– 1.5 cups of heavy cream

– 2 tbsp of powdered sugar

– 2 tbsp of vanilla extract 

– 2 tbsp of cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven according to cake mix instructions.
  2. Assemble cake.
  3. Blend evaporated, condensed, and whole milk along with cinnamon and vanilla extract in a blender until combined and smooth. 
  4. Whip heavy cream and powdered sugar together until soft peaks form. 
  5. When done baking according to box instructions, let the cake cool for 20 minutes.
  6. Trim the brown top off of the cake, along with the sides. Poke small holes all around the cake. The more holes you have, the better the milk mixture will seep in. 
  7. Pour milk mixture over the cake. 
  8. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

If you don’t have the time or resources to bake your own cake, head to Amorino for 20% off your gelato order!

By: Allegra Ruiz

Allegra Ruiz is a junior at New York University and she is from Chicago. She studies English and is minoring in Creative Writing. In her free time, she enjoys journaling, reading books and essay collections, and cooking for her roommates. Currently, she lives quietly in New York. 

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