It was just three years ago: I was in Houston, visiting the Lone Star state for the first time. My friends and I went to a Mexican restaurant for a brunch of micheladas (imagine a bloody mary but made with beer instead of vodka) and migas (scrambled eggs topped with tortilla strips). At the end of the meal, we shared a tres leches cake – a tall slice covered in clouds of whipped cream. One bite and I understood why this is one of the most well-loved Latin American desserts. Sweet, moist, and creamy, the cake tasted light and rich, simple and extravagant at the same time.
I wanted a taste of those luscious flavors again and decided to experiment with ice cream. I made tres leches ice cream, no ice cream maker needed, no churning required. And it is muy delicioso!
For those who aren’t familiar with tres leches cake, it’s a soft, spongey cake is soaked in the three kinds of milk (tres leches literally translates as “three milks” in Spanish): evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream. As the cake absorbs the milks, it turns dense and extremely moist, the texture resembling a cross between bread pudding and custard. The cake is then frosted with fresh whipped cream, and topped with fruit. In Houston, it came with big, juicy strawberries, but since then I’ve had other versions topped with oranges, cherries, mixed berries, cinnamon, chocolate, caramel, or nuts.
The ice cream I made utilizes heavy cream, condensed milk, and coconut milk. I folded in mini Nilla wafer cookies, which in turn softened into cake-like pieces. I’ve used Nilla wafers in no-bake treats before (my favorite is Nutella Banana Pudding) and really like the texture it brings to desserts after being chilled. Next time I would add more coconut milk to dial up the flavor, and maybe garnish with some toasted coconut flakes.
This tastes exactly how I think of tres leches: sweet, creamy, and rich. It was such an easy dessert, and I’m so glad I can make ice cream without needing an ice cream maker. I really loved the sweet cream flavor and the bites with cookies. Originally I was going to fold in crumbled shortbread cookies, but I think the Nilla wafers worked better because the texture was more similar to cake. Next time I would probably double the amount of Nilla wafers for even more texture (and there will definitely be a next time).
This tres leches ice cream would be perfect for next week’s celebration for Cinco de Mayo, which highlights Mexican culture, music, and cuisine. It would also be perfect for just a regular Thursday night at home, watching Cristina Yang’s last episode on Grey’s Anatomy. Or for whatever else you might be doing later.
Tres Leches Ice Cream
No ice cream maker needed, no churning required! This easy-to-make ice cream has the luscious flavors of tres leches cake. The three milks used in the recipe are heavy cream, condensed milk, and coconut milk.
2 cups heavy cream
1 can (14 oz) condensed milk
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup mini Nilla wafers
- Whip cream into stiff peaks.
- In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk and coconut milk.
- Fold in condensed milk mixture into whipped cream.
- Stir in Nilla wafer cookies
- Pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze for at least 6 hours.