The City Magazine Since 1975

Lowcountry Tres Leches

{Dessert Winner} Greg VanDerwerker Kiawah Island resident Greg VanDerwerker discovered tres leches (“three milks”) cake some 15 years ago while visiting Costa Rica, where the fresh and creamy confection is considered the national dessert. But Greg, a 59-year-old retiree, saw potential for sweetening the cake with some South Carolina personality. “It’s readily adaptable to the addition of other flavors, and the Lowcountry’s traditional pecans and oranges go so well together,” remarks Greg, noting that he regularly experiments with this favorite dessert for family meals.
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*Baker’s Note: This is best made the day before to allow time for the flavors to blend.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (White Lily recommended)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 4 eggs, separated and brought to room temperature
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (reserved from orange pecan recipe), chilled until very cold
  • 1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 half-pint whipping cream
  • Orange pecans, for topping
  • 2 oranges, divided into segments for garnish
  • Sweetened whipped cream, for garnish

Orange Pecans
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of salt
1 cup pecan halves


Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan. Set aside. Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

Place egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer. Using whisk attachment, beat until foamy. Add salt and continue beating until whites are stiff.

Add yolks to whites one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sugar a little at a time. Slow mixer to lowest speed and gently add reserved flour mixture.
Add cold orange juice one teaspoon at a time.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake approximately 40 minutes, or until cake top is almost golden and sides have pulled away from pan slightly.

Just before cake finishes baking, whip evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream together by hand or in blender until frothy. Remove cake from oven; immediately poke holes all over cake with fork or toothpick. Starting at edge of cake and moving to the center, spoon milk mixture over cake. Refrigerate to chill completely (overnight is best).

Before serving, chop orange pecans and spread evenly over top of cake. Garnish servings with fresh orange segments and whipped cream. 

Orange Pecans

Reserve and refrigerate a quarter cup of orange juice for cake.

Place remaining juice, zest, sugar, allspice, ginger, and salt in large skillet. Stir to combine, and bring to a rolling boil. Add pecan halves, and stir constantly until all syrup is absorbed. Remove from heat and continue stirring until pecans separate.

Turn the pecans out onto wax paper to dry. Store in an airtight container.