Oct 23, 2023

Recipe: Berry Tres Leches Cake from Troutdale’s Sugarpine Drive

ByKatherine Chew HamiltonPhotography byMichael NovakMay 31, 2023

Chef Victoria Ascencio of Sugarpine Drive-In plates her tres leches cake with berries and fennel.

Image: Michael Novak

Portland Summertime IS SYNONYMOUS WITH berries, trips to the Columbia River Gorge, and stops in Troutdale at Sugarpine Drive-In—and we have a recipe to bring that summer sweetness to your kitchen.

Berry tres leches cake is a signature of pastry chef Victoria Ascencio, who joined the Sugarpine team last August. She's known for balancing nostalgia with fine-dining twists and local ingredients like topping soft serve sundaes with matcha-filled mini cream puffs and pandan kaya macarons. On her own, she's also heading up a new microbakery, Pink Goose Bakery, which will sell her rainbow-sprinkled macarons, cookies, and cake creations every other Saturday this summer at the St. Johns Farmers Market. (Baking-phobes: Yes, you can special order a tres leches cake.)

Her tres leches recipe exemplifies her Mexican American heritage, and was the first dessert she sold as a high schooler at her father's restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, amped up with amaretto-soaked cherries and toasted milk powder. After studying pastry in college and working at high-end restaurants, including the now-closed Michelin-starred restaurant Spiaggia on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, she headed to Portland. "I wanted to spread roots in a new city that is more aligned with my core values, which I really felt weren't being emulated in the restaurant culture in Illinois," says Ascencio.

At Sugarpine, she found a progressive restaurant culture, including automatic gratuity policies—plus room to create. "I don't have to be in fine dining to enjoy the creativity of what I’m doing," she says. Portland has enjoyed having her here, too: last fall for Día de los Muertos, she created a sundae with cereal milk–soaked tres leches cake bites, honey hot fudge, crispy chocolate churro pieces, and Mexican hot chocolate dust, garnished with marigold petals.

Her tres leches cake stays true to the classic version in texture but adds an unusual twist of fresh fennel.

By Victoria Ascencio

Serves 12

*Toast spices in a 325-degree oven for 8–10 minutes, then grind with a spice grinder, mortar and pestle, or blender.

Assembly: Cut tres leches cake into slices. Dollop each slice with whipped cream, then garnish with fresh berries, macerated berries, and fennel fronds.

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