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Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake is an ultra decadent Mexican dessert that you simply have to try! A moist, decadent cake soaked in an amazing three milk mixture and topped with homemade sweetened whipped cream.

Homemade Tres Leches Cake

So let me start out by saying that I have never been a Tres Leches gal. I have never been I had tried MANY recipes, ordered it many times at restaurants and basically decided it wasn’t for me. Turns out I just hadn’t had the RIGHT Tres Leches Cake recipe. After some trial and error, I got this one right. All the name of cake.

It is the most dreamy and indulgent of all cakes. It’s impressive to serve to friends and not too technical or difficult for a novice baker to make. You can make it the day before a holiday or event and then ice it with whipped cream and go!

What is Tres Leches Cake?

Tres Leches directly translates from Spanish to English as “three milks”. Tres Leches Cake is a sponge cake that is poked with holes and then drenched in three separate milks. The cake then acts as a sponge and absorbs those milks making for the most insanely moist and sweet cake you’ll ever encounter. 

What are the 3 kinds of milk in tres leches?

In an authentic tres leches cake, the 3 kinds of milk are: evaporated milk, heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk.

What Makes this Recipe So Good?

I’ve been working on perfecting my Tres Leches Cake for years. I’ve tested this recipe so many times with every cake base under the sun: butter cake, vanilla cake, cake mix cake, and pound cake.

The ultimate winner? Sponge cake! It’s a sponge, so it LITERALLY soaks up the milks that are poured on top! With a sponge cake more than any other cake base, the cake is soft and you get the delicious milk combination in every bite. Sponge cake falls under the category of foam cake (as opposed to butter cake). These kinds of cake are light and fluffy because they have air beaten into the egg whites.

Using a cake mix worked well too, but not as well as the sponge cake. The texture of a cake baked from a box mix is extremely soft and airy, so it will do in a pinch. 

Regular vanilla cake didn’t absorb as much of the milk as I wanted. Pound cake was altogether too dense for this recipe. 

Take it from me, go with the sponge cake. 

A slice of Tres Leches cake plated and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon

What You’ll Need

Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll need to make this tres leches recipe. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for specific amounts.

For the cake:

  • Eggs
  • Sugar
  • Milk
  • Vanilla
  • Baking powder
  • Kosher salt
  • All-purpose flour
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Evaporated milk
  • Heavy cream

For the Topping

  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Powdered sugar
  • Ground cinnamon
A collage of images showing the steps to make Tres Leches Cake

How to Make Tres Leches Cake

Ok, let’s make a tres leches cake! Here’s how to do it:

  • Prep: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray and set it aside.
  • Mix: In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the 5 egg yolks and 3/4 cup granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, until it becomes a pale yellow color. Scrape the bottom of the bowl once or twice during mixing to ensure the mixture is evenly combined.
  • Add: Turn the mixer down to medium-low and add in the milk, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Mix for 30 seconds, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  • Turn mixer to low and add in the flour, mixing until just combined.
  • Whisk: In another bowl using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Add in the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and continue beating until stiff (but not dry) peaks form.
  • Fold: Fold the egg whites into the prepared batter until combined. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake is set on top, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  • Cool: Place the pan on a wire rack to cool. 
  • Combine: When the cake is mostly cooled, combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a medium bowl.
  • Poke: Using a fork poke the top of the cooled cake, creating tiny little holes all over. Pour the milk mixture evenly all over on top of the cake, making sure you get the edges.
  • Cool: Allow the cake to cool completely, and cover it with cling wrap. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or overnight. 
  • Top: When you’re ready to serve the cake, mix the remaining heavy cream and powdered sugar together in your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until thickened. Spread your whipped cream on top of the cake and dust the cake with ground cinnamon, if desired.
A slice of Tres Leches Cake plated with the first bit on the fork

Why Separate the Eggs?

Separating your eggs will produce a fluffier cake that is better able to absorb our indulgent milk mixture. I do love to simplify recipes, so I would eliminate this step if doing so still produced a good result. But in this recipe, I don’t recommend skipping the separating of the eggs. The fluffier the cake for Tres Leches, the better! You WANT the cake to absorb the delicious milks.

Tips for the Best Tres Leches Cake

In addition to separating the eggs, here are some more tips for success:

  • Line your baking pan with parchment paper. This will allow you to remove your slices from the pan with, no prob. 
  • Use room temperature eggs. They will combine more easily with the other ingredients in the cake.
  • Only poke holes in the top. Be sure your fork poked holes don’t go all the way to the bottom of the cake. Poking your holes to the bottom of the cake is a sure-fire way to end up with all of your milks at the bottom.
  • Tres Leches is best served cold. This is probably the hardest part of this recipe because you don’t want to wait to dig in. But trust me, the chill time is worth it.

Topping Ideas

For me, a simple topping of whipped cream dusted with cinnamon is simply perfection. These other topping ideas are great, too:

  • Maraschino cherries
  • Any type of berries or fresh fruit
  • Chocolate chips or chocolate curls
  • A dusting of cocoa powder
  • Toffee bits
  • Caramel sauce

How to Store this Cake

Tres leches cake stores nicely in your refrigerator for up to 3 days. Some people even say it’s better on day 2! Be sure you cover it tightly or keep it in an airtight container. I don’t recommend freezing this cake.

Print
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A slice of Tres Leches cake plated and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon

Tres Leches Cake

  • Author: Shelly
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 12 slices 1x
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Description

This Easy Tres Leches Cake is a light sponge cake soaked in 3 milks! Completely delicious, this is the best Tres Leches Cake I’ve ever had! 


Ingredients

Scale

Cake

  •  5 large eggs, separated
  •  1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  •  1/3 cup milk
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla
  •  1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  1/2  teaspoon kosher salt
  •  1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 (14- ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12- ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Topping

  • 1 1/2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • Optional – ground cinnamon for dusting on top

Instructions

For the Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine 5 egg yolks and 3/4 cup granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, until pale yellow. Scrape the bottom of the bowl once or twice during mixing, to ensure mixture is evenly combined.
  3. Turn the mixer down to medium-low and add in the milk, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Mix for 30 seconds, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. Turn mixer to low and add in the flour, mixing until just combined.
  5. In another bowl using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form.
  6. Add in the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and continue beating until stiff (but not dry) peaks form.
  7. Fold the egg whites into the prepared batter until combined.
  8. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake is set on top, and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool.

For the Topping

  1. When the cake is mostly cooled, combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a medium bowl.
  2. Using a fork poke the top of the cooled cake, creating tiny little holes all over. Pour the milk mixture evenly all over on top of the cake, making sure you get the edges.
  3. Allow the cake to cool completely, and cover with cling wrap. Place cake in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or overnight.
  4. When you’re ready to serve the cake, mix the heavy cream and powdered sugar together in your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until thickened. Spread on top of the cake and dust with ground cinnamon, if desired.

Notes

Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Keywords: tres leches cake recipe, best tres leches cake, authentic tres leches, easy mexican desserts

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10 comments on “Tres Leches Cake”

  1. Was looking for a simple, no frills recipe for a Tres Leches cake to make for my daughter’s boyfriend’s birthday. I have never even had it before, much less bake one. Your recipe is AWESOME!! He LOVED it, and he’s Mexican! I will DEFINITELY be making this again and again! I think I might try making it strawberry flavored, by adding strawberry milk powder or syrup to the milk mixture. Then I wanna do chocolate flavored, the same way. Oh the possibilities are virtually endless! Thank you again for this incredible recipe!

    1. Oh that sounds great!! And so glad you like it. This is the only Tres Leches recipe I have ever loved 🙂

  2. Shelly, am enjoying your daily email. As to the 3 Leches cake, could I use and angle food cake mix?

    1. I have never done it that way, and certainly would provide different results to mine, but I think it would work!

  3. Christine Nguyen

    Hi how long do you mix it if you have a hand mixer and not a stand mixer for the different steps? Or is it the same?

  4. Tres Leches is one of my favourites, so I can’t wait to try this! One question – do you think I could substitute cake and pastry flour? I haven’t been able to find any AP flour lately And my supply is dwindling, but I have plenty of C&P flour on hand. I think it will work, since a sponge should be tender, but I thought I’d ask, in case you had tested it in recipe development. I also have some Italian “00” flour available. Thanks for any insight you might offer – take care!

      1. In Canada, Cake & Pastry Flour is a single product…and it worked VERY well ?. Thanks for sharing this AMAZING recipe! (FYI for any other Canadian bakers – our sweetened condensed milk cans are 10 ozs {300 ml} – not 14 ozs – so you’ll need to adjust accordingly. Totally worth the sticky measuring cups, though!)

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