The Best Tres Leches Cake

Whenever I’m in Mexico, in addition to lots of guacamole, salsa, black beans, and margaritas, tres leches cake is a must.

I wanted to make one in advance of Cinco de Mayo because it’s one of my all-time favorite cakes.

The Best Tres Leches Cake - Soft, tender, and soaked with three milks! It just melts in your mouth and it's the BEST tres leches cake ever!! You need to try this AMAZING cake!!

This is the first time I’ve ever made one and was skeptical that I could recreate something so decadent at home, but it turns out this cake is every bit as good as tres leches cake I’ve had in Mexico and in fact the best ever.

It’s an absolute dessert highlight of my year and I highly recommend it.

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The Best Tres Leches Cake - Soft, tender, and soaked with three milks! It just melts in your mouth and it's the BEST tres leches cake ever!! You need to try this AMAZING cake!!

Tres leches cake gets its name because after making a soft, tender cake (which ironically has no butter or oil but you won’t miss them) you poke holes in the cake before pouring over a mixture of three milks – sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream.

I like to think of it as the original poke cake. It’s ridiculously moist, beautifully sweet, and perfectly tender. It just melts in your mouth.

The Best Tres Leches Cake - Soft, tender, and soaked with three milks! It just melts in your mouth and it's the BEST tres leches cake ever!! You need to try this AMAZING cake!!

While it’s not traditional, if you’re making this cake for a party or event and it’ll be set out for hours at room temp or in warm (outdoor) conditions, you may consider using whipped topping (Cool Whip) rather than real whipped cream for the topping. Real whipped cream is more prone to deflating and melting than whipped topping.

The Best Tres Leches Cake - Soft, tender, and soaked with three milks! It just melts in your mouth and it's the BEST tres leches cake ever!! You need to try this AMAZING cake!!

Here are couple photos I took on my iPhone last month in Cabo San Lucas at our hotel and one of our favorite restaurants at sunset.

We were there for my daughter’s spring break week and can’t wait to go back but in the meantime so glad I can make tres leches cake at home.

Marina Fiesta - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

The Office on the Beach - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Print Recipe

The Best Tres Leches Cake

Whenever I'm in Mexico, tres leches cake is a must. I wanted to make one in advance of Cinco de Mayo because and this one is every bit as decadent as cake I've had in Mexico and in fact the best ever. Tres leches cake gets its name because after making a soft, tender cake you poke holes in it before pouring over a mixture of three milks - sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. The cake is ridiculously moist, beautifully sweet, perfectly tender, and melts in your mouth.

Yield: one 9x13-inch cake

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: about 32 to 35 minutes

Total Time: about 4+ hours, for cooling

Ingredients:

Cake
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Tres Leches Mixture
  • one 14-ounce can sweetened and condensed milk
  • one 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Whipped Cream Topping
  • 2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • cinnamon, optional for garnishing

Directions:

  1. Cake - Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9x13-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with floured cooking spray or grease and flour the pan; set aside.
  2. To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl and handheld electric mixer) add the 5 egg yolks, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and beat on medium-high speed until pale yellow and doubled in volume, about 4 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add 1/3 cup whole milk, vanilla, flour, baking powder, salt, and beat on low speed until combined, don't overmix; set aside.
  4. To a medium bowl, add the egg whites and beat with a handheld electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form but egg whites are not dry.
  5. Gently fold egg whites into the cake batter.
  6. Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Bake for about 32 to 35 minutes (I baked 33 minutes) or until cake is set in the center, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter.
  7. Allow cake to cool in pan on a wire rack. While cake cools, make the tres leches mixture.
  8. Tres Leches Mixture - To a medium bowl, add the 3 milks and whisk to combine.
  9. Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the cake. I stuck the cake with the fork about 100 times. Slowly pour the tres leches mixture over the top of the cake letting it soak in as you go. Try to pour as much over the cake as possible, without neglecting the edges. All of the milk mixture for my cake soaked in, but if yours is pooling excessively and you have any leftover, the milk mixture is wonderful served in a small ramekin alongside the cake.
  10. Allow cake to cool at room temp for a 1 to 2 hours before covering and refrigerating until chilled, at least 2 hours, or overnight. Tip - If making the cake in advance of an event, don't add the whipped cream topping until the day of.
  11. Whipped Cream Topping - To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl and handheld electric mixer) add the heavy cream and beat on high speed until thickened and spreadable.
  12. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat to combine.
  13. Evenly spread the whipped cream over cake and optionally garnish with a sprinkling of cinnamon and serve any extra tres leches mixture on the side. Serve immediately. Cake will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 4 days, noting the whipped cream will lose volume as time passes and the bottom of the cake will become increasingly moist.

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

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34 comments

  1. I’ve seen this before but didn’t realize it was really a poke cake…and I’ve been to Mexico a few times but don’t know how (or why) I could have passed it up! The lightly sweetened whipped cream on top sounds heavenly.

    • It’s seriously one of the best cakes of all time! I love tres leches and not that I don’t need to go to Mexico anymore, but now I don’t have to go JUST for cake :)

  2. Your photos from Cabo are stunning! And this cake – omg! I’d love a slice right now! 

  3. Your tres leches looks phenomenal! The hubby and I are trying to figure out where to take a little vacay and you’re inspiring me to suggest somewhere south of the border! :)

  4. Oh yes, I need this in my life. I’ve only had this cake once – with you – so I definitely need to make it!

    • Girl. One of the best cakes I have EVER made. I hoarded this one for my own personal stash. Loooooved it. And it was definitely better than the cake we shared! Night and day if I do say so :)

  5. I always order Tres Leches cake when I go to a Mexican restaurant. It tastes perfect with espresso! I am very intrigued to try your recipe, Averie! Pinned, Yummed and Stumbled! :-)

  6. Joanne Cameron Reply

    Hi Averie……these cake recipes look soooooo good, I cannot wait to try then, especially  ( tries leche cake )…… THanks a lot !!!!!!

  7. My family loves tres leches cake. I have a friend who recently discovered she is allergic to dairy. I was wondering if you think this would work using variations of coconut milk instead. She loves tres leches cake, but it doesn’t agree with her.

    • I think that it could work with coconut milks. I would definitely use full-fat, canned coconut milk for sure. Don’t rely just on the refrigerated kind that comes in a carton because solely using that I think could be a little thin. You’d also have to make coconut whipped cream (google if you don’t know how). The taste, overall, of the cake will change with all that coconut milk, but if your friend is okay with that, I think it’s do-able. LMK if you try and how it goes!

  8. This cake looks incredible! All of your cake recipes are always inspiring…your photographs are amazing btw!

  9. Oh boy this looks so good! You have me inspired to go make one now!!

  10. Jorge looooooves Tres Leches Cake.  He got a recipe from one of his cousins who is a baker in Chiapas.  We’ve got that on the must-make list.  Adding this as well!

  11. This cake shrunk ALOT in the pan when I made it, any suggestions to combat this next time?

    • Possibly overbaked? I know that when it was in the oven my cake was pretty puffy and upon cooling, it did shrink, as all cakes do. But it was a bit more dramatic because I think of the beaten egg whites in the batter which causes it to rise really well in a hot oven and then the cool air will cause natural deflation. I wouldn’t worry about it too terribly much and would try baking slightly less next time.

  12. Because this is the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, there is a great step-by-step video of  Ree Drummond making it on the Food Network’s website. You can see exactly what your mixes should look like as you go. I have made it many, many times and it always comes out perfect! I love this cake!

    • I tweaked it slightly but yes it’s pretty close to her recipe and having step shot is always nice…bless her heart that she has the patience to do all of those, mid-mixing, pouring, etc.! So glad you’ve made this cake before and that you love it as much as I do!

  13. My dad doesn’t even like dessert that much and he had 3 pieces of this cake! 

  14. WOW. I tasted this in a Mexican restaurant, and was somewhat underwhelmed. HOwever, faced with ha glut of eggs, I searched for recipes which use lots and came across your recipe. THe result is truly  delightful. SUch lovely sweet milky flavours but still light and refreshing. One to  print and repeat, having converted some of your measurements into UK terminology: still use the cups measures as it makes it much faster.

    THANK YOU for sharing this. MAy now have to visit South American to see if their versions are as good as yours.

  15. i made this recipe over the 4th of july weekend and it was a huge hit with my whole family.  thank you so much for sharing!

  16. I’ve tried making tres leches before and it turned into a soggy mess of a puddle! Used your recipe this time around – came out beautifully. Everyone at the dinner I brought it to gave me lots of complements. This recipe was extremely easy to make and nearly fool proof. Thanks Averie!

  17. Hello Avie, I have a little tip for the next time you make it, to avoid the cake “suck” the 3 milk, let it cool, for about 1hr, then poke it, the cake will absorb it and let some of it remain on the bottom, also, you can add 2 tbs of dark rum to them, so it will bring an amazing scent and taste. I am from a latin country so this is a very traditional cake in here.

  18. hi averie,,,i baked this cake and it was yummy,,,absolutely fantastic .i baked it for husband’s birthday(he does not really like sweet stuff…weird right:)) and he loved it !!!!in fact my entire family and friends loved it.the party was a hit thanks to your fab recipe…i have to bake it again for a friends birthday in two weeks…..i sprinkled it with cinnamon powder ,wow,,
    thanks once again.

  19. Hi averie,
    Second time success. ..god this cake is yummy in my tummy..😀
    Can we half this cake and prepare a smaller cake ?
    Thanks in advance for your reply
    DV

  20. Thank you for the recipe! Tres Leches cake is my mom’s favorite. I made your recipe for her birthday last year and again today for Mothers Day. Followed the directions exactly and they came out perfect each time. She loves hers with fresh thinly sliced strawberries on top!

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