The Best Tres Leches Cake
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The BEST Tres Leches Cake — This easy tres leches cake melts in your mouth and requires just 15 minutes of hands-on prep!! This is an authentic three milk cake your family will love! Perfect for Cinco de Mayo!!
What is 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.
This Mexican cake is every bit as good as the tres leches cakes I’ve had in Mexico — in fact, it’s the best ever!
It’s an absolute dessert highlight of my year and I highly recommend it.
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.
Here are couple photos I took on my iPhone (years ago when I first published this post in 2015 – this is a repost since we are just days away from Cinco de Mayo even if you will be celebrating it at home this year) 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.
What’s in Tres Leches Cake?
This authentic tres leches cake recipe has three main components: the cake itself, the milk mixture that’s poured over it, and the creamy whipped topping that’s spread on last.
To make this easy tres leches cake recipe, you’ll need:
- Granulated sugar
- Whole milk
- Vanilla extract
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Evaporated milk
- Heavy whipping cream
- Confectioners’ sugar
How to Make Tres Leches Cake
This three milk cake is so easy to make! The cake itself is similar to your average cake recipe; the one major difference is that there’s no oil or butter in the batter. Instead, you have to whip egg whites until soft peaks form and then gently fold them into the batter.
This tres leches cake needs to bake for around 32 to 35 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready to be taken out of the oven when the center is set but springs back when you gently press a finger into it.
Once the cake is out of the oven, make the tres leches mixture. Just combine the three milks in a bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine.
Then poke lots of holes into the cake with a fork and pour the milk mixture over top. Let the cake chill at room temperature for a few hours before making the whipped cream topping and spreading it onto the cake.
I like the finish my tres leches cake with a sprinkle of cinnamon, but that’s totally optional!
How to Store Tres Leches Cake
This authentic tres leches cake should be stored in the fridge, covered. It will last for up to four days, but note that the whipped cream topping will deflate over time. The bottom of the cake itself will become extremely moist as the milk has time to soak into it more. Leftovers are delicious, though!
Can I Prep Tres Leches Cake in Advance?
Yes! If serving to a crowd, you’re welcome to make this cake the day before and keep it in the fridge overnight. The topping won’t deflate too much in just one day.
Can I Make This Recipe Dairy-Free?
Possibly, but the texture and flavor of this three milk cake would definitely change. You could maybe use full-fat canned coconut milk and make your own coconut whipped cream for topping the cake, but I’ve only ever made this authentic tres leches cake as written so I can’t say for certain.
Can I Make This Gluten-Free?
Possibly but again since I have only made the cake as written, I can’t speak to the results using gluten-free flour. If you try, I would only suggest using a cup-for-cup style replacement of all-purpose flour. No almond flour for this one.
Tips for the Best Tres Leches Cake
To make clean-up a breeze, line your baking pan with foil before pouring in the cake batter. Tres leches cake is quite a “wet” cake since it’s a poke cake, and the foil makes serving the cake and cleaning up afterwards so much easier.
While it’s not traditional, if you’re making this cake for a party or event and it’ll be sitting out for hours at room temp or in warm (outdoor) conditions, you may want to 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.
And if you’re making this cake in advance, I recommend waiting until the last minute to add the whipped cream topping. Again, you want the topping to be super fluffy when you serve this 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 condensed milk
- one 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Whipped Cream Topping
- 2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream
- cinnamon, optional for garnishing
- 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×13-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with floured cooking spray or grease and flour the pan; set aside.
- 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.
- Add 1/3 cup whole milk, vanilla, flour, baking powder, salt, and beat on low speed until combined, don’t overmix; set aside.
- 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.
- Gently fold egg whites into the cake batter.
- 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.
- Allow cake to cool in pan on a wire rack. While cake cools, make the tres leches mixture.
Tres Leches Mixture
- To a medium bowl, add the 3 milks and whisk to combine.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat to combine.
- 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.
- Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 229Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 72mgSodium: 139mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 0gSugar: 28gProtein: 6g
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Recipe originally posted in 2015 and reposted April 26, 2020 with updated text.
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