Tres Leches Cake

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The BEST Tres Leches Cake  — 🎉🍰This easy authentic three milk cake melts in your mouth and requires just 15 minutes of hands-on prep! This is an EASY recipe your family will love! Perfect for Cinco de Mayo or anytime you are craving THE BEST tres leches cake!

Two slices of homemade tres leches cake on white plates

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.

Love Tres Leches Desserts?

I also have a recipe for tres leches cupcakes that I think you’ll love! 

Ingredients for Tres Leches Cake

This authentic tres leches cake recipe has three main components: the sponge cake itself, the three types of milk that are poured over it, and the creamy whipped topping that’s spread on last.

To make this easy tres leches cake recipe, you’ll need: 

  • Eggs
  • Granulated sugar
  • Whole milk
  • Vanilla extract
  • All-purpose flour
  • Baking powder
  • Salt
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Evaporated milk
  • Heavy whipping cream 
  • Cinnamon
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.

A slice of tres leches sponge cake, with a bite missing.

How to Make Tres Leches Cake

This tres leches cake recipe is so easy to make! You can use a hand mixer or a good old wooden spoon. 

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 the egg whites 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 cool completely to 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! 

Recipe Tips

Line your pan: 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. 

Whipped cream vs Cool Whip: 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.

Make-ahead tip: 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! 

Recipe FAQs

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.

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 Cake Flour be used instead of all-purpose?

I avoid using specialty flours because I simply don’t want extra ingredients taking up space in my pantry. You might be able to use cake flour in this recipe, but I can’t say for certain since I’ve only tested it using all-purpose flour.

How to Serve Tres Leches Cake 

I like to dust the three milk cake with ground cinnamon and enjoy as is. However, you can also serve sliced strawberries or other fresh berries on the side! 

Storage Instructions

This authentic tres leches cake should be stored in the fridge, covered. It will last for up to 4-5 days, but note that the whipped cream topping will deflate over time. If you use Cool Whip or another whipped topping, not quite as much.

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 You Freeze Tres Leches Cake?

No, you cannot freeze the assembled cake. The tres leches mixture will make the frozen cake unpleasantly soggy.

You CAN, however, bake the cake and then let it cool completely before freezing. When ready to finish assembling, thaw on your counter before continuing with the recipe (i.e. pouring over the tres leches mixture, chilling, and topping with whipped cream). Although personally this isn’t a recipe I’d recommend for freezing.

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4.53 from 421 votes

The Best Tres Leches Cake

By Averie Sunshine
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.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Cooling Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 50 minutes
Servings: 20
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Ingredients  

Cake

  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Tres Leches Mixture

  • one 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • one 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream

Whipped Cream Topping

  • 2 cups 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • cinnamon, optional for garnishing
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Instructions 

Cake 

  • 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.

Video

Notes

  • 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

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 229kcal, Carbohydrates: 33g, Protein: 6g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 72mg, Sodium: 139mg, Sugar: 28g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Recipe originally posted in 2015 and reposted April 29, 2020, April 30, 2021, and May 3, 2024 with updated text.

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Please note: I have only made the recipe as written, and cannot give advice or predict what will happen if you change something. If you have a question regarding changing, altering, or making substitutions to the recipe, please check out the FAQ page for more info.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe! I’ve always been intimidated by trying to make Tres Leches. Your instructions helped me nail an amazing Tres Leches! 9×13 pan is perfect size and flouring the pan is so helpful!

    1. Thanks for the 5 star review and I am glad to hear that my recipe helped you nail an amazing Tres Leches! Love hearing this! And also that a 9×13 pan was perfect!

  2. I was disappointed 9×13 is not good idea it’s too thin I should have listen to my gut 8×8 would be perfect

    1. Thanks for trying the recipe and you can see from my photos that I do not have issues with the cake being too thin. There is really no way that a 5 egg cake (along with the other ingredients) would all fit in an 8×8 pan, not even in a 9×9. Are you sure your baking powder was fresh? And that you whipped your egg whites well? If either of those two weren’t correct, the cake would be flat. Thanks for trying the recipe.

  3. 5 stars
    I just today got another request for your Tres Leches Cake 😁 I think it’s the 4th time for the same group of people! 👏🏼🩷

    1. That’s amazing that this is such a hit and people are requesting it! I am so honored you (and your friends and family) just love this cake!

  4. Hello, I would like to bake this in 2 12″ round pans for a wedding cake with ittalian butter cream icing. How many recipes would I need to make for the different sized pans? I am going to make 2 12″ tres lchea 2 9″ strawberry i think and top 1 5″ tres leche again. Any tips on degerming how much batter needed for each pan size? Wedding is a week away!

    1. I strongly suggest just simply making the recipe once as written, see how it goes, eyeball your pans next to the 9×13 pan, see what you think you need to do – if you need to 3x, 4x, etc. the recipe.

      Also I am not sure Italian buttercream is a great choice for this cake. It’s a soft, moist cake, not sure it will really stand up to a heavy-ish frosting with all that butter. It’s meant to be a lighter topping like Cool Whip or real whipped cream. For a wedding, I would do Cool Whip as it won’t melt, deflate, etc.

      Best wishes to the newlyweds!

  5. 5 stars
    I’ve never made tres leches cake before, but I won’t be search for another recipe. This was perfect. And easy!

    1. Can I make the cake a day ahead and the make the whipped cream that morning for a 4oclock barbecue

    1. The cake is actually quite thick. I recommend baking it exactly as directed in a 9 x 13″ pan. It definitely comes up to the top of the pan and I don’t recommend smaller for that exact reason.

  6. 5 stars
    Such a great post ! I am pretty much pleased with your good post. You put really very helpful information.

  7. 5 stars
    Made it for my husband’s birthday.  He’s typically not a sweets kind of guy but boy did he love it!  His family loved it too!