Tres leches cake is a spongy Mexican pound cake infused with a rich sauce made from three types of milk. It’s moist, airy, sweet, and easy to make. Here’s how to make tres leches cake, including a tres leches cake recipe. 

What Is Tres Leches Cake?

tres leches
Tres leches cake topped with fresh fruit and cream.

Tres leches is Spanish for “three milks,” as the recipe calls for three types of milk: regular, condensed, and evaporated. You can also make vegan versions with nut milk or swap the regular milk out for coconut milk. Milk sauce is poured on top of the baked cake and then refrigerated, making it super moist. 

Is It Spanish or Mexican?

tres leches
Source: Instagram
Where is tres leches from? Mexico and other places in Latin America.

Where is tres leches from? Pastel de tres leches, or tres leches cake, is a popular Mexican dessert found in bakeries, cafes, and restaurants throughout the country. Although the name is Spanish, and Spanish cuisine has influenced Mexican cuisine, the cake itself is Mexican and Latin American. Versions of it can be found throughout Latin America, especially Nicaragua, and in Tex-Mex eateries in the U.S. Pastel de tres leches is somewhat similar to English trifle or Italian tiramisu. 

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How to Make Tres Leches Cake

Skillshare instructor Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack’s tres leches cake uses coconut milk, but you can use regular milk if you prefer. Follow her step-by-step tres leches cake recipe below.

Step 1: Gather the Cake Ingredients and Heat the Oven

lady cooking
Tres leches cake ingredients.

In addition to the ingredients above, you’ll need several mixing bowls and spoons, an electric whisk, and a 9×11-inch baking pan. Before you get started, preheat your oven to 350℉ (175℃).

Step 2: Combine the Dry Ingredients

flour
Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in one bowl. 

Step 3: Separate the Eggs

egg
Separate the egg yolks from the whites.

Either using an egg separator or two cups/small bowls, separate the egg whites from the yolks. Keep them in two separate bowls.

Step 4: Combine the Wet Ingredients and Sugar

whisking wet ingredients
Whisk these ingredients together.

Mix the egg yolks, ¾ cup of sugar (reserve ¼ for the egg whites), vanilla extract, and coconut milk together with an electric whisk.

Step 5: Add Egg Mixture to Dry Ingredients

lady cooking
Pour the blended egg mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

Pour the egg mixture into the bowl containing the combined dry ingredients and mix with the whisk to the consistency of pancake batter.

Step 6: Whisk the Egg Whites

whisking
Whisk the egg whites until firm.

Clean your electric whisk and beat the egg whites until you get firm, frothy peaks. Add ¼  cup of sugar and continue mixing. It’s better to over-whip than under-whip, so keep whipping until the egg mixture isn’t loose or runny.

Step 7: Combine the Two Mixtures

mix
Combine the two bowls of mixture.

Gently drop the egg white mixture into the other mixture, and fold together gently with a spoon, by hand.

Step 8: Pour the Batter into the Baking Dish

pour mix
Your baking pan doesn’t have to be this pretty, but it helps!

Grease your baking dish with oil spray, butter, or shortening. Pour the combined batter into the dish and smooth the top with a spatula so it’s even. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes.

Step 9: Make the Tres Leches Sauce

ingredients
List of ingredients for the sauce.

While the cake is baking, prepare to make the sauce by gathering the ingredients listed above.

Pour the three milks into a large mason jar, and add the rum if you’re using it. Close the lid and shake to combine.

Step 10: Remove the Cooked Cake from the Oven

test with toothpick
Check that the cake is cooked through with the toothpick test.

After about 20 minutes, check if the cake is cooked through by inserting a toothpick into it. If it comes out clean, it’s ready. If sticky batter remains on the toothpick, the cake needs a bit more cooking. When it’s ready, remove it from the oven and rest it at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Don’t remove it from the pan.

Step 11: Add the Tres Leches Sauce

pour sauce
Pour the sauce onto the cooked cake.

When the cake is cool, prick the surface with a fork to make lots of little holes. Pour the three combined milks over the surface of the cake, being sure to reserve about ¼ of the contents of the mason jar for later. The tres leches sauce will soak into the holes. Cover it with wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Step 12: Garnish and Eat!

cake with berries
Source: Instagram
Plated and ready to eat!

After refrigeration, slice and serve the cake. It can be topped with whipped cream, fresh fruits, mint, cinnamon, caramel sauce, and more. If you’ve reserved some of the tres leches sauce, you can add a bit more at this stage, too. Dig in!

Vegan and Gluten Free Tres Leches Substitutions

bread
A vegan pound cake is the basis for a vegan tres leches cake.

To make a vegan tres leches cake, replace the cow’s milk with other types of milk, such as almond, soy, or coconut milk. Vegan condensed milk can be found in some stores. You’ll also need to follow a vegan cake recipe that doesn’t use eggs. The taste will be a bit different from traditional tres leches cake, but it’s still delicious. 

To make gluten-free tres leches cake, simply use gluten-free flour for the cake.

Tres Leches Cake Easy Recipe

Adapted from Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack’s Skillshare Original, Baking for Beginners: Mouthwatering Mexican Desserts

Serves: 18 | Prep time: 45 minutes | Cook time: 1 hour | Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes 

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup coconut milk 

Tres Leches:

  •  1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • Splash rum or brandy (optional)

Whipped Cream:

  • 2 cups cold heavy (whipping) cream
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

Toppings:

  • ½ cup coconut, toasted (optional)
  • Fruit of choice
  • Mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Make Cake: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with ¾ cup of sugar on high until light yellow in color. Mix in the vanilla and coconut milk. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix these gently until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on high until you have soft peaks. Add ¼ cup sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into the batter.
  4. Pour the batter into prepared pan and spread out until batter looks even. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Check to make sure cake is ready by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake.
  5. If toothpick comes out clean it’s ready. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes.
  6. While cake is still warm, pierce it all over with a fork making sure you pierce the edges. This will allow the tres leches to drain into the cake when you pour it over.

Make Tres Leches:

  1. Whip together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, vanilla, and splash of rum, if using. This will make about 3 cups.
  2. Slowly pour about 2 ½ cups of the tres leches over the entire cake. Make sure to get around the edges. Do not worry about the puddling of the milk mixture, the sponge cake will absorb it in about 30 minutes. Save the rest of the milk mixture in the refrigerator for later.
  3. Cover the cake with plastic wrap, place in the refrigerator, and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Make Whipped Cream:

  1. Put the cold whipping cream and sugar in a large cold mixing bowl and mix on high until fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Reserve in covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To Serve: 

For each serving, ladle a tablespoon of the leftover milk mixture onto a serving plate. Place a piece of cake on the milk mixture, top with a dollop of whipped cream, sprinkle with toasted coconut, and top with pineapple chunks or your favorite fruit. Garnish with mint spring.

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