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Soft and moist, with a trio of sweet milks poured over the top to soak into the light and fluffy sponge cake below, this Tres Leches Cake recipe is an authentic Mexican dessert that is the perfect finish to any meal! Finished with sweetened whipped cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and strawberries, everybody loves this fun, easy cake!
Planning a Mexican feast? We've got you covered for dessert, but try our Authentic Carne Asada, Easy Homemade Flour Tortillas, the BEST Guacamole Recipe Ever, and finish things off with some Horchata (a Mexican cinnamon rice drink that is just delicious!
Tres Leches Cake
If you have ever been to a Mexican restaurant and looked at their dessert menu, you have probably seen tres leches cake on there. But I'm always too stuffed to order it! And it's better made at home anyway. It's popular not only in Mexico, but other parts of Latin America as well.
If you have tried it, then you know how amazing this simple, unassuming dessert is. If you haven't tried it yet, well let me tell you, you are in for a treat! It's like the original poke cake, which are always popular in the summer because they can be served cold.
This really is the best tres leches cake recipe that is an authentic version of the classic Mexican dessert. It's made from scratch instead of using a box cake mix and it's absolutely delicious!
Tres leches means "three milks", and it gets its name from the combination of three types of milk: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk (or even heavy cream). They are combined and poured over the cake after it is baked, and the spongy cake soaks up every drop of delicious liquid making it the moistest, yummiest cake you can imagine.
Picture a light, fluffy, airy white cake, baked in a 9x13-inch pan and made super extra moist by piercing the cake all over to create holes into which you pour a mix of three different types of sweet, creamy milk. The sponge cake is aptly named because it soaks up all that milky goodness but somehow manages not to taste squishy or soggy because of it.
Then the cake is chilled and topped with a layer of sweetened whipped cream, lightly dusted with cinnamon, and adorned with a sliced strawberry or a maraschino cherry. It's so good and such a great way to end a meal on a hot day!
Ingredients in tres leches cake
- Flour: We use all-purpose flour for this simplest of cakes. No need to go out and purchase cake flour.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar goes into the cake itself, then you use a little powdered sugar to sweeten the whipped cream that goes on top of the cake.
- Eggs: There are quite a few of them in this cake and they are separated so that the whites can be better to provide the lift and characteristic texture of this sponge cake.
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Vanilla extract
- Milk: You will use regular milk both in the cake base and in the liquid that gets poured over it after it is baked. Whole milk really is best in this recipe, but if all you have is 2% or skim, those will work too.
- Sweetened condensed milk: I'm obsessed with this thick, creamy, sweet stuff. We use it in Brazilian lemonade and it's soooooo good.
- Evaporated milk: This is really just milk that has had the liquid reduced by about 60%. It's a shelf-stable milk that can be used in most recipes that call for milk to make it extra rich or creamy. You could always make your own by simmering 3 ¼ cups of regular milk on the stove over medium-low heat for 25 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until reduced to about 1 ⅓ cups. Just be careful not to burn it.
- Heavy whipping cream: For the topping. There is nothing like freshly whipped cream!
- Ground cinnamon: I use just a tiny bit for the subtlest cinnamon flavor to complement the milks. It's very horchata-y and delicious!
- Strawberries: Sliced strawberries are my favorite way to finish this dessert, but I've had it with maraschino cherries too.
You might notice that there is no butter in this cake. That's an intentional omission as this cake really doesn't need it, and it actually helps the cake soak up the milk mixture better without it.
How to make tres leches cake
- Do the prep: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with baking spray. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and set aside for later.
- Make the cake: Beat ¾ cup of sugar with the egg yolks in a large bowl until creamy and light. Add the milk and vanilla to the egg yolk mixture and beat again, then mix in the dry ingredients of flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Many recipes call for you to whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture, but I figure why dirty an extra bowl? Beat the eggs whites in a medium bowl, gradually adding the remaining ¼ cup of sugar until stiff peaks form, then fold them into the cake batter and pour it into the prepared pan.
- Bake and cool: This cake takes around 30 minutes to bake, but it's pretty forgiving if you happen to overbake it a bit since it always ends up super moist thanks to the milk mixture we are about to soak it in. To tell if it's done, the cake should spring back at a touch, or a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. If not done, bake another five minutes then test again. Remove the cake from the oven and cool for at least 30-60 minutes, then poke the holes all over the cake with a fork.
- Pour the three milks over the cake: Whisk the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk in a bowl, then pour this milk mixture over the cooled cake. It will look like a LOT of liquid, but trust me, use it all. If the cake looks like it is getting too saturated, slow your pour and let it soak in for a minute or two before continuing. You can see from the pictures below what it looks like as the cake pan fills with the milk, then what the cake looks like after an hour or two in the fridge. By that point, the cake has soaked up all the liquid like a sponge.
- Finish with whipped cream, cinnamon, and strawberries! Whip the heavy cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla, then spread it over the cake in an even layer. Dust lightly with cinnamon (it's maybe just ¼ to ½ teaspoon, max) and top individual servings with a sliced strawberry.
Make-ahead and storing instructions
This is a great recipe that you can make a day or two in advance and just leave in the fridge to chill. I recommend waiting to top with the whipped cream until just before serving though, because it tends to lose it's volume over time.
Many people say this cake is best the next day anyway, but we can never wait and always dig into it within a couple of hours of making it! You can serve tres leches cake at room temperature or chilled straight from the fridge. Personally, I like it closer to room temperature, but it's delicious both ways!
Be sure to keep leftover tres leches cake in the fridge where it will be good for 3-4 days.
More Mexican recipes
- Green Chili Chicken Chimichangas
- Mexican Rice
- Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
- Instant Pot Refried Beans
- Pico de Gallo
- The BEST Guacamole Recipe Ever
- Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Beef
- Grilled Chicken and Steak Fajitas
- Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Barbacoa
- Grilled Pork Tacos al Pastor
- Baja Fish Tacos
Tres Leches Cake
For the cake
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar divided
- 5 large eggs separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup whole milk
For the tres leches mixture
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
- 12 ounces evaporated milk
- ½ cup whole milk
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Ground cinnamon for topping
- Strawberries or maraschino cherries for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prep a 9x13-inch baking dish with baking spray. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and set aside.
- In a large bowl of a stand mixer, beat ¾ cup of the sugar with the egg yolks on medium-high until creamy and light. Add the milk and vanilla and beat again, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, mixing just until combined.
- Whisk the eggs whites, gradually adding the remaining ¼ cup of sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cake batter.
- Pour into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes. Cool completely, then poke all over with a fork.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and milk. Pour over the cooled cake. Let soak for 2 hours in the fridge.
- Whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla, then spread over the cake. Sprinkle with cinnamon and top with strawberries.
- Cupcake Variation: You can even turn this cake into about 24 cupcakes by baking the batter for 15 minutes. Then poke the cupcakes with a fork and fill with the milk mixture just like you would the cake and top with whipped cream.