Tres Leches Cake is soft and moist, with a trio of 3 sweet milks that soak into the light and fluffy sponge cake. Topped with homemade whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, this easy cake recipe is an authentic Mexican dessert that is the perfect finish to any meal.
If you look at the dessert menu at a Mexican restaurant, you will probably see tres leches cake on there. It's popular in Mexico and Latin America, and for good reason.
It's like the original poke cake, which are always popular in the summer because they are served chilled and are so refreshing. But I'm always too stuffed to order it when we are eating out!
This really is the best tres leches cake recipe that is an authentic version of the classic Mexican dessert. It's made from scratch and absolutely delicious!
What is Tres Leches?
Tres leches means "three milks". The cake gets its name from the three types of milk used to soak the light, fluffy sponge cake that is made with whipped egg whites and no butter and oil so it's extra absorbent. A fork is used to poke holes all over the top of the cake to make sure the liquid can reach every last bite.
The three milks in tres leches are evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk. 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 that somehow manages to not be squishy or soggy in a bad way.
Why This Recipe Works
- So easy! Not only is there no fancy decorating or stacking layers involved, but you don't even need to worry a ton about overbaking because even if you go a little too long and dry out the cake a bit, no one will be the wiser once it soaks in the sweet three milk mixture.
- Make-ahead friendly. You can easily make this cake a day or two ahead so you aren't rushing last minute to make dessert for a dinner party.
- Simple, wholesome flavors. The timeless flavors of sweet cream and a hint of cinnamon and vanilla are classic. And the strawberry garnish not only makes the cake look pretty, but adds a nice fruity element if you choose to use them.
You might notice that there is no butter or oil in this cake. That's an intentional omission as this cake doesn't need it, and it actually helps the cake soak up the milk mixture better without it.
- Eggs: The yolks are separated from the white, which are beaten separately and added to provide the lift and characteristic texture of this type of sponge cake.
- Milk: Whole milk 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 can make your own by simmering 3 ¼ cups of regular whole 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!
How to Make Tres Leches Cake
- Do the prep: Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with baking spray. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and set aside for later.
- Combine wet ingredients: 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, making sure to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Add dry ingredients: Whisk the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then add to the egg and sugar mixture. Stir just until combined.
- Fold in egg whites: 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. 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 use it all or you will end up with dry spots in your cake. 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. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours so the cake can soak up all of the delicious milks.
- 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. You can serve tres leches cake at room temperature or chilled straight from the fridge.
Tres leches cake is good for 3-4 days when stored in the fridge. If you know you won't be eating the cake for a day or two, I recommend waiting to top with the whipped cream until just before serving because if it is not fully whipped it may lose volume over time.
Tres leches cake needs at least 2 hours in the fridge to soak up the delicious sweet milk mixture, but if you have even longer that's better. This is a great recipe to make ahead and let it soak overnight for 8 hours or more then serve the next day.
Yes, this cake is fairly wet because of the three milks but I don't think of it as being soggy and there definitely shouldn't be any dry patches of cake because there is enough liquid to soak the whole thing. Instead it is almost more like a custard. Once the cake has absorbed all of the liquid, you can cut slices and serve without the cake disintegrating. You will still see some of the liquid puddle around your fork as you cut in and take bites though.
You can freeze the sponge cake before pouring the sweet milk mixture over it for up to 3 months. Just thaw at room temperature for a couple of hours before adding the milk soak, then proceed like normal.
- Don't overwork the batter when adding the egg whites. With this type of batter, you are adding volume through the beaten egg whites and stirring too vigorously will knock out a lot of the air you worked to add by beating the egg whites separately.
- Poke plenty of holes. It's okay to go to town with poking holes over the top of the cake so that the three milk mixture can really soak down into it. Kids love this job and are happy to help.
- Don't go overboard with the cinnamon. It would be easy to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the sweet cream with too much spice. A light sprinkling for color and hint of cinnamon is all you really want for this simple cake recipe.
More Cake Recipes
- Strawberries and Cream Sheet Cake
- Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake
- No-Bake Chocolate Eclair Cake
- One-Bowl Chocolate Cake
Did you make this recipe?
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Tres Leches Cake
For the cake
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled (188g)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided (200g)
- 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.