Tres Leches Cake

This soft, fluffy cake is soaked in sweet, creamy milks for a decadent but light dessert.

Tres Leches
Photo:

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Active Time:
35 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 35 mins
Servings:
12

Few cakes can compare with the milk-soaked deliciousness of a tres leches cake. This popular Latin American dessert is made with a light, airy sponge cake that is saturated with three different types of milk.

Using ingredients easily found at your local grocery store and simple methods to create the cake, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make this heavenly dessert at home. You’ll soon find that the most challenging part will be waiting for the cake to soak completely, but it is more than worth the wait!

What Is Tres Leches?

Tres leches (“three milks”) is a light sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk. There are many variations of this delightful cake, but what remains consistent in all recipes is that once the cake is baked, a mixture of three types of milk is added to the top.

As the cake rests with this liquid, it completely saturates the cake, ensuring a rich and creamy texture. The dessert is completed by covering the top with freshly whipped cream to add even more dairy enjoyment.

tres leches ingredients

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

How Do You Make Tres Leches Cake?

A tres leches cake might appear to be a complex dessert, but it is actually a simple cake to create. The method is similar to many sponge cake recipes, though the critical aspect is how the eggs are added: The egg whites and yolks are whipped separately to help give the cake an airy texture and additional volume.

Once the eggs are separated, the egg whites and sugar are whisked to medium stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, the egg yolks and remaining sugar are mixed until airy in texture, with a pale yellow color. The dry and wet ingredients are then added to the egg yolk mixture, with the whipped egg whites following behind by being gently folded in.

adding dry ingredients to whipped egg yolks

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

This cake batter is baked in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown on top or a cake tester comes out clean; this should take about 25 minutes.

Once the cake has cooled for at least 30 minutes, use a fork to pierce the surface of the sponge cake. This process of aerating the cake helps the milk mixture soak in more easily—the more surface you cover, the better!

After mixing your three kinds of milk, pour slowly over the top of the cake. Be patient with this process since the cake doesn’t soak the liquid instantly. In other words, give this step some time so the milk is absorbed completely.

To finish the cake, whip the heavy cream with sugar and vanilla, and cover the top of the cake with the whipped topping.

Finished tres leches cake overhead

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

How long does the cake need to soak?

Once the cake has cooled, and the milk mixture has been added to the top, allow the cake to soak for at least two hours in the refrigerator. The longer this cake rests, the more saturated the sponge cake will be. If possible, allowing the mixture to soak overnight will ensure that the cake has absorbed the liquid completely and will be ideal for serving.

What Are the Best Ways To Serve a Tres Leches Cake?

This cake can be served in various ways, though keeping it simple with a dash of cinnamon or fresh fruit are the most popular ways to serve it. The most traditional fruit pairings are maraschino cherries or sliced strawberries, but this cake would pair deliciously with tarter fruits like raspberries or fresh stone fruits to help balance out the sweetness of the cake.

Also, it’s worth noting that because this cake is filled and topped with fresh dairy, it is best kept chilled until served.

What Are The Best Ways To Store This Dessert?

The best way to store tres leches cake is to cover the top with a lid or plastic wrap and keep it refrigerated until needed. This will ensure the cake will stay fresh for about three days.

While the sponge cake could last a bit longer, the whipped cream topping will start to lose its volume. If you are making this dessert ahead of time, you can keep the cake soaked and wait to cover the top with whipped cream only when needed. This would be beneficial to give the cake more time to soak up the milk mixture and ensure that the whipped cream topping maintains its fluffy volume when served.

This cake can also be frozen, though it is best to freeze the sponge cake only before adding the milk mixture for soaking. You can store the unsoaked sponge cake wrapped well in the freezer for up to three months. When needed, allow the cake to thaw in the refrigerator before adding the milk mixture.

Editorial contributions by Nik Pugmire.

tres leches cake

Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 6 large eggs, separated

  • 1 cup granulated sugar, separated

  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Milk Mixture

  • 1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk

  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Topping

  • 2 cups heavy cream

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

    combining dry ingredients in a bowl

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

    In a large liquid measuring cup, combine milk and vanilla extract. Set aside.

    liquid ingredients in a liquid measuring cup

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

  3. In two bowls, separate the egg yolks and the egg whites. Set egg yolks aside. Using a whisk attachment on a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip egg whites and 1/4 cup granulated sugar to medium peaks (about 5 minutes). Chill in the refrigerator until needed.

    whipping egg whites in bowl with hand mixer

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

  4. Combine egg yolks and remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar, and, using a paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and airy in texture (about 3 minutes).

    whipped egg yolks in bowl

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

  5. Alternate adding dry ingredients and wet ingredients to the egg yolk mixture, being sure to scrape down the side of the bowls as you’re mixing to incorporate completely.

    cake batter being mixed

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

    Once the batter is well mixed, fold in the whipped egg whites gently until the batter combines completely.

    folding whipped egg whites into batter

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

  6. Pour batter into prepared 9- x 13-inch pan, and cook for about 25 minutes or until top is golden, and a tester comes out clean.

    cake batter in 9x13 baking dish

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

  7. Remove caked from oven, and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. Once the cake has cooled, use a fork to poke holes over the surface of the entire cake.

    poking holes in tres leches cake

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

  8. Using a liquid measuring cup, combine the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk (as well as vanilla extract and cinnamon, if using the optional additions). Pour the mixture over the entire cake slowly.

    pouring milk over tres leches cake

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

    Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap, and let cake soak for at least 2 hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator. The longer this mixture sits, the more milk the cake will absorb.

    tres leches without topping

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

  9. In a large bowl, combine heavy whipping cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla extract, and whip until medium peaks form.

    whipping topping for tres leches overhead

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

    Cover the top of the cake with whipped cream, and spread lightly with a spatula. Cut into 12 squares and serve.

    covering tres leches cake with whipped topping

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

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