A great recipe for the best Tres Leches Cake Recipe! Made with a soft vanilla cake, drenched with sweetened milk, and topped off with homemade whipped cream (and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon), this cake is a show stopper! Recipe includes plenty of tips and a how-to video for flawless results!
The Best Tres Leches Cake Recipe
Tres Leches Cake. Have you tried it? Simply translated to “Three Milks” cake, this is a fluffy vanilla cake that’s been drenched in three different types of milk (in our case condensed, evaporated, and heavy cream, with just a drop of vanilla). This is a cake that took me a long time to perfect. It has a long history, undecided origins, and is a bit different from some of the other cake recipes that I’ve shared.
Because we’ll be soaking it with milk, the base of this cake is critical (and is what took me the longest to perfect). This cake layer is what will make or break your entire Tres Leches dessert experience. We need a cake that’s light and airy (we’ll be poking holes through it, too, but want it to easily saturate with our three milks) but sturdy enough to hold onto that liquid and be completely moist and saturated without becoming a soggy, soupy mess. In the end I ultimately went with a variation of my grandmother’s Hot Milk Cake, and while the cake ingredients are almost identical you’ll notice the technique is quite different (as is the resulting cake!).
Creamed butter and whipped egg whites add a delicate levity and airiness to the cake, while not making it so delicate that it dissolves from the moisture of our three milks. Many Tres Leches Cakes do not use butter, but after a lot of testing I’m firmly standing by this version. It produces a light but wonderfully flavorful cake that’s spongy, but sturdy enough to absorb all of the milk.
How to Make Tres Leches Cake:
Below I’ve highlighted all of the steps. Each corresponds with a numbered photo in the collage below. (PS: are these steps/photos helpful? I always like to have a visual so have been trying to share more of these step-by-step pictures).
- Beat your egg whites (just the whites! Don’t throw out the yolks though, you’ll need them in step 2) and 1 cup of sugar to thick, stiff peaks. If you’ve never whipped to stiff peaks before, it simply means that the egg whites don’t fold over or fall back into themselves when you pull your whisk straight out of the mixture (if you’ve made my meringues or white cake you’ve done this before!). For a visual, see photo #1 below or check out my video below the recipe.
- Set aside your egg whites, then beat together butter and remaining 1 cup of sugar until creamy. Beat in egg yolks (one at a time) and then vanilla extract.
- Whisk together dry ingredients then alternate stirring 1 cup of milk and the dry ingredient mixture into your into egg yolk/butter mixture.
- Gently fold in egg whites. Do this part by hand with a spatula (don’t use an electric mixer).
- Be sure to stir until there are no lumps or pockets of egg white in the batter.
- Bake 35-40 minutes, then allow cake to cool for an hour.
- Use a large fork or a wooden skewer to poke holes all over your cake! The more holes, the faster your three milks mixture will absorb.
- Whisk together your three milks! Condensed milk, evaporated milk, heavy cream, and just a splash of vanilla extract. Make sure everything is well-combined (sometimes the condensed milk likes to settle on the bottom of the bowl since it is heavy and thick).
- Pour slowly and evenly over your cake.
Don’t Forget Your Frosting
Once you’ve prepared and soaked your cake, you’ll want to wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and pop it in your fridge. It will need to sit for at least three hours (preferably overnight!) to absorb all of that milk mixture.
Once it’s chilled, you can prepare your frosting.
Some Tres Leches cakes use a meringue topping, but personally I like to use a delicate, lightly sweetened whipped cream. Wait until your cake is ready to serve (or at least until its had time to sit and absorb the milk) before topping with whipped cream.
I like to top off my Tres Leches Cake with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, but this is optional.
Where did Tres Leches Cake Originate?
The true origins of Tres Leches Cake are actually widely disputed. Many Latin American countries have been named as possible points of origin, and some sources even cite Nestle as perpetuating this milk-heavy recipe as a way to sell more of their condensed and evaporated milk (a delicious marketing ploy, if you ask me).
I found this article that did a deep dive into its possible origins, and thought some of you fellow food nerds might like to check it out, too.
Can I Freeze Tres Leches Cake?
Kind of. I don’t recommend freezing Tres Leches Cake after you’ve soaked it in the milk mixture. However, if you’d like to make this cake in advance you can bake the cake, cool it completely, and then tightly wrap it and freeze as you would any other cake.
Several hours to 1 day before you are ready to serve, thaw the cake and then follow the instructions in the recipe for drenching with milk and topping with whipped cream.
How Long Does Tres Leches Cake Last?
Once the cake is fully assembled I recommend enjoying within 2-3 days. Make sure to store Tres Leches cake refrigerated and covered!
More Recipes You Might Like:
- Coffee Cake
- Vanilla Cake
- The Best Cheesecake
- Hummingbird Cake
- Or check out more of my Best Cake Recipes!
Let’s bake together! Be sure to check out my video at the bottom of the recipe where I’ll show you exactly how I make this Tres Leches Cake recipe in my own kitchen! If you enjoy watching, make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel where I’ve already uploaded over 150 recipe videos that you can watch for free!
Tres Leches Cake
- 5 large eggs whites and yolks separated
- 1/2 cup butter softened (113g)
- 2 cups granulated sugar divided (400g)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (250g)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk (235ml)
- 14 oz sweetened condensed milk (397g)
- 12 oz evaporated milk (340g)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (118ml)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (355)
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar (65g)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Ground cinnamon for sprinkling optional
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and spray a 9x13 glass baking dish with baking spray. Set aside.
- Place egg whites in a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer and use an electric mixer or your stand mixer’s whisk attachment to beat until foamy. Gradually increase mixer speed to medium-high and add just 1 cup (200g) of sugar, adding about 2 Tablespoons at a time and allowing about 10 seconds after each addition. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until egg white mixture is thick and glossy and you achieve stiff peaks¹ (much like you are making a meringue).
- If you used a stand mixer, scoop egg whites into a separate clean bowl and set aside and carry on using the same bowl for the next step (no need to clean the bowl). If you used an electric hand mixer, just grab a new bowl at this point.
- Place softened butter and remaining 1 cup (200g) of sugar in bowl. Beat until creamy and well-combined.
- Add egg yolks, one at a time, stirring after each addition.
- Stir in vanilla extract.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Using a spatula and stirring by hand, alternate adding milk and flour mixture to your egg yolk mixture (I usually do this in about 4 parts, about ¼ cup of the milk at a time and ¼ of the flour mixture at a time).
- Once milk and flour have been stirred into egg yolk mixture, grab your egg white meringue from earlier and use a spatula to gently fold meringue into batter. Make sure it is completely combined and no white spots of egg remain, but use a gentle hand to not deflate the egg whites or over-mix the batter or you'll have a dense cake.
- Spread batter evenly into prepared 9x13 pan and transfer to 350F (175C) oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.
- Once cake has finished baking, allow to cool for about 30-60 minutes.
- Once cake has cooled (do not invert it, leave it in the cake pan), prepare topping by whisking together condensed milk, evaporated milk, heavy cream, and vanilla extract.
- Use a large fork or a wooden skewer to poke holes all over the cake (poke down to the bottom of the cake pan). Pour milk mixture slowly and evenly over cake. Cover and transfer cake to refrigerator and allow to chill for at least several hours or overnight.
- Once ready to serve, prepare whipped cream:
- Combine heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl and use an electric mixer to beat until thickened and you achieve stiff peaks and a Cool Whip consistency.
- Spread whipped cream over tres leches cake and sprinkle with ground cinnamon, if desired.
- Slice and serve! Enjoy!