cake · dessert

Tres Leches Cake

I keep trying to find the mental energy to post about how to make macarons. I even have videos, but I just can’t seem to get myself to put the post together. And so I’m incredibly grateful for the excuse Cinco de Mayo is offering me to continue to put off macarons. Baking a tres leches cake is far more urgent than macarons. And far easier too!

Close-up of an individual slice on a charcoal plate

Here’s what you need to know about tres leches cake: it’s delicious, it’s incredibly easy to make and it needs to be made ahead, ideally the day before serving. So it’s perfect for a dinner party, which I know, I know, no one is having right now. It’s also perfect for stress eating, though I never do that… ha (don’t ask how many cookies I’ve eaten today).

If you’ve never had a tres leches cake, it’s basically a sponge cake that you poke holes into and then drench with a mixture of three different milks: evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream. Mostly pantry supplies!! You can use cake flour or make your own substitute with all-purpose flour and cornstarch (see below). For non-dairy milk drinkers, I recommend refrigerated coconut milk as a substitute over almond, soy, oat…

If you want more of a tropical flair, you can use a can of full-fat coconut milk in lieu of the heavy cream. If you want to make it a little boozy, add some rum. Here in the Bacardí capital, coconut rum makes this cake go over the top. I hear Grand Marnier is a delicious option as well. Then top it all off with freshly whipped cream (cool whip is not the same. please, please don’t use it). Add some fresh berries, mango, pineapple, coconut shavings, or just a simple cherry.

Slice of tres leches cake atop a charcoal colored plate

Tres Leches Cake

Course Dessert
Cuisine Mexican
Yield 16 servings


  • Butter and flour for cake pan
  • 1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (30 grams) cornstarch
  • OR 2 cups (260 grams) cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped from pods or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk (refrigerated coconut milk is an alternative)
  • 1 12-ounce (or 340 grams) can evaporated milk
  • 1 14-ounce (or 400 grams) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy cream, half and half, or a can of full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 ml) rum, optional, but if you opt, try coconut flavored rum
  • 2 cups (475 ml) heavy cream (for whipped topping)
  • 2 tbsp (15 grams) powdered or granulated sugar (for whipped topping)


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9×13 baking pan, or coat it with a nonstick cooking spray.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch (together, these make “cake flour”, but if you have it on hand, you can use 2 cups cake flour and eliminate the cornstarch), salt and baking powder. If using a fresh vanilla bean, rub seeds into 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar to disperse them and help release the most flavor. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. With the machine still running, gradually add the sugar (vanilla bean-infused or plain) and beat on medium-high until stiff peaks form. If you haven’t used a vanilla bean, now add your vanilla extract, and beat to combine.
  3. Add yolks one at at time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add milk, and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture, one-third at at time, folding in each addition gently by hand.
  4. Pour batter in prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, or until a tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Let completely cool in pan on a rack.
  5. In a large bowl, preferably one with a pouring spout, whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or half and half or coconut milk). Add rum, if using. Use a wooden skewer to poke holes all over cake. Pour all but 1/2 cup milk mixture over cake and transfer to fridge, giving the cake several hours but ideally overnight to soak it up. (Save last bit of milk mixture for serving.)
  6. Before serving, beat 2 cups heavy cream with 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Spread over top of cake.
  7. Serve cake in squares, first pouring a little puddle of reserved three-milk mixture at the bottom of plate.


Source: Smitten Kitchen

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