This recipe for tres leches cake is the perfect go-to dessert for any Cinco de Mayo celebration. But let's be real - tres leches cake is delicious any time of year. Being born and raised in south Florida I have been luckily enough to have had my fair share of this delicious cake. Tres Leches (meaning 3 milks) is a classic Latin dessert that consists of a yellow sponge cake that is soaked with 3 milks; whole milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. It's covered with fresh whipped cream for the frosting, you can add cherries or fresh fruit for garnish if you'd like. This cake is super simple to make and it feeds a crowd. It's sweet but not overpoweringly so. It yields a cool, creamy texture with a sweet, vanilla like flavor.
steps to making the best tres leches cake
There's essentially 3 steps to making this recipe.
Step 1: Bake the sponge cake and allow it to cool completely.
Step 2: Make the 3 milk mixture and pour it over the entire cake, let the cake chill in the fridge overnight to soak up all that goodness.
And step 3: Make the whipped cream and frost the top of the cake, cut into slice and serve.
People tend to shy away from tres leches because it requires a lot of time to let the cake soak, or "steep" if you will. The longer you let this go the better. Once the cake is completely cooled take a fork and pierce the all over the top of the cake. Make sure you don't over look the center and the edges of the cake. These tiny holes are going to help the cake absorb the 3 milks. Now pour the 3 milk mixture over the top of the cake and watch it absorb the liquid like magic! Cover the cake with plastic wrap and stick it it the fridge to chill for a minimum of 6 hours but it's highly, HIGHLY, recommended to let this cake soak overnight. The longer, the better!
be patient and don't skimp on certain steps
There's a couple of steps with making tres leches that should no be rushed. Let's talk about the cake batter for a second. Like with most cakes, creaming the butter and sugar together is the first step. You want to cream the butter and sugar together for a full 3 to 4 minutes on medium speed. This way you're starting with a fluffy base for the cake. Set a timer and don't skimp on time. To add on to that note, this recipe calls for the egg yolks and white to be separated. The egg whites will be whipped and FOLDED into the cake batter as the last step before you bake it. The key word here is fold. Folding the egg whites gently into the batter keeps them from deflating and helps keep air in the batter so the cake bakes up light, airy & fluffy.
And last, as I mentioned above, whatever you do, do not skimp on letting the cake soak in the fridge. The longer you let the cake soak it will have the perfect creamy texture and unbelievably sweet yet subtle flavor.
a few more things to note before you go
Since this cake requires more time to set/soak it's the perfect option for a make-ahead recipe if you have a dinner party, gathering, or occasion that you need a delicious dessert for. It makes fantastic leftovers and it freezes really well.
If you want to freeze this cake you have a couple of options. If you're freezing left overs, you can just put the slices into a freezer-safe Tupperware and stick them in the freezer. Want to just make the cake ahead of time and freeze it (without frosting or slicing it)? Bake the cake as normal in a 9 x 13 baking dish that has a lid. Let it cool and then add the 3 milks to it. Put the lid on the baking dish and set it in the freezer. Whether you're freezing a few slices or the whole cake, let it thaw in the refrigerator the night before you want to serve it. If you're serving the whole cake; once the cake is thawed completely, frost the top with whipped cream (homemade is best but totally optional!) cut into slices & serve.
Tres Leches Cake
- electric hand mixer or stand mixer
- 9 x 13 inch baking dish or sheet pan
For the Cake:
- 1 ½ cup all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 large eggs yolks and eggs separated
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup whole milk
For the 3 Milk mixture
- 1 cup whole milk
- 14 oz sweetened condensed milk one can
- 12 oz evaporated milk one can
- 2 to 3 tbsp rum optional
For the Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream cold
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Bake the Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish or sheet pan with non stick baking spray. Set aside.
- Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and give it a quick whisk, set aside. Then separate the egg yolks from the whites into two separate bowls. Place the egg whites in the fridge to stay cool while you make the cake batter.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in the egg yolks and vanilla extract, mixing on medium speed to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more. Slowly add in about a third of the dry ingredients with a third of the whole milk, mixing on low speed until all the dry ingreidents and milk have combined into the batter. Do not over mix the batter. Using clean beaters (or a whisk attachment) beat the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites gently into the batter just until combined. Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Cake is done when a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely and then pierce the top of the cake with a fork.
Adding the 3 milks
- In a bowl combine the milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk (and a couple of splashes of rum if you'd like) and mix the ingredients together. Pour the liquid all over the top of the cake and give it a few minutes to absorb into the cake. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge to chill for a minimum of 6 hours but it's best if you let it chill over night.
Frost the Cake
- Once the cake has had enough time to soak, it's time to make the whipped cream! Pour the heavy whipping cream into a bowl and mix on high speed for a few minutes. As the cream begins to thicking, slowly add in the sugar and the vanilla extract. Continue to whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipping cream over the top of the cake. Cut into slices and serve. Optional: garnish the cake with ground cinnamon, cherries or fresh fruit.