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Recipe for Tres Leches Cake (Three Milks Cake)

Andrea is a home baker who loves to perfect challenging cakes, breads, and the like. She is on a quest to find the perfect flavor combos.

A delicious cake that you'll be tempted to eat in one sitting. The cake is an authentic Mexican dessert loaded with three milks and sugar.

A delicious cake that you'll be tempted to eat in one sitting. The cake is an authentic Mexican dessert loaded with three milks and sugar.

What Is Tres Leches Cake?

Tres leches cake is an authentic Mexican dessert that came into popularity in the 19th century. It is a staple dessert in Nicaragua, but it is also popular in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala.

In Spanish, tres leches translates to "three milks", and indeed the cake is characterized by a vanilla sponge infused with three milks: condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream. It's normally served with whipped cream or icing and cinnamon. People often put fruit on top. My recipe has a couple of extra ingredients to boost the overall flavor.

The sponge has high integrity. Some cake sponges fall apart after they've been poked and liquids were poured on top of them. I let the sponge cool a little before adding liquid. You don't want the cake to cook the liquids and warp the flavor.

I always ask my husband what he thinks of my baking creations, and he put this one in his top five. He said it might be his favorite, beating chocolate (which is a big deal). He said I didn't need to worry about the cake—he'd eat the whole thing. So... the cake has his approval, if that means anything to anyone.

In This Article

  • Cook Time and Timing Notes
  • Cake Notes
  • Cake Difficulty
  • Ingredients
  • Instructions
  • Photo Instructions
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Recipe Notes

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 hours 15 min

30 min

5 hours 45 min

12-16 servings

Timing notes: It takes about 30-40 minutes to prepare the cake before baking. It takes another 30-35 minutes to bake the cake. You'll want to let the cake cool for 15-30 minutes after it has baked.

Adding holes to the cake and adding the three milks will take 10 minutes. You'll want to spread the liquid evenly, and you may have to redistribute the milk mixture if it gets trapped around the cake pan edge.

The cake will then need to sit in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Processing the whipped cream and lathering the cake will take 5-10 minutes.

Cake Notes

Alternative Names

Torta de tres leches, pan tres leches, bizcocho de tres leches, pastel de tres leches

Type

Sponge cake or butter cake

Cuisine

Latin America, Caribbean, Southern Europe

Cake Difficulty

I think this cake is pretty easy to make. It does have a lot of ingredients, so it might be a pain to procure all of them. I highly recommend a stand mixer, your arm will be very sore if you try to mix everything by hand. I'd say it gets two out of five stars on the difficulty scale (with one being the easiest and five being the hardest).

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Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups white flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 3/4 cups sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom

For the whipped cream:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, cold

For the topping:

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, (more if needed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350℉. Grease a 9x13 pan with cooking spray or butter, lightly flour it, and set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. In a large stand mixer using the whisk attachment, mix together the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Mix on medium-high. The egg whites will change in consistency and get bubbly. When you remove the whisk, the egg whites should stand instead of fall. The texture could look crystal-like.
  4. Remove the egg whites from the stand mixer; place them in a bowl. Now add butter and sugar to the stand mixer. Mix on a medium speed. You want them to be light and fluffy (takes about 1-3 minutes). Scrap down the sides.
  5. Add in egg yolks one at a time. Make sure each yolk is thoroughly mixed before adding another. Add in the vanilla extract and whole milk. Make sure everything is mixed before moving to the next step. (Check to make sure milk isn't hiding under the sugar-butter mixture.)
  6. Add in the flour in increments, slowly adding will ensure that things blend at an appropriate rate for the ingredients.
  7. Using a spoon, gently mix in the egg whites. Your batter should be very smooth and cohesive. It's malleable, not stiff.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Spread it out even to the edges. Bake for 30-35 minutes, check at 30 to see if a fork or toothpick comes out clean.
  9. When the cake is done, pull it out and let it rest on your counter. While it cools, work on the whipped cream.
  10. In a bowl, blend together the heavy whipping cream, condensed milk, evaporated milk, and lemon juice.
  11. When the cake has cooled for about 10-15 minutes, poke it throughout with a fork or chopstick. Pour the milk over the cake. Cover and chill it for 3-4 hours.
  12. When 3-4 hours have passed, make the whipped cream frosting. In a food processor or mixer, blend together the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and heavy whipping cream. Lather up the cake!
  13. Sift ground cinnamon and cardamom over the cake. If you have a big blot of cinnamon, stir it with the icing to even it out. Add fruit if you like. Serve!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why did my cake shrink? You may have gone overboard when greasing your pan. If there is too much grease, the cake will pull away from the pan and shrink when it comes out of the oven.
  • Why is my cake soggy? You likely added too much milk and let it sit in your fridge for days. The cake has the right consistency for about 5 days before it transitions into a swamp.
  • What are the right occasions for tres leches cake? Cinco de Mayo is a popular time for the cake. I would also suggest it for big group outings like picnics, reunions, and the like.

Recipe Notes

  • Cake Sponge: If you don't want to add the three milks, the cake sponge is delightful on its own. I recommend before baking that you bang the pan on the counter a couple of times to knock out big bubbles in the batter. If you're planning to add the milks and cream, you don't need to worry about the look of the sponge.
  • Vanilla: If you can find authentic Mexican vanilla extract, that would make the cake tastier. Mexican vanilla is sweeter. I prefer it over the generic kind found at stores.
  • Eggs: Separating the eggs creates a lighter and thinner batter. It gives the batter extra lift, which is perfect for a poke cake where you're adding liquid or other mixtures. It's not hard to separate whites from yolks. You can take a spoon, slide it underneath the yolk, and pull it away from the whites. If you have a tiny amount of leakage from the yolks, it won't be a big deal. You can also try using a water bottle and using the suction method to pull up the yolk. I find just spooning it out is easier.
  • Not a Diet-Friendly Cake: This cake is indulgent. I would recommend serving it to a group rather than eating it all by yourself. Unless you're trying to gain a couple of pounds, I wouldn't eat this daily. It's not diet-friendly. This is somewhat obvious, but all the different milk products could aggravate someone who has milk allergies or is lactose intolerant.
  • Optional Toppings: Fruit toppings: Strawberries, pineapples, oranges, raspberries, and bananas. For the recipe pictures, I used strawberries. This is an excellent pairing! Chocolate pieces or granola could also work well. The whipped cream almost acts like yogurt for a parfait.
  • Mascarpone Cheese: My secret weapon for this cake is the mascarpone cheese. The whipped cream on top is beautifully smooth and tasty. It's one of my favorite icing, frosting, or cream recipes. Mascarpone is an Italian cheese, not Mexican. It's great on bagels and other snacks. It gives the whipped cream a special touch. It's like cream cheese but more set and has a more noticeable flavor. Mascarpone cheese can be hard to find. It's sometimes in the specialty cheese section. You could substitute it with more cream cheese or heavy whipping cream.
  • Cardamom: You can skip the cardamom for this recipe, but it does bring things up a notch. I used black cardamom for the recipe pictures. You can just rely on cinnamon, but a combo of cinnamon and cardamom is heavenly. Don't go too wild with cardamom, it can start to taste weird if you have too much. Kind of like paprika, too much paprika ruins recipes.

The Three Milks

Condensed Milk: Cow's milk with 60% of its water removed. Sugar is added, creating a syrupy texture. It is used to make sauces and caramels.

Evaporated milk has no sugar; condensed milk is about 40-45% sugar. This is really what makes the difference between the two.

Sweetened condensed milk is the same as condensed milk. There is no such thing as unsweetened condensed milk... that would just be evaporated milk.

Evaporated Milk: A healthier option to condensed milk. It is cow's milk with 60% water removed. It has 6.5% milkfat compared to 3.5% milkfat in whole milk. It's great in coffee, potato recipes, and baked goods.

Heavy Whipping Cream: The most indulgent dairy milk of all. It contains 36% milkfat. It is second only to butter. It's best to use cold, so don't leave it out idle on the counter. Keep your finished cake with the cream in the fridge. The whipped cream breaks down at room temperature. One option: use cool whip in place of heavy whipping cream for the top cream layer.

© 2022 Andrea Lawrence

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