Tres Leches Cake
This Tres Leches Cake is sweet and moist, featuring vanilla sponge cake soaked in three different types of milk, then topped with fluffy whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It’s an authentic Mexican dessert recipe that’s simple yet irresistible!
The Best Homemade Tres Leches Cake
One of my family’s favorite dessert stops is Cafe Latte on Grand Avenue, where every single cake is truly a work of art. It often takes a few minutes for each of us to decide which (giant) piece of cake to order. And one of my longtime favorites is their Tres Leches Cake.
I first enjoyed Cafe Latte’s pretty double-layer tres leches cake shortly after moving to the Twin Cities area more than 20 years ago. And then I set out to make my own version to enjoy at home, a simple 1-layer cake that’s made in a 9×13 pan.
This tres leches cake is easy to make, featuring a super moist vanilla sponge cake that’s soaked in sweet deliciousness. Topped with a fluffy whipped cream layer that’s sprinkled with cinnamon, it’s hard to resist!
I often make this authentic Mexican dessert for Cinco de Mayo, but it’s a favorite dessert any time of year. My whole family adores this cake, and one of my (previous) co-workers said this was the best cake he’s ever eaten. Yep. It’s that good!
Another favorite Cafe Latte cake? Their turtle cake is amaaaaaaazing!
What is Tres Leches Cake?
Tres Leches Cake is popular in many parts of Latin America, including Mexico, and translates to “Three Milks Cake”. It’s simply a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk – evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half-and-half or heavy cream.
The cake is light and airy, with lots of air bubbles to soak up all the milk. And it does not turn soggy. It truly acts like a sponge, in the most delicious, wonderful way!
And a slightly sweetened whipped cream layer is a delicate, perfect topper. I like to add a dusting of cinnamon (which is also in the cake itself) and poke a stemmed cherry into the top of each piece!
What You’ll Need
As the name implies, this “three milk cake” is made with 3 different types of milk, plus a few baking staples.
- Cake flour – Cake flour creates a lighter crumb in this cake.
- Baking powder
- Cinnamon – Adds a bit of warm, spiced flavor to the dessert.
- Unsalted butter – Softened to room temperature.
- Vanilla – Use only pure vanilla extract (not imitation vanilla) for the best flavor.
- Milks – This recipe uses evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half & half.
- Heavy cream – For the whipped topping.
- Powdered sugar – Sweetens the heavy cream for the topping.
- Maraschino cherries – Optional garnish.
How to Make Tres Leches Cake
This Mexican dessert is simple to make. The most important thing is to allow time for the cake to cool and also for the glaze to soak in.
- Make the batter. Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat the butter until fluffy, then add the sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients.
- Bake. Transfer the batter to a greased and floured pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cake is lightly golden.
- Cool & Poke. Let cake cool for 30 minutes. Then poke holes all over the cake with a fork.
- Prepare the glaze. Whisk together the three milks. Slowly pour over the cake, giving it time to soak in.
- Add the topping & chill. Whisk the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until stiff and thick. Spread over the soaked tres leches cake, then sprinkle with cinnamon. Chill in the fridge.
- Garnish & serve. If desired, top each piece with a stemmed cherry. Enjoy!
Should I Make This in Advance?
I always recommend making tres leches cake a day in advance, as it takes the glaze some time to soak in. While you can technically serve it in a few hours, overnight is the best bet for the desired texture and flavor.
Tips for Success
Here are a few tips to help you make this Mexican dessert.
- Poke lots of holes. Be sure to poke holes over the entire cake – and lots of them. This helps the glaze soak in faster and moisten the entire cake.
- Use all the glaze. It seems like a lot of glaze, but definitely use it all. It will not completely soak up until it has sat overnight, but pouring slowly will help it absorb while you pour.
- Beat the cream well. For the whipped topping, you want to beat the heavy cream very well, until it’s stiff and thick. This will ensure the pretty, clean slices of cake that you see in the photos.
Tres leches cake is best served cold the day after it’s made. Traditionally, it can be enjoyed with a Mexican coffee or some hot chocolate. The hot beverage with the cold, milky dessert is the perfect combination!
As noted in the recipe, I like to top my cake with maraschino cherries, but fresh strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries are other great options.
How to Store Leftovers
Once the whipped topping layer has been added, tres leches cake can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days. After two days, it tends to become a bit soggy instead of just moist. Keep it covered or in an airtight container.
While I do not recommend freezing the assembled tres leches cake, you can freeze the base before you add the glaze and whipped topping. Allow it to cool completely then tightly wrap in two layers of plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw completely on the counter before adding the glaze and whipped topping.
More Mexican-Inspired Recipes:
- Easy Skillet Chicken Chilaquiles
- Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
- Mole Pork Tacos
- Warm Mexican Salsa
- Mexican Coffee
Like this recipe? Save it to Pinterest!
FOR THE CAKE:
- 1¾ cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
FOR THE GLAZE:
- 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
- 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup half & half
FOR THE TOPPING:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- cinnamon, for sprinkling on top
- maraschino cherries with stems, drained well, optional garnish
- For the cake: Preheat oven to 350° F.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.
- Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Decrease mixer speed to low, and with the mixer still running, very slowly add the sugar. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla and mix again.
- Add the flour mixture to the batter in three batches and mix until just combined.
- Transfer batter to a 9" x 13" pan and spread evenly. It will seem like a small amount of batter for a cake. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean.
- Allow cake to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over (a lot!!) with a fork. Then prepare the glaze.
- For the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half & half . If you have a bowl with a pour spout, that works great! Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake. It will seem like a lot of glaze, but use it all. Take your time and let it keep soaking in as you pour. The cake will not completely soak up the glaze until it has sat overnight. So, pop it into the fridge and finish it the following day.
- For the topping: Place the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk together until stiff peaks are formed. It should be thick. Spread the topping onto the cake and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Allow cake to chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Top each piece with a stemmed cherry, if desired.
The cake is best when baked a day prior to serving, to let the cake soak up the glaze overnight in the fridge.
adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe
Nutrition Information:Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 257Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 91mgSodium: 97mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 0gSugar: 14gProtein: 4g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.
This post was originally published in 2011, then updated in 2022.