Tres leches cake, also known as tres leches or pastel tres leches, is a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three kinds of milk – evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. The name tres leches means “three milks” in Spanish.
Tres leches cake is made of a vanilla or butter sponge cake that is soaked with a mixture of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream after baking. The three milks give the cake a unique moist texture.
Ingredients Needed to Make Tres Leches Cake
Here are the main ingredients needed to make a tres leches cake:
- Cake: All-purpose flour, baking powder, unsalted butter, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, whole milk
- Three Milks: Evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, heavy whipping cream
- Frosting: Heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar
- Toppings: Whipped cream, fruit, cinnamon
The sponge cake itself is made like a simple butter or vanilla cake. The key component is the three milk mixture that the cake is soaked in. Let’s look at each of these ingredients in more detail:
- Flour – All-purpose flour acts as the main structure for the tender sponge cake.
- Baking powder – Leavens the cake for a soft and airy texture.
- Butter – Provides richness and moisture to the cake crumb.
- Sugar – Sweetens the cake and helps produce the signature golden brown top.
- Eggs – Give structure, color, and flavor to the cake.
- Vanilla – Adds aromatic vanilla flavor to the cake.
- Milk – Contributes moisture, tenderness, and flavor.
- Evaporated milk – Reduced milk that provides a creamy texture and caramel notes.
- Sweetened condensed milk – Milk that has had water removed and sugar added for thick, syrupy sweetness.
- Heavy cream – Thick cream that enriches the mixture with fat and gives an indulgent, silky texture.
- Heavy cream – Whipped into fluffy peaks to make the frosting light and creamy.
- Powdered sugar – Provides sweetness and structure to the whipped cream frosting.
- Whipped cream – Light fluffy cream often piped decoratively on top.
- Fruit – Fresh berries like strawberries add flavor, color, and contrast.
- Cinnamon – A sprinkle of cinnamon adds warmth and complements the milk flavors.
Steps to Make Tres Leches Cake
Here is an overview of the key steps required to make a tres leches cake:
- Make sponge cake – Cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs, add vanilla, alternating with flour and milk.
- Bake cake layers – Pour batter into pans and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Make three milk mixture – Whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream.
- Poke holes in cake – Use a fork to gently poke holes all over the top of the cooled cake layers.
- Soak cake in milk mixture – Slowly pour the milk mixture over the cake layers until absorbed.
- Chill cake – Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow cake to absorb milk mixture.
- Make whipped cream frosting – Beat heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form.
- Assemble and frost – Stack soaked cake layers with frosting in between and cover top and sides with more frosting.
- Decorate – Pipe whipped cream on top and decorate with fruit as desired.
The full homemade tres leches cake recipe with more details is included below.
Detailed Homemade Tres Leches Cake Recipe
For the Sponge Cake:
- 1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup whole milk, at room temperature
For the Three Milk Mixture:
- 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
For the Whipped Cream Frosting:
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- Fresh berries like strawberries or blueberries
- Ground cinnamon
- Make the sponge cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder, set aside. In a large bowl using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk to the batter in 2-3 additions, mixing just until combined after each.
- Bake the cake: evenly divide the cake batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack.
- Make the three milk mixture: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream until fully blended. Set aside.
- Soak the cake: Once the cakes are completely cool, use a fork to gently poke holes all over the top of the cakes. Slowly pour the three milk mixture evenly over the top of each cake layer until absorbed. Cover and refrigerate the soaked cakes for 4-12 hours or preferably overnight.
- Make the whipped cream frosting: In a large bowl using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream on high speed until foamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to frost.
- Assemble and frost: Remove the cakes from the refrigerator. Evenly spread about 1 cup of the whipped cream over one cake layer. Top with the second cake layer and spread the remaining whipped cream evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
- Decorate: Top the frosted tres leches cake with fresh berries, a dusting of cinnamon, and/or piped rosettes of remaining whipped cream as desired. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Enjoy!
The rich tres leches cake soaked in evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and cream is decadent, moist and deliciously sweet. The whipped cream frosting provides a perfectly light and creamy contrast. Serve chilled for optimal flavor and texture.
Key Tips for Making Tres Leches Cake
Here are some top tips to ensure homemade tres leches cake turns out perfect every time:
- Use very fresh eggs and milk – older eggs can cause the cake to deflate.
- Bring all ingredients to room temperature to avoid curdling the batter.
- Don’t overmix the batter – just until ingredients are incorporated.
- Check for doneness early – tres leches cake is easy to overbake.
- Poke holes thoroughly so milk mixture can fully soak in.
- Chill overnight if possible for best texture.
- Use cold heavy cream for stable whipped cream frosting.
- Assemble cake right before serving so the layers don’t get soggy.
Taking a few simple precautions will help you achieve the perfect soft, moist crumb, ideal milk infusion, and heavenly whipped cream frosting tres leches is loved for.
How Long Does Tres Leches Cake Last?
Tres leches cake is best when freshly assembled and eaten within a day or two. However, the cake and components can last for 3-5 days when stored properly:
- Unsoaked cake layers can be kept at room temperature sealed airtight for up to 1 day.
- The milk mixture keeps in the refrigerator for 3-5 days in an airtight container.
- Frosted cake will last 24-48 hours refrigerated.
- Whipped cream frosting holds 1-2 days in the fridge.
For longer storage, tres leches cake layers and milk mixture can be frozen for 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before assembling and serving.
Substitutions and Variations
There are many ways to adapt tres leches cake to suit your tastes and ingredients on hand:
- Cake flour – For an even more tender, delicate crumb.
- Butter cake – For more richness than vanilla.
- Whole milk – Can be used instead of evaporated and condensed milks.
- Half-and-half – Lightens up the milk mixture a bit.
- Goat milk – Interesting twist on the traditional flavor.
- Coconut milk – For a dairy-free tres leches.
- Yogurt – Adds tanginess to the milk soak.
- Mascarpone frosting – Silky, rich alternative to whipped cream.
- Fruits and nuts – Mix into the batter for a twist.
- Chocolate version – With cocoa powder or chocolate chips added.
Feel free to get creative and make the decadent tres leches cake your own!
What does tres leches mean?
Tres leches means “three milks” in Spanish. The name refers to the three types of dairy – evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream – that the cake is soaked in.
Is tres leches cake supposed to be soggy?
Yes, tres leches cake is meant to be very moist and soggy! The signature texture comes from allowing the sponge cake to become saturated with the three milk mixture.
Can you use regular milk instead of evaporated and condensed milk?
You can, but the texture won’t be quite as rich and creamy. For best results, use both evaporated and sweetened condensed milk which create the classic tres leches flavor.
Do you have to refrigerate tres leches cake?
Yes, it’s best to keep tres leches cake chilled. The high dairy content in the cake and cream frosting require refrigeration for food safety.
How do you keep the frosting from weeping?
Using very cold whipped cream and frosting the cake just before serving helps prevent weeping. You can also add a touch of cornstarch or gelatin to the cream for extra stability.
Can I make tres leches cake in advance?
You can make the cake layers, milk mixture, and frosting ahead of time, but it’s best to assemble the cake right before serving so the layers don’t get soggy.
Tres leches cake has a simple ingredient list, but the unique combination of fluffy cake with a 3-milk soak creates an incredibly moist dessert with complex flavors. While long refrigeration gives the cake time to fully absorb the milk and develop texture, be sure to assemble it right before eating so the layers don’t deteriorate. Feel free to personalize tres leches with additional flavors and toppings to highlight the milky, rich base. Next time a serious cake craving hits, tres leches is sure to satisfy!