Tres Leches Cake is a classic Mexican dessert soaked in a mixture of three milks and topped with whipped cream and strawberries. Moist, creamy and delicious, tres leches is perfect for any celebration!
I feel like I should be throwing a party because I’m so excited to be sharing this recipe for tres leches cake!
Growing up in a Mexican household, tres leches has always been the ultimate celebration cake. Do you have a quinceñera coming up? Wedding? Birthday party? Baptism? Graduation? Guess it’s time to make a tres leches cake!
It’s the go-to cake for anything and everything, including a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
What is tres leches cake?
Tres leches cake is a popular Mexican dessert made from a light sponge cake that is soaked in a mixture of three milks and topped with whipped cream. Tres leches literally means “three milks” in Spanish, hence the name of the cake.
Tres leches is decadent and creamy thanks to the three milk mixture, yet still very light and airy due to the texture of the sponge cake that’s almost like an angel food cake.
It’s typically topped with fresh strawberries and a pinch of cinnamon, but is also sometimes garnished with chopped nuts or just left plain with whipped cream.
What are the three milks in tres leches?
- whole milk
- evaporated milk
- sweetened condensed milk
I’ve seen some recipes use heavy cream instead of whole milk, but I don’t really find that necessary, especially since heavy cream is used to make the whipped cream topping.
How to make tres leches cake
To make the cake, start by combining all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon and a touch of salt in one bowl. In a different bowl, separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Then beat together the egg yolk with sugar, vanilla extract and milk and combine it with the dry ingredients.
To make the sponge cake light and airy, the one important step is beating the egg whites in a separate bowl until shiny peaks form, then gently fold them into the cake batter. The air bubbles and volume of the meringue help keep the sponge fluffy and not dense, even after soaking in the three milk mixture.
Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes, and then set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Once the cake has cooled, poke holes all over the top of the cake with a fork. This will help give more areas for the three milk mixture to soak into the cake.
Next, pour the three types of milk all over the top of the cake. I like to mix together the milks first to ensure that they get soaked in evenly.
Let the cake rest. Cover and refrigerate it for a minimum for 2 hours, up to overnight. This helps the cake completely cool and gives it enough time to absorb as much of the milk mixture as possible.
Once the cake has soaked in the milks, prepare the topping. To make the whipped cream, all you need is a pint of heavy cream, a few tablespoons of sugar and some vanilla extract.
I like using this clear vanilla extract because the color of the whipped cream stays super white and bright. I’ve found that when I use regular pure vanilla extract in any whipped toppings or icings, the color just becomes a little yellow since the extract is brown.
However, if you don’t really care if the whipped topping is an off white color, you can certainly use your regular pure vanilla extract without a problem.
Store and Make Ahead
Tres leches cake can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. If you want to make it ahead of time for a party or celebration, I recommend leaving the whipped topping off until right before serving so it’s as light and fluffy as possible.
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For the cake
- cooking spray, olive oil or butter, for greasing
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 5 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup whole milk, divided
- 1 16-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
For the topping
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla extract*
For the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9×13 inch pan with cooking spray, olive oil or butter. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir to combine.
- In another bowl, add the egg yolks and 3/4 cup of sugar. Beat together on high speed using a handheld or stand mixer for about 3 minutes, until the yolks are pale yellow in color.
- Add the vanilla extract and 1/2 cup of milk. Beat together on low until just combined and pour it into the large bowl of flour. Mix together with a fork until combined.
- In another large bowl, add the egg whites and beat on high speed using a handheld or stand mixer until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, gradually add in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are shiny and stiff.
- Add the egg white mixture to the cake batter and fold them together very gently using a silicone spatula until just combined. You want to try to keep as much of the light airy texture and volume of the egg whites as possible, while making sure that the egg whites are completely combined with the batter.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes while you make the three milk mixture.
- In a medium bowl, add the remaining 1/4 cup of milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. Whisk together to combine.
- Using a knife or a spatula, gently unstick the sides of the cake from the pan. Then, poke holes all over the cake using a toothpick, a skewer or a fork.
- Gradually pour the three milk mixture over the cake. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours to let the cake fully cool and absorb the liquid.
For the topping
- In a large bowl, add the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat on high speed using a handheld or stand mixer until soft peaks form.
- Top the cake with whipped cream and freshly sliced strawberries, if desired.