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 cake is perfect for any celebration!
Growing up in a Mexican household, tres leches cake has always been the ultimate celebration cake. Do you have a quinceñera coming up? How about a wedding, birthday party, baptism, or graduation? Then it’s time to make a tres leches cake!
It’s my go-to cake for anything and everything, including a Cinco de Mayo celebration, and I know you’ll love it!
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 cake’s name.
Tres leches is decadent and creamy thanks to the sweetened three-milk mixture made from sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, and evaporated milk. It’s still very light and airy due to the sponge cake’s texture, which is similar to angel food cake in that the egg whites are whipped and then folded into the batter.
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.
Ingredients You Need
- Whole milk: Regular milk helps balance the sweetness of the sweetened condensed milk, adds moisture, and helps create a lighter texture.
- Sweetened condensed milk: This milk is thick, sweet, and adds moisture.
- Evaporated milk: This milk is not sweet but has a caramel-like flavor. It adds a rich and creamy texture.
- Eggs: The egg yolks and eggs white are separated and whipped before folding into the batter. This create that beautiful light and airy texture that allows the three-milk mixture to really penetrate the sponge cake.
- Flour and baking powder: All-purpose flour and baking powder bring the batter together.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar is used in the cake batter and in the whipped cream topping to sweeten things just a bit.
- Cinnamon and vanilla extract: Both of these staple ingredients add those warm Mexican flavors to this cake.
- Heavy whipping cream: Used to make the delicious whipped cream topping.
How to Make Tres Leches Cake
Make the cake batter. Beat together egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl, then combine it with flour, baking powder, cinnamon salt, vanilla extract, and a little whole milk until it forms a smooth batter.
To make the sponge cake light and airy, beat 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, cool, and poke. Bake the cake at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, then set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Once the cake has cooled, poke holes all over the top with a fork, making sure to drive the fork all the way to the bottom. This will help the three-milk mixture soak fully into the cake.
Soak. Pour the three-milk mixture all over the top of the cake. I like to mix together the milks first to ensure that they get soaked in evenly.
Rest. Cover and refrigerate it for at least 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.
Prepare the topping. You only need a pint of heavy cream, a few tablespoons of sugar, and some vanilla extract to make the whipped cream. Beat everything together with a mixer until soft peaks form.
Serve. Once the topping is ready, slather it on top of the cake, sprinkle a little ground cinnamon on top, cut it into slices, and serve with fresh strawberries if desired.
- Stand mixer. One of my favorite baking tools. So helpful and can be used for so many different things!
- Measuring cups. A good set of glass measuring cups is essential in any kitchen!
- Mixing bowls. These glass mixing bowls are the ones I use all the time when I cook anything. They’re also freezer and microwave safe!
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.
Photos by Erin Jensen of The Wooden Skillet.