If you have never made a Tres Leches Cake recipe, you are in for a treat! Picture this: a fluffy white sheet cake, poked with holes and soaked in a mixture of coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk (tres leches means 3 milks!) The resulting cake is irresistibly moist. It’s perfect for Cinco de Mayo! Originally posted May 4, 2019.

tres leches cake with strawberries on top shot from close up.
Table of Contents
  1. Tres Leches Recipe
  2. BEST Tres Leches Cake Recipe
  3. Tres Leches Cake Recipe ingredients
  4. How to make Tres Leches Cake
  5. What are the three types of milk in Tres Leches?
  6. How to serve the Best Tres Leches Cake
  7. How to store this Tres Leches Recipe
  8. Recipe for Tres Leches Cake FAQs
  9. The Best Tres Leches Cake Recipe Recipe

Tres Leches Recipe

So my sister Laura emailed me this Tres Leches Cake recipe last week.  She said she’s been working on it and tweaking it for years, and finally feels like she has reached perfection, so of course I had to make it.

BEST Tres Leches Cake Recipe

Have you ever had a Tres Leches Cake?  It’s one of the weirdest cakes you will ever make. Bake a white cake, then dump a good 4-5 cups of sugary milk over the top of it and refrigerate. It absorbs all the liquid and transforms into the most fluffy, spongey, moist cake you will ever have. I literally over baked this cake for at least 5 minutes and it still turned out incredibly delicious. I mean it’s kind of foolproof when you’re dumping a ton of milk on top of it.

I decided to make the cake in the morning, and I wanted to photograph it in the afternoon. I knew I was already breaking the rules because Laura specifically said that the cake should be made the day before you want to eat it, but what can I say, I like to walk on the wild side. Or something like that (I think this is really just code for impatience.)

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tres leches cake recipe with strawberries on top.

So I drop off the kids for school and race home to get the cake started. I throw the ingredients together and pop the cake in the oven. I set the timer for 25 minutes.

Then I take a good hard look at the ingredient list and realize I’ve made the classic mistake that I know every single one of you have made at least once: I hadn’t technically read through the ingredient list and needed to make a trip to the grocery store. Who has Coco Crema on hand? Definitely not me. (It’s sweetened coconut cream with sugar. People use it for Pina Coladas, it’s usually sold in the wine aisle.)

So. I had 25 minutes. I can totally make a store trip in 25 minutes, right?

a piece of tres leches cake with a sliced strawberry on top.

I head to the wine aisle to get the Coco Crema. But it’s not there. I check the beer aisle, the juice aisle, the coffee aisle, the dairy creamer aisle, it is nowhere to be found, and finally I stop to ask these two ladies who were in the wine aisle. They were clearly planning a huge party, they had 2 carts that they were filling with all kinds of booze, and had their notebooks out with their lists. I thought, if anyone in this store knows where the Coco Crema is, it’s these people.

They searched the entire aisle with me, consulted the store manager, and pulled up pictures on their phones of the different brands of Coco Crema that you can find (apparently you can buy it in a squeeze tube).  We couldn’t find it anywhere. But they helped me for a solid 3 minutes and it totally confirmed my faith in humanity. Go humans.

a bite of tres leches cake with strawberries on top.

Aaaand then my timer went off. I grabbed a couple cans of regular coconut cream and raced to the checkout.

I was fully expecting a completely over baked cake when I got home, and I wasn’t wrong. BUT it hadn’t burned and I thought, well, I’m about to dump 5 cups of milk on it, so it should be fine, right?? (I was right. That’s why this cake is really great for novice bakers!)

I ended up using coconut cream with some extra sugar instead of the Coco Crema that Laura’s recipe calls for. Because that’s all it is anyway, sweetened coconut cream. I’ve made notes in the recipe if you can’t find any Coco Crema!

After all the fuss and rush, I have to say, this cake was totally worth it.  It is SO GOOD. The best part is that it can be made ahead of time. It would be so fun to make this for Cinco de Mayo!

Tres Leches Cake Recipe ingredients

Here’s a quick list of what you’ll need to make this cake. Scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of the post for more details!

  • eggs
  • butter
  • granulated sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • all purpose flour
  • kosher salt
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • full-fat coconut milk (1 can, don’t buy lite!)
  • Coco Crema (1 can)
  • sweetened condensed milk (1 can)
  • evaporated milk (1 can)
  • heavy whipping cream
  • powdered sugar
  • almond extract
  • strawberries (to garnish, optional)

How to make Tres Leches Cake

 Here’s the egg situation. Separate the yolks and whites, and beat the whites until they are nice and stiff.

Egg yolk and beaten egg whites.

The batter is pretty thick. Use a chopstick to poke the holes. Once it is baked, make as many holes as you can without destroying your cake! You can see that my cake is a little dark, I totally over baked it. This is the ONE CAKE that I will tell you you can save after over baking. Normally this is a death sentence for cakes!

Cake batter and poking cooked cake.

Tres leches cake is really unique because it uses whipped cream frosting. It’s really just sweetened whipped cream with a little bit of almond extract, yum! You can use your stand mixer or a hand mixer.

a baked tres leches cake with holes poked in it, the same cake with milk soaked in and whipped cream on top.

What are the three types of milk in Tres Leches?

Traditionally, this cake uses evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and milk/cream. But we are switching it up a little to use coconut cream instead of dairy cream. It adds a subtle flavor and richness that I absolutely adore!

How long should Tres Leches Cake soak?

It’s a lot of milk! The cake needs 4-6 hours of total time in the fridge to absorb it all. See recipe for instructions on warming the cake in the turned-off oven after adding the milk. This is one of Laura’s tips for helping the milk distribute evenly throughout the cake!

Above is a picture of the cake after is has soaked in the milk mixture for several hours. All that delicious flavor has been soaked up and absorbed into our cake.

tres leches cake shot from close up.

After soaking, frost with simple whipped cream and you are good to go! You really don’t want a buttercream frosting for this cake. It’s too heavy. Whipped cream really is the perfect compliment.

Oh and don’t forget the strawberries! They are kind of essential!

tres leches cake with strawberries on top.

How to serve the Best Tres Leches Cake

Yes! Tres leches cake is served cold. It is best made the day before you want to eat it, or at least several hours. The cake needs time to chill but also time to absorb all the liquid we’re dumping on top. Also it’s very handy that this cake needs to be covered and chilled and put out of sight in the fridge, so that I’m not stabbing my fork in and sneaking a bite every time I pass through the kitchen. Am I right or am I right??

How to store this Tres Leches Recipe

Tres Leches Cake is meant to be served cold, and should be stored in the fridge in between servings. It will last up to 2-3 days.

Unfortunately this cake doesn’t freeze well. All that milk is going to thaw out to be even more liquid-y when you take it out of the freezer, ruining the texture of the cake. It’s best to eat up this cake without reservations within a day or two of making it! No regrets, yolo!

If you haven’t tried out this unique cake yet, definitely give this recipe a try! It’s so much fun to make, and definitely fun to serve to people who have never tried it. Enjoy!

Recipe for Tres Leches Cake FAQs

Should Tres Leches cake be wet or soggy?

The texture of Tres Leches cake is quite unique. It should not be wet and soggy to the point that it is disintegrating and falling apart. But there is definitely going to be a thin layer of milk at the bottom of your cake when you slice into it. And the cake is unbelievably moist thanks to all the liquid. If the cake has had enough time to absorb all the milk, it should hold its shape just fine. It should not taste soggy, but rather should have a texture like a pudding or custard.

Why did my Tres Leches Cake sink in the middle?

A cake can sink in the middle if you overmix it, if you don’t bake it long enough, or if you bake it in the wrong size pan. Follow the instructions in this recipe for a cake that doesn’t sink!

Why won’t my Tres Leches Cake absorb milk?

If you make a very dense cake, then it won’t have enough air pockets to absorb the milk. If you’ve made this light, airy recipe and you’re not seeing all the milk disappear into the cake, be patient! It takes a while for the cake to soak it all up. 

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The Best Tres Leches Cake Recipe

4.94 from 60 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Chilling Time: 4 hours
Total: 4 hours 45 minutes
Servings: 12
If you have never had Tres Leches Cake, you are in for a treat! Picture this: a fluffy white sheet cake, poked with holes and soaked in a mixture of coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk (tres leches means 3 milks!) The resulting cake is irresistibly moist. It’s perfect for Cinco de Mayo!

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 5 eggs, divided
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 & 1/2 cups flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

For the milk

  • 1 (13.6-oz) can full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups Coco Crema*, about 1 (15-oz) can
  • 1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk

For the whipped cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • strawberries, to garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13 inch cake pan with nonstick spray or rub with butter.
  • In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 5 egg whites. Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Beat the egg whites about 2-4 minutes, until stiff peaks form. See photos.
  • Scrape the egg whites into a medium bowl and store in the fridge.
  • In the same bowl that you beat the egg whites, add 1/2 cup butter and beat until smooth, scraping edges. Add 1 cup sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping sides halfway through. Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and beat well.
  • Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
  • Get the beaten egg whites out of the fridge. Now you are going to add the flour mixture and the beaten egg whites into the butter/sugar mixture in alternating batches. (Add about half the flour to the butter mixture, stir. Then add half the beaten egg whites to the butter mixture, stir, etc, until it’s all added.) Do not over mix. Once it is combined, stop.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread out with a spatula.
  • Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the edges are pulling away from the sides of the cake pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no batter on it. Don’t make a grocery store trip in this 25 minutes.
  • While the cake is baking, make in a very large glass measuring cup or bowl, add 1 can coconut milk. Stick it in the microwave for 30-60 second and stir until all the lumps have disappeared. Add 2 cups Coco Crema*, 1 can sweetened condensed milk, and 1 can evaporated milk. Stir together until combined.
  • When the cake is baked, remove from the oven, turn off the oven, and set a timer for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, use a chopstick to poke holes in the cake. In Laura’s words: “Use a chopstick for bigger holes – you want a LOT of holes, to the point where it almost feels like you’re going to ruin or smash the cake but don’t actually ruin or smash the cake.”
  • Once you have holes all over the cake, take 3-5 minutes to SLOWLY pour the milk mixture all over the cake. If you pour too quickly, the top of your cake will not absorb the liquid. Yes, pour all of the liquid on the cake. It seems like too much. It’s not!
  • Once all the milk has been added, put the cake back in the oven that has been turned OFF and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the cake from the oven and let cool for a few minutes on the counter. Cover well and transfer to the fridge to cool completely, and to let the liquid absorb into the cake. This will take at least 4-6 hours.
  • Once the cake is completely chilled and you are ready to serve, make the whipped cream. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat 2 cups cream on high for 2-4 minutes until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Beat well, scraping sides and bottom.
  • Spread the whipped cream over the cake.
  • Garnish with strawberries that have either been hulled and chopped, or you could just slice each one in half and scatter over the cake. Top the whole cake with strawberries if you think you’ll eat the whole cake that day. If you don’t, then serve with cut strawberries, but spoon them on top of each serving. Fresh strawberries work better than strawberry sauce or sugared berries since the cake is so rich and has its own liquids already.

Video

Notes

*If you can’t find Coco Crema at the store (I couldn’t! but Laura says Walmart always has it. And here is an Amazon link.) you can replace it with coconut CREAM. (Not coconut milk. The coconut cream is in addition to the coconut milk called for in the recipe.) You can find it in the Asian food aisle. Buy two cans (you won’t use all of it). Open the cans and use a spoon to scoop out the solid cream, enough to measure 2 cups. Leave the watery liquid behind. Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar (this sugar is not called for in the recipe above, only add it if you are using coconut cream and not Coco Crema.) Be sure to microwave the coconut cream until all the lumps have smoothed out. Then add the other milks called for (coconut MILK, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk), and pour over your cake. (You can use your leftover coconut cream to make this Slow Cooker Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce!)
This recipe is from my amazing sister Laura!

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 652kcal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 42g | Saturated Fat: 24g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 183mg | Sodium: 503mg | Potassium: 355mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 44g | Vitamin A: 1252IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 297mg | Iron: 2mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Calories: 652
Keyword: authentic, best, Cake, Tres Leches
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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Comments

  1. Hi, i tried to beat the egg whites from the egg and it didn’t form stiff white or anything its still liquid form. Am I doing something wrong? Thanks!

    1. Hi Yani! Unfortunately egg-white-beating is a little persnickety. If there is any grease or bit of yolk in the bowl, then the egg whites won’t ever foam. Next time make sure your bowl is super duper clean and you get ZERO egg yolk in the mixture. I’m so sorry it didn’t work out this time!

  2. 5 stars
    I would like to make this cake but have a question regarding the addition of the Coco Crema/Coco Lopez. I use Coco Lopez for mixed drinks like Pina Coladas and it is extremely sweet. A little goes a long way. If this recipe calls for two cups, doesn’t it make the liquid poured over the top too sweet? I can’t imagine this much doesn’t overwhelm with sweetness?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Carol! This cake turns out beautifully with the coco crema, not too sweet at all. Remember that the cake is frosted with whipped cream and that the cake itself is less sweet since the milk is so sweet. Try it and let us know what you think!

  3. What can you substitute the coconut cream for if you can’t have coconut and also can you use a box cake mix in the interest of saving time?

    1. Hi Christine! If you can’t have coconut, this might not be the recipe for you. It calls for both coconut milk and coconut cream and there aren’t great substitutes. We’ve never adapted this cake for making with a box mix. If you’re looking for an easy box mix cake without coconut, I love this Peach Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting!

  4. 5 stars
    Absolutely love this recipe. I made it once for church a few years ago and it’s been the most highly requested dessert at parties ever since!

    1. I’m so glad you are loving this recipe Penny! So fun that it is a top request! Thanks for coming back to leave a rating and comment, that is super helpful and kind!

  5. 5 stars
    Have made this recipe several times and it always turns out perfectly! I was told by many that this is the BEST tres leche cake they’ve ever had. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hooray! I’m so happy you loved it Michele! Thank you for telling me! Glad to hear you have so many friends who recommended it, that is awesome. Thank you for taking the time to review!!

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