Tres Leches Cake is a sweet, simple cake recipe soaked in three types of milk. It’s absolutely delicious and fun to make.
There is no cake quite like Tres Leches Cake. The wonderful flavor, the moistness of the cake and the unique method of making it all contribute to its charm.
If you like a poke cake this is the original. After the lofty sponge cake is baked, little holes are poked all over it.
Then a sweet milk mixture is poured over it to soak in.
Covered with fluffy whipped cream frosting it’s perfect for Cinco de Mayo or any special occasion.
What is Tres Leches Cake?
Literally translated from Spanish it means ‘three milks cake’. It’s a sweet sponge cake soaked with three types of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream.
It’s moist and absolutely delicious.
Tres Leches Cake is a light sweet cake. It can be made with butter or, as with our recipe, no butter. If not using butter the cake is airy making it able to absorb the milks well.
The recipe originates in Mexico.
Ingredients you’ll need
Eggs. You’ll need 6 eggs and the whites and yolks will be separated and used in different stages of the recipe.
Granulated sugar. Makes the cake sweet!
All purpose flour. Regular or gluten-free measure-for-measure flour can be used.
The gluten-free version of all our recipes are tested with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1-to-1 Baking Flour.
Sweetened condensed milk. This canned milk is one of the three leches. It’s a syrupy sweet milk.
Evaporated milk. Also a canned milk.
Heavy Cream. This is the same as heavy whipping cream. It will be used to seep into the cake. The additional amount is used to create a simple cream cheese frosting.
Vanilla Extract. Gives vanilla flavor to the cake and the frosting.
Confectioner’s sugar. Same as powdered sugar. Used in the frosting.
No rising agents (leveners) used!
This version of sponge cake does not use any rising agents; no baking powder or baking soda.
So if you thought we left it out, we didn’t!
The eggs are the sole source of the cake rising.
Making gluten-free Tres Leches Cake
In our experience gluten-free flour blends are not always as absorbent as traditional All-Purpose wheat flour.
And because all gluten-free flour blends do not include the same flours they will behave differently.
We use Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free 1-to-1 Baking Flour. This recipe has been tested with that specific flour blend.
As a general recommendation if making the cake gluten-free reduce the cream by 1/2 cup in the three milk mixture. Pour the mixture on the cake in small amounts at a time and allow it to fully absorb before adding more.
This will ensure the cake is not oversaturated.
How to fold ingredients together
Folding ingredients in a baking recipe is an important technique. This is especially true when combining light, airy components, like a meringue or beaten eggs whites, with heavier ingredients.
Why is ‘folding’ important?
It ensures the air in the whipped ingredients remains so there is no deflating when the ingredients are combined.
How to do it
Add the light ingredients to the heavy ingredients. In this Tres Leches Cake the beaten egg whites are folded into the egg yolk mixture along with the flour. The ingredients are alternated when added so the batter stays light and airy.
Use a flexible spatula. This allows easier scooping underneath the mixture on the bottom of the bowl and along the sides of a mixing bowl.
Scrape the bottom and over the top. Run the spatula along the bottom of the bowl, underneath the mixture on the bottom, towards you then over the top.
Rotate the bowl. Rotate the bowl slightly and repeat this motion. Repeat until the mixture is completely combined.
Don’t rush. It may seem that the mixture will not combine but it will. It takes a bit of time but is completely worth it for the end result!
This video shows how to fold ingredients together.
How to make Tres Leches Cake – Step-by-Step
STEP 1. Preparation
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
STEP 2. Beat egg whites
Separate the egg whites and yolks into separate bowls (photo 1).
Combine the egg whites and half of the sugar. Using an electric mixer with whisk attachment (or hand held mixer) beat until stiff peaks form (photos 2-3).
STEP 3. Beat egg yolks
Combine the eggs yolks and remaining sugar. Beat until combined (photo 4).
STEP 4. Make the batter
Gently fold some of the flour and eggs white mixture (alternating) into the egg yolk until fully combined (photos 5-6).
STEP 5. Bake and cool the cake
Spoon the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan (photo 7).
Bake for 28-32 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes (photo 8).
STEP 6. Add the milk
Using a bamboo skewer or fork poke holes into the cake 1 inch apart (photo 9).
Combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1 cup of the heavy cream and whisk together (photo 10).
Slowly pour a small amount of the milk onto the surface of the cake and let it soak in (photo 11).
Photos 12-14 illustrate the process.
Continue to pour the milk mixture on the cake until it has all been absorbed.
Allow the cake to sit for 30 minutes to soak in the liquid.
STEP 7. Frost the cake
Combine the remaining heavy cream, vanilla extract and confectioners sugar in a bowl or bowl of standing mixer. Beat until stiff peaks form (photos 15-16).
Remove the sides of the springform cake pan. Frost the top and sides of the cake (photo 17).
Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
The egg white whipping is one of the most important steps in the recipe. This ensures the cake rises, has great structure and texture to absorb the milk mixture.
Here are some tips to ensure the eggs are whipped well:
- Take care when separating the eggs. The whites and yolks are whipped separately. When separating them be sure no yolk is in the whites and no whites in the with the fatty yolks.
- The egg whites should triple in size when whipped. The goal is to get as much air into the eggs as possible. That ends up with a airy sponge cake.
Don’t use non-stick cooking spray to prep the cake pan. This type of cake relies on a dry surface to climb the sides of the pan to rise. Grease and flour the pan.
Don’t let the batter sit. As soon as the batter is combined and in the pan, bake the cake.
Don’t peek when the cake is baking! Resist the temptation to open the oven door to check on the cake, especially in the first half of it baking. This can result in the cake deflating.
Store leftover cake tightly sealed or in an airtight cake storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
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Originally published: January 20, 2012