Let's make the Best Tres Leches Cake after an authentic Mexican recipe. Fluffy sponge cake is soaked in three types of milk making for a moist dessert with delicate whipped cream and strawberry topping.
Pastel de tres leches is probably the most common Mexican cake. It is a party dessert staple and you'll see it at almost any birthday, wedding, and other celebrations.
We've lived in Mexico for 7 years now and had our share of great and just ok versions of this sponge cake soaked in 3 milks. While some end up soggy and literally wet, this recipe that I learned to make during a cooking class in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato ends up with perfectly moistened cake layers.
The cooking instructor told us she doesn't sweeten the whipped cream topping, because of the sweetness from the three sweet milks used for soaking. I completely agree that simple whipped cream as well as fresh strawberries create a perfect flavor balance.
The sponge cake ingredients are very straightforward. Then we need three milks, and the topping ingredients.
For the sponge cake:
- Baking powder
- Granulated sugar - white or cane sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Sweetened condensed milk - 1 can usually contains 14 ounces
- Evaporated milk - 1 can usually has 12 fluid ounces
- Heavy cream - or whipping or culinary cream
- Rum - optional and only recommended if not serving children
- Whipped cream - since the cake and 3 milks are already plenty sweet, an unsweetened whipped cream topping is a perfect pairing here
- Strawberries - cut the strawberries in half or thinner slices depending on how big they are. The strawberry topping is optional, you can omit them or replace with another fruit or topping like shredded coconut, chocolate shavings, or sprinkles
See recipe card for quantities.
Follow these step by step pictures to see how easy this cake really is to make.
Start by whisking together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl
Separate the 7 eggs and place the egg yolks and egg whites in different mixing bowls
Add the sugar to the egg yolks and mix with hand or stand mixer for 2 minutes until pale yellow
Combine the milk and vanilla. Add milk to the egg mix in 3 additions alternating with the dry ingredients. Mix well after each addition
Whip the egg whites to soft peak consistency. When lifting the beaters the egg whites will form peaks that point downwards
Fold the egg whites into the remaining batter by hand using a spatula
Pour the cake batter into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish and bake 25-30 minutes at 350°F
In a medium bowl whisk together the three milks: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk + heavy cream
Poke holes into the top of the hot cake and pour the milks on top. Go slowly to allow all of it to absorb completely
Once the cake has cooled to room temperature, decorate with whipped cream and slices of fresh strawberries
Hint: Use a skewer or toothpick to poke more holes as needed to help all of the 3 milk mixture to soak into the sponge cake layer
Round layer cake variation
This Tres Leches Cake can also be baked in two 9-inch round baking pans and stacked for a two-layer cake. Invert the hot cakes on a rimmed baking sheet after baking before pouring the milks on top.
Once cooled, you can spread whipped cream between the layers and on top of the cake. If you also want to decorate the sides, you may need another 1 cup of whipping cream.
I made this version for my daughter's "Just Add Magic" themed birthday party and colored the whipped cream frosting with 3 shades of food coloring.
This finished tres leches cake can be stored refrigerated for up to 5 days. Be sure to cover it air tight to keep from drying out or absorbing unwanted smells from the fridge.
This is an authentic tres leches cake recipe from Mexico where it originated, but it is now a common dessert around Central and South America.
Some tres leches cakes can be soggy and overloaded with milks. This recipe however strikes a perfect balance. Just enough milk mixture is used to sufficiently moisten the sponge cake layer without making it overly wet, leaking, or soggy.
Providing you have baked up a fluffy sponge cake layer, all the milk should absorb with the help of poking holes into the top. However, if the cake layer isn't actually light and fluffy with lots of tiny air pockets then the milk will have a hard time soaking in. This can happen if you over mixed the batter, if the baking powder was expired, or the oven temperature was too low.
Looking for more cake recipes like this? Try these:
The Best Tres Leches Cake Recipe
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 7 large eggs separated
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 can 14-ounce sweetened condensed milk
- 1 can 12-ounce evaporated milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup rum optional
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 2 cups fresh strawberries sliced
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 9x13-inch (22x23cm) rectangular baking pan* by brushing with butter/oil or spraying with cooking spray.
- In a small bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt
- Separate the eggs and place into two different mixing bowls. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and beat with a hand mixer or a stand mixer for 2 minutes until pale yellow.7 large eggs, 1 cup sugar
- Stir together the milk and vanilla extract. Then add to the egg yolk mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the flour mixture. Mix well after each addition.¾ cup whole milk, 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then gently fold the whipped egg whites into the cake batter.
- Fill the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes until done. The top should be set and spring back when gently pressed. A skewer or toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
- While the cake is baking combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream, and optional rum in a large bowl or blender.1 can 14-ounce sweetened condensed milk, 1 can 12-ounce evaporated milk, 1 cup heavy cream, ¼ cup rum
- Pour the three milks mixture over the top of the hot cake as it comes out from the oven. Use a toothpick or skewer to poke holes into the cake to help the liquid soak in. Make sure to use all of the milk. It should all be absorbed.
- Let the cake cool to room temperature. Then whip the cream until doubled and stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over the top of the cake and then optionally decorate with sliced strawberries.2 cups whipping cream, 2 cups fresh strawberries
- Slice the cake and serve. Store the cake refrigerated and covered for up to 5 days.