My version of Tres Leches Cake is made with dulce de leche, evaporated milk, and heavy cream poured over a vanilla sponge cake then topped with homemade sweetened whipped cream. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon over the top and enjoy!
My husband has been begging me to make a tres leches cake for years. We love Mexican and Spanish food and I really enjoyed the bunuelos I made earlier this year.
It took me a while to become okay with the idea of a tres leches cake because despise soggy food. I can’t even think about anything of bread-y texture being doused in liquid. It makes my stomach turn.
I had to force myself to try a milk-soaked cake and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not soggy at all. Instead, it’s moist, spongy, and very flavorful.
It’s basically a poke cake. You poke holes all over the cooked cake a pour syrup over the top and it soaks into the holes, like my strawberries and cream cake. In this case, the syrup is made from three different milks.
Of course, I had to create my own version of this popular cake. I wanted the milk syrup to be thicker and have more flavor because I’m really not a fan of milk to begin with. So the syrup needed to be awesome in order for me to enjoy the cake.
I achieved this by using dulce de leche. It’s cooked milk and has a rich caramel flavor. It also adds a lovely color to the syrup and you can see where it has soaked into the cake. This made it the best tres leches cake I’ve tried.
It may not be an authentic tres leches cake but it is damn good!
Why is it called tres leches cake?
Tres leches means three milks. The cake get it’s name because it’s soaked in a mixture of three different milks.
What is in tres leches cake?
The cake for tresh leches cake is a basic sponge cake. It doesn’t contain any oil or butter. The only fat in the recipe is eggs and milk.
The spongy texture of the cake allows it to easily soak up the milk syrup which flavors the cake.
The cake is topped with sweetened whipped cream and a garnish of your choice. I used cinnamon but I’ve seen strawberries or maraschino cherries used as well.
How to make tres leches cake?
Step 1: Make the cake
The cake starts with a basic sponge cake that doesn’t contain oil or butter.
Separate the eggs and whip the yolks with sugar until the color turns pale yellow. Whisk the yolks and sugar into a mixture of flour, baking powder, and salt.
I like to use cake flour because it’s finely milled and contains less protein which makes the texture of the cake more delicate.
Then, whisk in the milk and vanilla until the batter is smooth a free of lumps. It may take a few minutes to work the flour in but just keep whisking.
Use a clean bowl and clean beaters to whip the egg white to soft peaks. Make sure not to over whip the whites. You don’t want them to be dry.
They should remain shiny like meringue and the peak should stay stiff but fold over at the very tip.
Once the whites are the perfect consistency, gradually fold them into the batter. I do this in three additions.
I whisk in the first addition it lightens up the batter making it easier to fold in the remaining whites.
The batter gets baked in a 9×13-inch glass or porcelain pan. I find these work the best.
Also, don’t grease the pan. This cake needs something to “cling” to or it will deflate and shrink as it cools.
You can grease the bottom but if you grease the sides of the pan, the cake won’t be able to stick and you’ll end up with a flat pancake after it’s cooled.
Don’t worry about not being able to get the cake out of the pan. Once the milk mixture soaks in, the cake will be easy to slice and remove.
Step 2: Make the syrup
Because dulce de leche is thick it needs to be heated in order to mix it with the other milks.
I combined the dulce de leche and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan then heated it over medium-low heat until the dulce de leche melted. Keep whisking every so often to help it break down and become smooth.
Whisk in the heavy cream and vanilla at the end. You can use bourbon or rum also if you’re not serving the cake to children.
Once the cake has baked, let it cool for about 30 minutes then poke holes all over with a wooden skewer or fork. I like the skewer best because the cake is very moist and sticky, it will stick to the fork.
Pour the warm milk syrup all over the slightly warm cake. Concentrate around the edges first because those tend to soak up less milk.
If you notice the milk isn’t absorbing into the cake, make another pass with the skewer or fork to help it along.
Keep in mind you don’t need to use all of the milk. I mean you can if you want to but I like to reserve a third of a cup or so to drizzle around the slices when I serve it.
Now comes the hard part. You must refrigerate the cake for at least four hours. It’s best to leave it overnight though.
As it chills the syrup will fully soak into the cake and the cake will firm up making it easy to slice and serve.
Step 3: Top the cake
Make homemade sweetened whipped cream and spread it over the cake just before serving. You could also use store-bought but I prefer homemade better.
Sprinkle cinnamon over the top and your tres leches cake is ready to enjoy!
This cake is can be made and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It’s a great cake to make ahead for a party!
Tips for making tres leches cake
- Plan ahead since the cake needs to soak for 4 hours or overnight.
- Pour the warm milk syrup over the warm cake. This milk soaks up the syrup best when everything is warm.
- Use an ungreased glass or porcelain baking dish so the cake will cling and rise tall without shrinking.
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Tres Leches Cake
For the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt, together in a medium bowl.
- In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and 3/4 cup of the sugar together until smooth and pale in color, about 2 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until they reach soft peaks, about 3 minutes.
- Add the egg yolk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until almost combined. Add the milk and vanilla then whisk until completely smooth and resembles cake batter.
- Using a rubber spatula, gently whisk in 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the batter. Gently fold in the remaining egg white, 1/3 at a time, making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Transfer the batter to an ungreased 13×9-inch glass or porcelain baking pan and gently tap the pan onto the counter to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
For the milk mixture
- Meanwhile, combine the dulce de leche and evaporated milk, in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally, just until the dulce de leche has melted and is well combined. Remove from heat, stir in the heavy cream and vanilla.
- Transfer cake to wire rack and cool in the pan for 30 minutes.
- Using a fork or skewer, poke holes about 1/2 inch apart all over the cake. Pour the milk syrup all over the top of the cake concentrating around the edges first. If needed, make more holes with the fork so the milk can absorb into the cake.
- Refrigerate the cake uncovered for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. (Overnight is what I prefer.)
For the frosting
- With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla to soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cake and sprinkle with cinnamon.
- Cut the cake into 24 squares and serve.
Make ahead tip
- The assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.