Classic Tres Leches Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 45 min. Bake: 20 min. + chilling
Experience the ultimate in creamy, dreamy desserts with this easy-to-make tres leches cake, soaked in a trio of milks and finished with a cloud of whipped cream. 

Updated: Jul. 18, 2024

This classic Latin American cake is soaked in a rich blend of three milks (or tres leches). It’s perfect for any celebration or simply as a special treat. Though creating this dessert requires a little patience, the process is straightforward, and the cake is made from everyday ingredients and simple techniques.

Topped with fluffy whipped cream and your choice of fresh fruit or caramel, this cake is sure to impress your family and friends. Whether you’re an experienced baker or a novice in the kitchen, this tres leches cake recipe just might become your go-to for its not-too-sweet flavor, creamy texture and impressive presentation.

Ingredients for Tres Leches Cake

  • Egg whites: Protein-rich egg whites provide structure and help leaven the cake, making it rise and become airy.
  • Egg yolks: Yolks lend richness and moisture to the cake batter. They help create this cake’s signature tender texture. The egg whites and yolks in this recipe should be added at room temperature.
  • Sugar: A modest amount of sugar sweetens the cake and helps stabilize the egg whites when whipped, ensuring a light and fluffy texture.
  • Cake flour: This low-protein flour creates a more tender crumb than all-purpose flour.
  • Salt: The cake isn’t salty, but a little salt brings out the flavors of the other ingredients and balances the sweetness.
  • Heavy whipping cream: This dairy product adds richness and moisture to the cake when combined with the other milks.
  • Evaporated milk: This milk provides a concentrated dairy flavor and moisture without the extra water content.
  • Sweetened condensed milk: With its intense sweetness and moisture, sweetened condensed milk makes the cake ultra-rich.
  • Vanilla extract: This staple baking extract infuses the cake and milk mixture with a warm, aromatic flavor.
  • Rum extract: A little rum extract lends subtle depth and complexity to the flavor profile.

Topping:

  • Heavy whipping cream: When whipped, heavy cream becomes an airy topping that complements the cake’s rich texture.
  • Sugar: A little sugar sweetens the cream, balancing its richness.
  • Dulce de leche or sliced fresh strawberries (optional): These provide a final layer of flavor and texture, adding a touch of sweetness or freshness as a garnish.

Directions

Step 1: Prepare the pan

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper and set the pan aside.

Step 2: Start the cake batter

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until slightly thickened. Gradually add 1/3 cup of the sugar, beating on high speed until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored. Fold in the cake flour, a third at a time, until it’s fully incorporated.

Step 3: Whip the egg whites

Place the egg whites in another large bowl. Add the salt, and using clean beaters, beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed after each addition until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture forms soft, glossy peaks.

Step 4: Combine the mixtures

Fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly.

Step 5: Bake the cake

Bake the cake until the top springs back when lightly touched, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing it to a wire rack to cool completely.

Step 6: Soak the cake

Once the cake is completely cooled, place it on a rimmed serving plate. Poke holes all over the top of the cake with a skewer. In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and rum extract. Slowly brush or pour the milk mixture over the cake, ensuring it soaks into the holes. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Step 7: Make the whipped cream topping

Just before serving, beat the remaining 1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream in a large bowl until it begins to thicken. Gradually add 3 tablespoons of sugar, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form.

Step 8: Assemble and serve

Spread the whipped cream evenly over the top of the soaked cake. If desired, top the cake with dulce de leche or fresh sliced strawberries just before slicing and serving.

Tres Leches Cake Variations

  • Give it a coconut flavor: Substitute the evaporated milk with evaporated coconut milk and sprinkle toasted coconut flakes over the whipped cream topping. This will add a tropical twist to the classic recipe.
  • Add lemon: Incorporate lemon zest into the cake batter. Use lemon curd as a layer between the soaked cake and whipped cream for a refreshing citrus flavor.

How to Store Tres Leches Cake

The most common way to store a tres leches cake is by keeping it in the refrigerator, covered tightly with plastic wrap or in an airtight container. This helps maintain its moist texture and keeps the whipped cream topping fresh. It’s best to refrigerate the cake for at least a few hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld together.

How long does tres leches cake last?

Tres leches cake typically lasts up to two days when stored properly in the refrigerator, covered tightly with plastic wrap or kept in an airtight container.

Can you freeze tres leches cake?

Yes, you can freeze tres leches cake, but it’s best to do so without the whipped cream topping. First, allow the cake to soak in the milk mixture and then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. When you’re ready to serve, thaw the cake in the refrigerator overnight, then add the freshly whipped cream topping before serving. This helps maintain the cake’s texture and flavor.

Tres Leches Cake Tips

What can I use instead of rum extract?

If you don’t have rum extract or prefer not to use it, you can substitute it with an equal amount of vanilla extract or almond extract for a different but still pleasant flavor. Alternatively, a tablespoon of dark rum or brandy can be used if you don’t mind a touch of alcohol. If you’re looking for a nonalcoholic option with a similar depth of flavor, you can use a teaspoon of maple syrup or caramel extract.

Can I use different types of milk for the soaking mixture?

While the traditional recipe uses heavy whipping cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, you can substitute these with other options based on your preferences or dietary needs. For a lighter version, you can use whole milk or half-and-half instead of heavy whipping cream. For a dairy-free option, coconut milk, almond milk or oat milk can replace the evaporated and regular milk. Sweetened condensed coconut milk can be used in place of the traditional sweetened condensed milk to maintain the cake’s sweetness and richness.

What other toppings would be good on tres leches cake?

Several delicious toppings would complement a tres leches cake. Try using any fresh berries, chopped nuts or chocolate shavings.

Watch how to Make Tres Leches Cake

Classic Tres Leches Cake

Prep Time 45 min
Cook Time 20 min
Yield 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup cake flour
  • Dash salt
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon rum extract
  • TOPPING:
  • 1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Optional: Dulce de leche or sliced fresh strawberries

Directions

  1. Place egg whites in a large bowl. Line bottom of a 9-in. springform pan with parchment; grease the paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. In another large bowl, beat egg yolks until slightly thickened. Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar, beating on high speed until thick and lemon-colored. Fold in flour, a third at a time.
  3. Add salt to egg whites; with clean beaters, beat on medium until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high after each addition until sugar is dissolved. Continue beating until soft glossy peaks form. Fold a third of the whites into batter, then fold in remaining whites. Gently spread into prepared pan.
  4. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched, 20-25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Place cake on a rimmed serving plate. Poke holes in top with a skewer. In a small bowl, mix cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and extracts; brush or pour slowly over cake. Refrigerate, covered, 2 hours.
  6. For topping, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar; beat until peaks form. Spread over top of cake. If desired, top cake with dulce de leche or strawberries just before serving.

Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 392 calories, 23g fat (14g saturated fat), 142mg cholesterol, 104mg sodium, 40g carbohydrate (33g sugars, 0 fiber), 8g protein.

Tres leches means "three milks." This cake gets its name because it uses three kinds of milk—evaporated, condensed and cream. This tres leches cake's light and airy texture has made it a classic in Mexican kitchens for generations. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen
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