Shortcut Tres Leches Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 20 min. + chilling Bake: 30 min. + cooling
When we come across a cake recipe described as “easy” that's also a contest-winner, you know we'll be running out to get the ingredients! Thankfully, this easy tres leches cake cuts down on a few ingredients by starting with a simple box of cake mix.

Updated: Jun. 03, 2024

This easy tres leches cake is as rich, milky and tender as a traditional tres leches, but it uses shortcut ingredients so it’s doable for even beginner bakers. A box of cake mix cuts down on prep time, and you could even use premade whipped topping as the light frosting.

Just because there are shortcut options doesn’t mean this cake lacks flavor or personality. It’s a contest winner, after all!

What is tres leches?

Easy Tres Leches Cake slice on a plate topped with berriesTMB studio

Tres leches cake is a yellow cake that, once baked, is poked all over with a fork or skewer and soaked in three different types of milk. The cake slowly soaks up (almost) all the milk, creating an ultra-moist, rich, verging on “soupy” kind of texture.

The cake is finished with an airy whipped frosting. Sometimes, it’s also decorated with fresh strawberries. Tres leches cake tastes buttery, milky, rich and creamy, but somehow also refreshingly light. It’s a true masterpiece in the art of baking.

Ingredients for Easy Tres Leches Cake

  • Cake mix: Grab a box of butter golden cake mix or yellow cake mix, whichever you prefer.
  • Eggs: Almost any recipe that uses eggs in a batter or dough needs those eggs to be at room temp before using. They’ll blend in with the batter better, so you don’t have to overbeat (which would result in a tough cake).
  • Milk: We recommend 2% milk, but feel free to use your favorite kind of dairy milk here.
  • Butter: Soften the butter before getting started to avoid lumps in the batter.
  • Vanilla: Use whichever vanilla brand you have on hand or want to splurge on at the market.
  • Milk soak mixture: It’s not a tres leches cake recipe without a mix of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy whipping cream soaked into the cake!
  • Heavy whipping cream: We use heavy whipping cream to help create that signature airy frosting tres leches cake is known for.
  • Confectioners’ sugar: A bit of confectioners’ sugar adds sweetness to the frosting.

Directions

Step 1: Mix the batter

tres leches cake batter in a bowlTMB STUDIO

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, 2% milk, softened butter and vanilla extract. Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Turn the mixer up to medium speed, and beat for two minutes. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Tres leches cake batter in a pan before bakingTMB STUDIO

Editor’s Tip: Using a rubber spatula, mini offset spatula, butter knife or the back of a spoon, make sure the batter is spread out evenly.

Step 2: Bake the cake

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the cake at room temperature in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Step 3: Add the milk mixture

Milk mixture for tres leches cake In a bowlTMB STUDIO

In a 4-cup measuring cup or a medium-sized bowl (bonus points if it has a spout), whisk together the condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy whipping cream. Using a skewer, generously poke holes in the top of the warm cake. Pour the milk mixture slowly over the cake, filling the holes.

pouring milk onto tres leches cakeTMB STUDIO

Editor’s Tip: Be sure to pour some milk mixture around the corners, too.

Step 4: Soak and chill

Cool the cake at room temperature for 30 minutes longer. Cover the cake with storage wrap, and refrigerate the cake for at least four hours or overnight.

Step 5: Decorate with whipped cream

putting whipped cream on tres leches cakeTMB STUDIO

In a bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the heavy whipping cream until it begins to thicken. Add the confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla, and beat until soft peaks form. Spread over the cake. If desired, top with fresh fruit just before serving.

Editor’s Tip: Don’t overbeat the whipped cream to stiff peaks, or it might become a bit grainy. Learn the visual difference between soft and stiff peaks to avoid overdoing it.

Easy Tres Leches Cake slices in a pan and half are topped with berriesTMB studio

Recipe Variations

  • Use whipped topping: Make this easy tres leches cake even easier by omitting the whipped frosting and using a premade whipped topping like Cool Whip instead. Be sure to thaw any frozen whip before using it.
  • Add more garnishes: Enhance your cake by drizzling on store-bought or homemade dulce de leche, just as we do in our classic tres leches cake.
  • Make it more tropical: Swap out the dairy-based milks in the milk topping for their coconut milk alternatives, then top the finished tres leches cake with fresh bananas. Or make our margarita tres leches cake that uses tequila and Key lime juice. Yum!
  • Try it with eggnog: Feeling festive? Our eggnog tres leches cake recipe uses eggnog, spicy nutmeg and warm cinnamon for a holiday-centered spin on this dessert.
  • Dive into indulgence: Are you more of a chocolate cake kind of person? Our German chocolate tres leches cake features a chocolate cake with a rum-soak topping. It’s finished with pecans and chocolate syrup.

How long does tres leches cake last?

When stored properly, tres leches cake can last up to four days in the fridge. Simply cover the pan with storage wrap, or place slices of the cake in an airtight container. Take off any fresh fruit, and store it in a separate container, or the fruit’s juices will run all over the cake over time.

Easy Tres Leches Cake Tips

Easy Tres Leches Cake slices in a pan topped with berriesTMB studio

Where is tres leches from?

Tres leches cake is a Latin American dessert. Many countries and territories that make up this region claim to be the true originators of this treat. Nicaragua comes up time and again as the birthplace of the tres leches cake as we commonly see it today, and there is speculation about the initial origins being England in the Middle Ages.

What milks are in tres leches?

There are three milks in tres leches: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy whipping cream. Those are the three most popular kinds of milk for the soak, but more varieties of milk can be present in the cake batter and the whipped topping.

Watch how to Make Shortcut Tres Leches Cake

Easy Tres Leches Cake

Prep Time 20 min
Cook Time 30 min
Yield 20 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 package butter recipe golden cake or yellow cake mix (regular size)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup 2% milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • TOPPING:
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • WHIPPED CREAM:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Assorted fresh fruit, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13x9-in. baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, milk, softened butter and vanilla; beat on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium 2 minutes. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes.
  3. In a 4-cup measuring cup, whisk topping ingredients until blended. Using a skewer, generously poke holes in top of warm cake. Pour milk mixture slowly over cake, filling holes. Cool 30 minutes longer. Refrigerate, covered, at least 4 hours or overnight.
  4. In a bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla; beat until soft peaks form. Spread over cake. If desired, top with fresh fruit just before serving.

Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 343 calories, 20g fat (12g saturated fat), 89mg cholesterol, 257mg sodium, 36g carbohydrate (28g sugars, 0 fiber), 6g protein.

My mom's favorite cake is tres leches, a butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk. I developed a no-fuss version that’s rich and tender. —Marina Castle Kelley, Canyon Country, California
Recipe Creator
Community Cook