Tres Leches Cake Recipe

This year is destined to be the year of the Tres Leches Cake. Its name literally translates to ‘3 milk cake’ and is infused with condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. More bakeries are carrying a version of this cake and I’ve noticed it appearing more often at work functions and weekend dinner parties.

The Tres Leches Cake is commonly attributed to Mexico, however Nicaragua also claims it as their own. Each country puts their own spin on the ingredients, sometimes including coconut milk or rum. Regardless of the true orign, I love whoever invented it. This cake is rich, creamy, and insanely good!

Feeling a little frugal, I decided to try making it instead of spending $27 on one from the local market. It only took a few web searches to find a broad spectrum of recipes with which to start. Wikipedia informed me that the cake is butter based allowing the cake to hold up to being soaked with the 3 milks. I disregarded any recipe that didn’t include butter in the cake batter. Fortunately, I came across a particularly interesting (and authentic looking) recipe from the Central Cafe in El Paso, TX.

Warning: you should not be watching your calories if you seek to make this cake. You’ll immediately notice the number of eggs and cups of heavy cream required. I could feel my arteries seize up while I read through the recipe, but with a cake like this you can’t skimp on the recommended ingredients. My only variation was to use two 9″ round cake pans and baked them for 30-35 minutes. The cake turned out well with a slightly firm texture with which to hold the milk. Because the cake is served chilled, it makes a great summertime dessert. Here is the recipe I used:

Tres Leches Cake
from Central Cafe, El Paso TX (as published in Texas Monthly Nov. 1999)


9 Eggs (room temperature)
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
12 Tablespoons Butter (softened)
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Cup Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Separate egg yolks and whites, keeping whites at room temperature. In bowl of an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter together until pale yellow and fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat until fluffy again, 2 to 3 minutes on medium-high speed. In a separate bowl combine flour and baking powder. In a third bowl mix milk and vanilla. Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture (a fourth at a time) until all are combined. Beat until smooth after each addition.

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form and, using a large spatula, gently but thoroughly fold into flour-and-butter mixture. Grease bottom of a 9- by 13-inch metal baking pan. Pour in batter and bake for approximately 25 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool.

Three Milks

2 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Five-Ounce Can (5/8cup) Evaporated Milk
1 Fourteen-Ounce Can (7/8cup) Sweetened Condensed Milk

Stir the milks together thoroughly; do not beat. Do not refrigerate canned milks before using.

Cream Icing

2 Cups Heavy Cream
1/3 Cup Sugar

Whip cream and sugar together until stiff. When cake is cool, slice or peel off the thin top crust. Ice sides first, creating a small lip on top to catch milk mixture. Pour milk mixture evenly over top of cake (if necessary, poke holes in cake with a knife or toothpick to facilitate soaking; you will probably need only 3/4 of mixture). Finish icing top. (If using an 11.5- by 17.5-inch pan, cut cake in half to make 2 equal pieces. Soak first layer, ice top if desired, and place second layer on top of it. Proceed as above.) Chill cake immediately and allow to set for 2 hours (or overnight) before serving. Serves 12.

Update 4/28/09

: I’ve had a user write in about the liquids not soaking into the cake easily. I remember having it go slowly when I made the cake but didn’t think it was an issue. The cake has a higher butter content than some other recipes and also uses egg yolks, so these factors may inhibit the liquids from absorbing quickly. I’ve been meaning to play with the recipe a bit but haven’t gotten around to it yet. If you try it, please let me know your experiences. Thanks!

Here are some other Tres Leches recipes to try:
Pastel de Tres Leches Cake – Not Quite Nigella
Tres Leches Cake Goes One Better – SF Gate
Tres Leches Cake Recipe – Fun & Food Cafe

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  1. uh, why do u have to mix every thing separately when making the batter for the bread? can’t u jus mix it all together?would it mess up the cake or not? an i think u should add your motives onto the recipe.

  2. Just wanted to say — I love your blog! Have fun moving to Vancouver!!

    More to the point, I just made this cake a couple days ago because I went cake-crazy this week (I made your “Light Apple Cake” too! Turned out amazing) and it turned out great!! I did only end up using a little less than half the milk mixture? It didn’t seem to be quite soaking in as I’d hoped but maybe I was just impatient and should have waited a bit longer.

    I really liked the strawberries, really added to the flavour! I might try pureeing some and putting it in the middle layer next time.

    Thanks for posting, it was my first(and successful) attempt at Tres Leches!

  3. I congratulate those that can get this to work! I could barely get 1/2 of the milk to soak in, and I,m afraid that when it’s cut it will simply turn to mush.

  4. This recipe didn’t work for me at all and I’ve never had that happen before… I’m not quite sure why, but not only did the cake not bake properly in the 25 minute bake time given, once it was golden, removed from the oven and cooled and I pricked the layers as suggested, the milk didn’t even soak in! It became a sloppy mess. Once I thought I finally had it figured out, I put it in the refrigerator to chill, as instructed. When I sliced it so that we could eat it for my uncle’s birthday, it was obvious that the cake was all wrong. It was really firm and practically tasteless. None of the milk had soaked in. AVOID THIS RECIPE!

  5. Hey, I just wanted to post again and say that I was afraid to use all the liquid the first time ( I used about half) because I was afraid the cake would turn out mushy, but after being in the fridge, the cake was sooooo firm (but tasted very good – not like what another person posted), and there were no holes or marks left by all the poking I did to it in order for it to soak up the liquid. I definitely could have used wayyyy more of the milk mixture and I’m positive it wouldn’t have turned out mushy at all. When I make it again, I won’t be afraid of it being too soggy, now that I know how much it firms up in the fridge!

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