Tres Leches Cake

April 16, 2020
Take one ultra tender vanilla sponge cake, soak it with a sweet mixture of three milks, top it with a simple whipped cream frosting, and you've got yourself one totally fabulous amazingly delicious Tres Leches Cake.  Tres Leches literally means "three milks," and it's this three-milk syrup that provides the cake's namesake and makes it distinct.  And believe me, that three-milk syrup makes this cake distinctly delicious, too.
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Piece of Tres Leches Cake Image

Not familiar with Tres Leches Cake? -- You should be!  Because this ultra tender vanilla sponge cake soaked with sweet milk syrup is amazingly delicious.

Tres Leches literally means "three milks" in Spanish.  And it's the cake's signature mixture of three different milks that gives it its name.  In this classic Latin American dessert, that milk syrup is literally poured over a baked vanilla sponge cake, completely soaking and submerging the cake in milk.

And truth be told, it's a concept I thought was kind of weird. -- Until I tried it.

Whenever I'd see Tres Leches Cake on a restaurant menu or someone would describe the cake to me, I'd think to myself, "How on Earth is cake soaked in milk a good thing?  Doesn't the cake just turn to mush?  And how could vanilla cake drowned with milk taste good at all?"

Now that I've tried it? -- I have been enlightened about the wonderfulness of Tres Leches Cake, and my thinking about this iconic dessert has been forever changed.

Tres Leches literally means "three milks," and it's this three-milk syrup that provides the cake's namesake and makes it distinct.

1. "How on Earth is cake soaked in milk a good thing?" -- Believe me, caked soaked in sweet milk syrup is indeed a very good thing.  I should have trusted in the concept long ago.

2.  "Doesn't the cake just turn to mush?" -- The cake absolutely does not turn to mush.  Somehow, that glorious vanilla sponge cake miraculously and deliciously absorbs the majority of the milk mixture and still maintains its tender structure.  All the while, adding incredible melt-in-your-mouth moistness to every bite.

3.  "And how could vanilla cake drowned with milk taste good at all?" -- I originally thought the milk syrup would just drown out (literally) the taste of the cake, taking over to create complete blandness.  But that is so not the case.  Somehow the sweetness in the milk mixture totally compliments the vanilla cake, and delivers up one very tasty cake.  The cake's flavor is admittedly sweet, but it's a very straightforward and simple vanilla sweetness that tastes truly amazing.

In working on this Tres Leches Cake recipe, my daughter and I tested out and tweaked six different recipe variations, ultimately looking for an ease of prep, texture, and flavor we loved.

We're very happy with the recipe result, and hope you will be too!

Bite of Tres Leches Cake on Fork Image

Before we talk about how to make Tres Leches Cake, let's take a look at the three milks that give this cake its name.

Just what are the three milks used to make classic Tres Leches Cake?  The cake's characteristic milk syrup is a combination of:
  1. Sweetened condensed milk
  2. Evaporated milk, and
  3. Half-&-Half

Sweetened condensed milk brings the sweetness and wonderful flavor to the milk syrup, while evaporated milk and half-&-half bring richness and thin the syrup down.


The Three Milks to Make Tres Leches Cake Image

To make this Tres Leches Cake, start by baking a very basic vanilla sponge sheet cake.  The cake is a simple mix of all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, canola oil, and eggs leavened with a bit of baking powder.

Many Tres Leches Cake recipes call for cake flour instead of all-purpose flour, or involve separating eggs and beating egg whites to create the sponge batter, while others involve a butter cake base rather than a sponge base.  We tried them all -- and for ease of prep, texture, and flavor, like this no-butter, no-beaten-egg-whites version best.


I use a serving fork rather than a regular dinner fork to pierce the cake and make the holes just a little bit bigger.

Once the cake is baked, let it cool to room temperature.

Then pierce the cake all over with a fork, going deep into the cake but also taking care to not tear the cake apart.  The holes will allow the milk syrup to penetrate and soak all throughout the cake.

I use a serving fork rather than a regular dinner fork to pierce the cake to make the holes just a little bit bigger.

Poking Holes in Tres Leches Cake with Fork Image

Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half-and-half to make the three-milk syrup. 

Then slowly pour about 1/3 of the milk mixture over the cooled cake.  

Pouring Milk Mixture on Tres Leches Cake Image

Let that stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes to allow the milks to be absorbed.

Tres Leches Cake with Milk Soaked in Image

Then slowly pour all but about 1 cup of the remaining milk mixture over the cake.  Reserve and refrigerate the extra 1 cup milk mixture for later, if needed.

How to Make Tres Leches Cake Image

The cake will be pretty flooded and look about like this:


Tres Leches Cake Soaking in Milk Mixture Image

Cover and refrigerate the "flooded" cake for about 1 hour.  

After the hour, check the cake.  If the cake appears to have fully absorbed all of the milk, spoon some of the extra reserved milk mixture on it.  If some milk pools in the bottom of the cake pan or small puddles remain on the top of the cake, don't add any more milk. -- It's good.

Whip up some homemade whipped cream, and spread it in an even layer on top of the cake to frost it.

Frosting Tres Leches Cake with Whipped Cream Image

And then you're good to go with serving up one very tasty Tres Leches Cake!

Store the finished cake covered in the refrigerator.  It'll keep just fine for about 4 to 5 days, but is best enjoyed within about 2 or 3 days of being made.

The milk mixture will pool in the bottom of the pan and along the sides of the cake. -- Don't worry, it's supposed to be that way.



Also, a little bit of milk mixture will pool under the cake pieces on the plates at serving time.  Again, no worries, it's supposed to be that way.

Milk Mixture in Bottom of Tres Leches Cake Pan When Cake is Cut Image

Garnish the cake slices with some strawberry slices, fresh berries, or other fresh fruit at serving time if you'd like.  Or, just enjoy your Tres Leches Cake straight-up as it is -- Either way, it's great.


And get ready to enjoy one ultra tender vanilla cake, soaked with sweet three milks mixture, and topped with simple whipped cream frosting.  Because you've got yourself one totally fabulous amazingly delicious cake.  

That three-milk syrup makes Tres Leches Cake distinct, and sure makes it distinctly delicious, too.

Check out these other super-tasty sheet cake recipes:
Slice of Tres Leches Cake Image
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tres leches cake recipe, how to make tres leches cake, sheet cake recipe
Desserts
Mexican
Yield: about 12-16 servings
Author:

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake

Take one ultra tender vanilla sponge cake, soak it with a sweet mixture of three milks, top it with a simple whipped cream frosting, and you've got yourself one totally fabulous amazingly delicious Tres Leches Cake. Tres Leches literally means "three milks," and it's this three-milk syrup that provides the cake's namesake and makes it distinct. And believe me, that three-milk syrup makes this cake distinctly delicious, too.
Prep time: 1 H & 30 MCook time: 30 MTotal time: 1 H & 60 M

Ingredients:

Cake:
  • 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Tres Leches Milk Mixture:
  • 1 c. evaporated milk
  • 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 c. half-and-half
Whipped Cream Frosting:
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. granulated sugar

Instructions:

How to make Tres Leches Cake

Prepare Cake:
  1. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine canola oil, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs to the sugar mixture one at a time, mixing after each addition until well combined. Stir in the 1/2 cup milk.
  3. Gently fold in flour mixture a little at a time.
  4. Pour batter into a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Bake at 325℉ for 30-40 minutes, until cake feels firm in the center and a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  5. Let cake cool to room temperature.
Prepare Tres Leches Milk Mixture:
  1. Once cake has cooled, whisk together evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and half-and-half. 
  2. Pierce cake all over with a fork, going deep into the cake but also taking care to not tear the cake apart.
  3. Slowly pour about 1/3 of the milk mixture over cooled cake.  Let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes to allow milk to be absorbed.
  4. Slowly pour all but about 1 cup of remaining milk mixture over cake.  Reserve and refrigerate the extra 1 cup milk mixture for later, if needed.
  5. Cover and refrigerate cake for 1 hour.  Check cake after the hour:   If cake appears to have fully absorbed all of the milk, spoon some of the reserved milk mixture on it.  If some milk pools in the bottom of the cake pan or small puddles remain on top of the cake, don't add any more milk.
Prepare Whipped Cream Frosting:
  1. Place whipping cream and vanilla in a chilled mixing bowl.  Beat with an electric mixture until cream begins to thicken.
  2. Add sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
  3. Spread in an even layer on top of cake.
  4. Store finished cake covered in the refrigerator.
  5. Garnish with strawberry slices, fresh berries, or other fresh fruit at serving time if desired.
TRACEY'S NOTES:
  1. The milk mixture will pool in the bottom of the pan and along the sides of the cake. -- Don't worry, it's supposed to be that way.
  2. Also, a little bit of milk mixture will pool under the cake pieces on the plates at serving time.  Again, no worries, it's supposed to be that way.
  3. Sliced fresh strawberries and other fresh berries go very nicely with this cake.  Another traditional garnish is a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, but we were not fond of that.  We found the cinnamon to be too overpowering of a flavor.
Created using The Recipes Generator

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2 comments

  1. I can see why you'd be skeptical as a cake soaked in milk doesn't sound all that delicious.. but I have ha tres leches cakes (not knowing what it meant) and did enjoy it. Pinned.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You've made this look so easy to make - I love Tres Leche cake! Thanks for sharing at the What's for Dinner party. I hope to see you again at tomorrow's party.

    ReplyDelete

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