Making your own Easy Tres Leches Cake is a breeze, with this simple recipe using boxed cake mix! Creamy, dreamy, and scented with cinnamon, it’s a classic chilled dessert that will satisfy any sweet tooth.
Ultra-Creamy, Homemade Tres Leches Cake
If you’re looking for the perfect spring dessert (and summer dessert… okay, possibly the perfect dessert, period!) then this just might be it! Cool, sweet, and creamy, tres leches cake is a beloved cold treat made of simple, cinnamon-spiced cake soaked in three kinds of sweet milk and cream. The entire soaked cake is chilled for hours before being topped with sweetened whipped cream and a little dusting of cinnamon.
Because of how moist it is, tres leches cake is served right in the baking pan, rather than being taken out and “frosted” in the traditional sense. This actually makes it super easy to bake, top, and even transport if you’re taking it somewhere or serving it outside.
What Is the Meaning of Tres Leches Cake?
Tres leches is Spanish for “three kinds of milk,” or “three milks.” This is a reference to the trio of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream that the cake is drenched in. This takes the cake from a simple sheet cake to an ultra-creamy, ultra-moist chilled dessert like no other!
Let’s take a quick look at the ingredients for this cake. While I do use a boxed cake mix, there are still lots of enriching and flavoring goodies mixed in, for the best flavor and texture possible. Here’s the list, in detail:
For the Cake
- Yellow Cake Mix: A box of yellow cake mix forms the base of the cake batter. Vanilla cake mix or plain white cake mix is also fine.
- Pudding Mix: Vanilla pudding mix is a classic mix-in for boxed cake mix, adding moisture and richness without making the cake heavy. You can leave this out if you prefer.
- Cinnamon: A bit of cinnamon in the cake warms up the flavor and gives it the perfect touch.
- Eggs: 3 large, whole eggs bind the batter together.
- Water and Milk: To give the batter the correct texture and moisture.
- Oil: Using oil, rather than butter, keeps the cake fluffy and light. Vegetable oil is fine, or canola oil may be used.
- Sour Cream: Plain yogurt is also fine.
- Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract or scraped vanilla bean gives the best flavor.
For the Topping
- Tres Leches: You’ll need one can of sweetened condensed milk, one can of evaporated milk, and one cup of heavy cream, to make the classic “tres leches” mixture.
- Cool Whip: Refrigerated whipped topping lasts longer than homemade whip cream without breaking down. However, if you want to frost it right before serving, you can use homemade whipped cream instead. Or, another great option, use gelatin to stabilize your homemade whip cream so it does not break down and become runny.
- Cinnamon: For dusting on top of the cake!
What Is Evaporated Milk?
Evaporated milk is just what it sounds like: milk that has been heated so that a lot of the water evaporates out. What’s left is thickened, creamy milk which is then homogenized and canned. Evaporated milk has a concentrated creamy taste, and is useful in lots of recipes, especially baking recipes.
What Is Sweetened Condensed Milk?
Sweetened condensed milk is similar to evaporated milk, because it is heated to remove some of the water content. However, sweetened condensed milk is also sweetened with plenty of sugar, which also thickens it up. Sweetened condensed milk is used in a lot of recipes, and can also be used in things like iced coffee!
How to Make Easy Tres Leches Cake
One of the best things about making this easy tres leches cake is that it takes very little time to pull together! Most of the time is hands-off, while the cake bakes or cools down. Traditional recipes with an egg-based sponge cake take a lot longer, making this a true shortcut recipe.
- Prepare the Oven and the Pan. Before you begin, make sure to preheat the oven to 350°F, so it will be hot when you’re ready to put the cake in the oven. Next, spray a 9×13 baking pan with baking spray, or lightly butter and flour it, and set it aside.
- Combine the Dry Ingredients. Place the cake mix, vanilla pudding mix and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl, and give it a quick whisk to combine.
- Add the Wet Ingredients to the Dry. Add in the eggs, water, milk, oil, sour cream, and vanilla to the mixing bowl along with the dry ingredients. Whisk it all together just until it is smoothly combined. Do not overmix, or the cake texture will suffer.
- Bake. Now pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan, and smooth out the top with a spatula. Bake the cake for 25 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, or with a couple of moist crumbs clinging to it). Once it’s done, the edges of the cake will be golden brown.
- Cool the Cake. Once the cake is done, place it onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Don’t take it out of the pan, just let it cool in the pan on the rack.
- Pour Over the Tres Leches One by One. Once the cake is fully cooled, use a skewer to poke a lot of holes into the cake. Then pour the sweetened condensed milk over the entire surface of the cake, spreading it to the edges, and allowing it to fully soak in. Repeat this process with the evaporated milk, and then the heavy cream.
- Chill. Cover the soaked cake with plastic wrap or foil, and let it chill in the fridge to for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours.
- Top and Serve. When you are ready to serve your cake, spread the whipped topping over the top of the cake, and sprinkle with a thin layer of cinnamon. Slice and serve!
My Top Tips for the Best Cake
Using a cake mix makes this recipe incredibly simple, but I still have a few tips I’d like to share. These helpful hints will ensure that your tres leches cake turns out creamy, rich, and perfect!
- Mixing Instructions: Be sure to not over-mix the cake. Mix the ingredients well until you get a smooth mixture, but don’t continue to mix after that. This way, it won’t turn crumbly or rubbery.
- Cooling Instructions: Be sure the baked cake is completely cool before pouring the milk over the top. Pouring the milk onto the cake while it is still warm will cause the cake to be soggy.
- Soften the Cool Whip: Make sure to pull the cool whip out of the freezer about 30 minutes before using it, so that it will be soft enough to spread. If the cool whip isn’t softened, it will be difficult to top the cake properly.
- Serve Cold: Be sure to serve this cake chilled. When the cake is cold, it will hold as much of the milk as possible, rather than turning soggy or leaking the milk out excessively. Plus, it tastes incredibly delicious cold!
How to Store This Cake
As a chilled dessert, tres leches cake should always be stored in the fridge. Cover it well with plastic wrap, foil, or an airtight lid if your baking dish has one. It usually keeps well for up to three days, but it does get soggier over time, so the sooner you eat it, the better!
Can I Freeze Tres Leches Cake for Later?
When it comes to freezing tres leches cake, I recommend freezing just the cake, and adding the tres leches and the whipped cream topping afterward when you are ready to thaw and serve.
Freezing cake is easy! Just cool it down completely, and then wrap in a layer of plastic wrap and another layer of foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw to room temperature before using.
For the Cake
- 1 (15.25 oz) box yellow cake mix
- 1 (3.4 oz) package vanilla pudding mix
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Topping
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 16 oz tub cool whip
- Cinnamon, for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13 baking pan with baking spray, set aside.
- Place the cake mix, vanilla pudding mix and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl. Whisk together to combine.
- Add in the remaining ingredients (eggs, water, whole milk, vegetable oil, sour cream and vanilla extract) and whisk together just until combined. Do not overmix.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth out the top with a spatula. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean or with moist crumbs. The edges of the cake will be golden brown.
- Once baked, remove the cake from the oven and place onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Once the cake has cooled, use a skewer to poke a lot of holes into the cake. In layers, pour the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream over the entire surface of the cake. Be sure to spread the milks to the edges of the cake and let them soak in before adding the next layer.
- Cover cake with saran wrap or foil and place the cake in the fridge to continue soaking in the milk and chill for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours.
- When ready to serve, spread the cool whip over the top of the cake and sprinkle with a thin layer of cinnamon. Slice and serve.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 512Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 75mgSodium: 482mgCarbohydrates: 56gFiber: 1gSugar: 39gProtein: 5g
More Easy Recipes That Use Cake Mix
- Cherry Limeade Cake
- Pumpkin Mug Cake
- Coconut Sheet Cake
- McDonald’s Holiday Pie
- Hornet’s Nest Cake
- Easy Cake Mix Cookie Bars
- Pumpkin Honeybun Cake
- Caramel Apple Dump Cake
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