Homemade from scratch, this traditional Tres Leches Cake has a sweet and tender vanilla crumb drenched in three milks and topped with a cloud of fluffy whipped cream. Light, airy and wonderfully moist, you can whip up this dessert when you want something sweet that won’t weigh you down.
Looking for a quicker version of this cake? Try this Easy Tres Leches Cake, which uses a boxed cake mix as a base.
Tres Leches Cake Made from Scratch
Also called “pan tres leches,” this classic Mexican dessert offers up an insanely moist sponge cake with subtle vanilla sweetness. Soaked in tres leches, or three milks, it has the creamy flavor of a custard cake without the richness and dense texture. It’s perfect when you’re looking for decadence but don’t want to fill up on dessert.
The key to this cake is the sponginess in the crumb. Like a sponge, it can soak up the moisture of the tres leches mixture without ever getting soggy. It always keeps its shape and tender consistency, even under the weight of the creamy whipped topping.
What is Tres Leches Cake?
In Spanish, tres leches literally means “three milks,” and this dessert definitely lives up to the name. Not counting the regular whole milk that goes into the batter, 3 different forms of milk make up the syrup that tres leches cake is soaked in. Evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream are mixed together and poured over the cake, turning it rich, moist and flavorful.
This tres leches cake is made from scratch using three different kinds of milk. Scroll down to the recipe card to find the exact amounts for each ingredient.
- Eggs: Separate the yolks from the whites.
- Granulated Sugar
- Vanilla Extract
- All-Purpose Flour
- Baking Powder
- Whole Milk
- Evaporated Milk
- Sweetened Condensed Milk
- Heavy Whipping Cream: This is interchangeable with regular heavy cream.
- Powdered Sugar
- Maraschino Cherries
How to Make Tres Leches Cake
Whipping up this classic Mexican dessert is a breeze. With this recipe, you’ll have a traditional tres leches cake in just 8 easy steps.
Prep Your Materials: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray, then set it aside.
Mix the Wet Ingredients: Beat the egg yolks, 1 cup of sugar and the vanilla extract for 2 minutes in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, until the mixture turns pale yellow and smooth.
Combine the Dry Ingredients: Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate mixing bowl. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the egg yolk mixture on low speed, alternating with the milk. Continue mixing your batter on low speed until it comes together. Transfer the batter to a large mixing bowl and clean and dry the stand mixer.
Add the Egg Whites: Add the egg whites to the mixer and beat them on medium speed using the whisk attachment for 2 minutes, or until soft peaks appear. Slowly add in the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar and continue beating the egg whites until medium peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter, being careful not to deflate the batter too much. Fold until it’s just combined.
Bake: Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish and use a spatula to smooth the top. Bake your cake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Move the cake to a cooling rack for 10 minutes.
Make the Tres Leches: While the cake is cooling, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. Poke holes in the top of the cake using a fork or a large toothpick. Slowly pour the milk mixture over the top, making sure to soak the cake evenly. Transfer the cake to the fridge for around 2 hours, or until it cools completely, covering the top of the pan with foil or saran wrap.
Whip the Topping: Once the cake has chilled, beat 2 cups of heavy cream in the stand mixer until soft peaks appear. Add in the sugar and continue mixing just until stiff peaks form.
Frost and Serve: Spread the whipped cream over the top of the cake. Slice the cake into 12 equal pieces and serve it immediately, or store it up to 24 hours before serving. Garnish each slice with maraschino cherries if desired.
Tips for Success
This simple cake has come together beautifully every time I’ve made it. Follow these tips so yours turns out just as heavenly.
- Use the Spoon and Level Method: Flour settles easily, so it gets packed pretty tightly inside a bag or jar. To make sure you’re not scooping up packed flour, you should fluff it up with a spoon or fork before you measure it. Spoon the flour into the measuring cup. This will stop you from accidentally using too much flour, which can leave you with a dense cake.
- Don’t Over-Mix: Both the egg whites and the whipped cream need to be mixed for just the right amount of time. Mixing them too little can make them flat or watery, while mixing too much can make them chunky or cause them to separate. Also, make sure to fold in the egg whites instead of mixing them, or your batter might deflate.
- Add Some Cinnamon: If you want to bring some warmth to your cake, you can add about 1.5 teaspoons of cinnamon to the batter. You can also sprinkle cinnamon on top, or add it to the whipped cream for a similar effect.
- Switch Out the Fruit: If maraschino cherries are too sweet for you, fresh berries also work great as toppers for this cake. For a slightly more tart option, try adding a fanned strawberry or a few raspberries to the top of every slice instead!
Tres leches has a subtle sweetness to it, and a richness that comes from the three different forms of milk. This gives it a complex, layered flavor that adds body to the vanilla cake.
This particular mix of milks began to show up in soaked cakes from Mexico in the 1800s. It’s still very much a Latin American dessert, seeing its highest popularity outside of Mexico in places like Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Guatemala.
Since tres leches uses sponge cake, it should be able to absorb the moisture of the milks without ever getting soggy or falling apart. When it’s made correctly, it has a consistency similar to custard.
How to Store this Mexican Cake
The airy texture of this cake holds up best within the first 24 hours. After that, gravity starts to take its toll. If you don’t mind a slightly deflated cake, you can store it for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. You may want to line the sides of your airtight container with dry paper towels to soak up any excess moisture.
Can I Freeze It?
The finished cake doesn’t hold up well to freezing and defrosting, but the cake itself can definitely be frozen. Just wrap it tightly in foil without soaking or frosting it. When wrapped tightly, it can stay in there for up to 3 months. Take it out, let it thaw in the fridge overnight, and then soak it and add the whipped topping. It might pick up a little moisture from the freezing process, which could stop it from soaking up quite as much of the tres leches, but it will still turn out pretty tasty!
For the Cake
- 6 eggs, separate the yolks and whites
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
For the Whipped Topping
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- Maraschino cherries
- Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x13” baking dish. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat egg yolks, 1 cup of sugar and vanilla extract with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes, until pale yellow and smooth.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk, to the egg yolk mixture, mixing on low speed. Continue mixing on low speed until the batter comes together.
- Transfer batter to a large mixing bowl and clean and dry the stand mixer bowl.
- Add the egg whites to the mixer and beat on medium speed (with the whisk attachment) for 2 minutes, until soft peaks form. Slowly add in the remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar and continue beating until medium peaks form (don’t over-beat).
- Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter, being careful not to deflate the batter too much. Fold until it’s just combined.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared baking dish and use a spatula to smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Move the cake to a cooling rack for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream.
- Poke holes in the top of the cake using a fork or a large toothpick. Slowly pour the milk mixture over top, making sure to soak the cake evenly. Transfer cake to the fridge to cool completely, covering the top of the cake with foil or saran wrap.
- Once the cake is chilled, in a stand mixer, beat 2 cups of heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add in the sugar and continue mixing just until stiff peaks form. Don’t over-mix the whipped cream - it should be light and fluffy.
- Spread the whipped cream over the top of the cake. Serve immediately or store up to 24 hours before serving. Garnish with maraschino cherries on top when serving, if desired.
- To Store: Store for up to 4 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container lined with dry paper towels.
- To Freeze: Wrap tightly in foil without soaking or frosting and freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw in the fridge overnight before soaking and frosting.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 371Total Fat: 22gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 167mgSodium: 185mgCarbohydrates: 38gFiber: 0gSugar: 26gProtein: 7g
More Mexican-Inspired Desserts
- Arroz Con Leche (Spanish Rice Pudding)
- Churros with Salted Caramel Sauce
- Cinnamon Apple Empanadas
- Coffee Flan Recipe
- Dulce De Leche No-Churn Ice Cream
- Caramelized Pineapple Empanadas
- Churro Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
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