This is the BEST tres leches cake you’ll ever make! It’s 100% homemade and features a sponge cake base, a three milk filling, and a sweetened whipped cream topping.
What Is Tres Leches Cake?
Tres leches cake translates to “three milk cake.” It got its name because of the way it’s made. A sponge cake is baked, then poked all over with a fork before a mixture of three types of milk are poured over top.
The three milks used in this authentic tres leches cake recipe are sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. Once the milk mixture has been poured over top of the cake, the whole thing is chilled and gets topped with sweetened whipped cream just before serving.
One unique thing about this recipe is that it doesn’t use any butter or oil. This is not a mistake! Tres leches cake is traditionally made with a sponge cake so that it’s dense and firm. This allows it to hold up and not end up soggy after you pour the three milk mixture over it. If you’ve never made this delicious cake before, then this recipe is a great place to start!
This easy tres leches cake recipe has three components: the sponge cake base, the three milk filling, and the whipped cream topping. Here’s an overview of the ingredients you will need for this recipe:
- Eggs: Be sure to use large eggs and to separate them. The egg yolks and whites will be mixed up separately. I recommend using room temperature eggs too because they will whip up much better.
- Granulated sugar: Sweetens the cake and is whipped up with the egg whites. This helps give the sponge cake its signature texture.
- Vanilla extract: Pure vanilla will provide the best flavor.
- Milk: Whole milk is best, but any kind of milk should be fine.
- All-purpose flour: You need to spoon and level the flour when measuring it, otherwise you might accidentally measure out too much.
- Baking powder: This is supposed to be a denser sponge cake, but you still need baking powder in the batter to help the cake rise in the oven.
- Salt: Enhances the vanilla flavor of the sponge cake.
- Sweetened condensed milk: One of the three milks used in the filling. It’s thick, creamy, very sweet, and is made out of milk (with some water removed) that’s had sugar added to it.
- Evaporated milk: Can be found next to the sweetened condensed milk in the baking aisle. This has a much thinner consistency and is not nearly as sweet.
- Heavy whipping cream: Used in both the filling and the whipped cream topping. Be sure to buy heavy whipping cream that’s at least 36% fat.
- Powdered sugar: Sweetens the homemade whipped cream.
How to Make Tres Leches Cake From Scratch
First, you’ll need to make the homemade sponge cake. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs yolks, most of the sugar, and vanilla until doubled in volume. The mixture should be light in color as well (this will take about 2 to 3 minutes).
Mix in the milk, then gently fold in dry ingredients.
Next, the egg whites need to be beat to soft peaks at first. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. In other words, when you lift the beaters up, the egg whites should stand straight up.
Gently fold about 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites. You need to fold the egg whites into the batter in batches to prevent them from deflating.
Once the batter is ready, pour it into an ungreased 9×13-inch baking dish, then bake until done.
Note: Don’t grease the baking dish, otherwise the cake can deflate and shrink up. This is a sponge cake, and leaving the dish un-greased lets it cling to the sides so it can rise taller.
Once the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool completely. Then, poke holes all over the cake — a skewer or fork works well for this step!
Next, whisk together the three milk filling. You’ll want to reserve 1/2 cup of the milk mixture, as I find that the full amount is just a bit too much. You can cover the reserved liquid, refrigerate it, then serve it with the cake later.
Slowly pour the three milk filling over the cake. If needed, poke a few more holes in the cake and swirl the pan so the filling seeps down into the cake. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Once it’s had time to set in the fridge, make the homemade whipped cream. Before doing so, I highly suggest placing the mixing bowl and beaters in the fridge for 10 minutes to chill. This will help the whipped cream whip up properly.
To make the topping, whip together the whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over the cake, then dust with cinnamon. Slice and serve with the reserved three milk filling, if desired.
How Long Does This Cake Last?
If covered tightly and stored in the fridge, this Mexican tres leches cake should last up to four days in the fridge. Note that the cake will become softer with time as the milk filling soaks more into it.
Can I Prep This Cake in Advance?
Yes! In fact, I encourage making this recipe ahead of time for the best taste and texture. If serving to guests, you can make the cake up to 24 hours in advance.
- To bring your eggs to room temperature quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Don’t try substituting any of the milks in this recipe for lower calorie or lower fat versions. You need all that fat to create a flavorful, moist cake!
- I prefer to reserve 1/2 cup of the three milk filling for serving, as I find that using all of the filling when making the cake makes it a bit too soggy.
- You can serve the cake as is, or you can top it with sliced strawberries and a dusting of cinnamon.
More Easy Cake Recipes to Try!
- Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
- Homemade Rum Cake
- Angel Food Cake
- Classic Hummingbird Cake
- The Best White Cake
Tres Leches Cake
For the cake:
- 5 large eggs , separated and at room temperature
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar , divided
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
- 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour , spooned & leveled
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
- 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy whipping cream
For the whipped cream:
- 2 cups (480 ml) cold heavy whipping cream
- ⅓ cup (40 grams) powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
- Fresh strawberries
- Ground cinnamon
For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and 3/4 cup (150 grams) of the granulated sugar with a mixer until light in color and double the volume (about 2 to 3 minutes)
- Add the whole milk and continue to mix until fully combined.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt.
- Gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg yolk mixture, making sure to not over mix.
- In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar until stiff peaks form.
- Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites until fully combined.
- Pour the batter into an ungreased 9x13 baking pan (can grease the bottom of the pan, but avoid greasing the sides) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Allow to cool completely.
For the filling:
- In a large mixing bowl whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream until fully combined. Remove 1/2 cup of the filling, cover it tightly, and refrigerate.
- Using a fork or a skewer, poke holes all over the cake.
- Slowly pour the remaining filling over the cake, if needed poke more holes in the cake and swirl the pan so that the filling seeps down into the cake.
- Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
For the whipped cream:
- Before getting started, place your mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes to chill. Once chilled, remove the bowl and beaters from the freezer.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, add the heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Start mixing on low speed. Once the mixture starts to increase in volume, increase the speed to medium-high until stiff peaks form.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the whipped cream over the cake.
- Top with fresh strawberries or dust with cinnamon. Slice into pieces and serve with the reserved filling if desired.