Tres Leches Cake

Tres leches is a moist and subtly sweet cake made with sponge cake and three different kinds of milk. It’s easy to make (only 30 minutes of active time!) and it gets even better after a day in the fridge.

There’s a debate regarding the origin of the creamy, whipped cream-topped cake known as tres leches. Some say it’s originally from Mexico, while others swear it’s a Central American creation.

I can’t confirm or deny either birthplace, but after one bite of this moist confection, you’ll understand why everyone wants to lay claim to it.

What is tres leches cake?

Regardless of its exact origin, tres leches cake is definitely a Hispanic dessert that has been enjoyed for years by folks in most, if not all, Spanish-speaking countries.

Tres leches is comprised of a milk-soaked sponge cake that’s topped with whipped cream. Some (like me) prefer a dusting of ground cinnamon on top of their frosted cake; others prefer to garnish theirs with fresh fruit.

What kinds of milk go into tres leches cake?

Another debate arises as it pertains to the “leches,” or milks, used in tres leches. My version uses whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk.

Because I top my tres leches with rich whipped cream, I prefer to cut down on the decadence by using whole milk in the milk bath. Some would argue that would make mine a cuatro leches cake. But really, who cares? It’s amazing no matter what the milk count is.


Sponge cake is the cake for the job because it will absorb the large quantity of milk poured over it without breaking down into a soggy mess.

Tres leches should not be soggy; it should not disintegrate. It should puddle milk when you pierce it with your fork.

Tres leches has a light flavor and a texture reminiscent of a vanilla custard or pudding. The optional dusting of cinnamon is subtly spicy, contrasting the delicate creaminess of the cake.

How do you make sponge cake?

The preparation of the sponge cake is broken down into three easy steps:

  1. First, whip the egg yolks and the warmed sugar together until they are a very pale yellow color and have doubled in volume.
  2. In a separate, very clean bowl, whip the room temperature egg whites (and more sugar) until you get glossy peaks stiff enough to stand on their own.
  3. Add sifted cake flour to the egg yolks alternately with the whipped egg whites. Work quickly to retain that volume, which is essential for the cake to rise like it should.

This sponge method leavens a cake without the need for chemical leaveners, like baking soda or baking powder. It also creates a cake with an exceptionally spongy interior, which is great for absorbing that sweet milk.

Tips to Make the Best Tres Leches Cake Ever

  • Warm your sugar: Place 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar into an oven-safe container and let the sugar warm in the oven as it’s heating up. Warm sugar helps give the egg yolks more volume when you whip them.
  • Use a clean bowl and beaters: Because any trace of fat can potentially inhibit the egg whites from reaching their maximum volume, a clean bowl and beaters are a must when whipping egg whites.
  • Make sure the cake is level: To make sure the cake absorbs the milk evenly, make sure the batter is level in the pan prior to baking. Use an offset spatula to spread the cake batter evenly. Give the pan a few taps on the countertop just before baking to release any air bubbles that may have become trapped during mixing. An even cake means the milk bath will flow consistently over the surface of the cake and every inch of tres leches will ooze milk.
  • Make this cake in advance: Tres leches can, and actually should, be made a few hours (up to a day) in advance. The longer the cake has a chance to absorb the milk mixture, the richer it will taste. Likewise, frosting the cake with whipped cream several hours in advance gives the cake a chance to absorb some of its flavor. I’ve kept mine for three days and it was still in great shape; the whipped cream, though, does deflate a little bit.


Leftovers will last three days in the refrigerator, but freezing the cake is not recommended as it tends to become rubbery after thawing. The whipped cream won’t thaw well, either, so enjoy this cake within a couple of days with no reservations!

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