That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Authentic Tres Leches Cake - A Latin American favorite make with 3 milks, a homemade sponge cake and whipped cream frosting!

Authentic Tres Leches Cake

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Tres Leches Cake, or three milks cake, is a frequent flyer at our house in September.  One of my daughter’s favorites, it’s often her birthday cake request!

A popular dessert in Latin America, this pastel de tres leches translates to sponge cake with three milks, the latter referring to evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and half and half. This cake is unlike any other you’ve ever eaten!

Authentic Tres Leches Cake - A Latin American favorite make with 3 milks, a homemade sponge cake and whipped cream frosting!

Authentic Tres Leches Cake

It must have been more than 10 years ago when I heard about tres leches cake, so of course, the foodie in me had to make one. My first attempt was nothing special, but my daughter, Katie, was smitten. The rest of the family was underwhelmed.

I found Alton Brown’s recipe a few years later, when she was hounding me to make it for her birthday. He is a master at researching the science of what makes a recipe work, so I consider him a good source for a pretty authentic, well tested recipe.

Of course, despite what the rest of the family thinks, Katie gets to request her favorite dinner and birthday dessert. So, much as I tried to ignore her pleas, I went ahead and baked up a new version. I added a few strawberries just to garnish.  Just to give the plate a little pizzazz. The results were pretty darn tasty, I have to admit! Even Bill changed his tuned after I suggested he give the tres leches cake another chance.

Authentic Tres Leches Cake - A Latin American favorite make with 3 milks, a homemade sponge cake and whipped cream frosting!

Tips for Making the Best Tres Leches Cake

There are scads of variations of this three milks cake. But this one is our family favorite. The picky hubby isn’t totally on board, preferring chocolate chip cookies or brownies, but hey, you can’t win ’em all. If you’re new to making tres leches cake, here are a few tips.

  • The cake is an egg heavy sponge cake. “Sponge” is key here as the cake must be able to absorb almost 4 cups of liquid.
  • Other recipes call for a butter cake or even using a yellow cake mix, but I’m on team sponge cake.
  • To facilitate absorption, use a fork, skewer or even a straw to poke numerous holes across the surface of the cake. This gives more real estate for the milks to soak into.
  • Cake flour is used in the recipe instead of all purpose flour. Cake flour is made from a softer wheat and has less gluten, making for a more tender cake.
  • Cake flour is usually sold in a box, and is found in your grocery store’s baking aisle near the other flours.
  • When I was a teenager, WAY before the Internet, I remember using a mixture of all purpose flour and cornstarch as a substitute for cake flour. You can easily make your own.
  • PRO-Tip: To make your own cake flour, follow these instructions: For each cup needed, measure out a cup of flour, then remove two tablespoons. Replace the 2 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift this mixture 3 or 4 times to make sure the cornstarch is evenly dispersed. While you’re at it, make more than one cup, and save the extra for the next time you need cake flour.
  • Depending on the recipe, the 3 milks can vary. Most recipes I’ve seen call for the two canned milks, evaporated and sweetened condensed. The third for this cake is half and half, an equal blend of whole milk and light cream, but other recipes call for whole milk or heavy cream.
  • I use a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup with a spout to pour the milks over the cake. I start with a dousing across the surface of the cake, using about a third of the mixture to start, then letting it absorb before repeating the process. Using all of the “milks” may cause some leakage at the bottom of the cake as a smidgen of the liquid may not totally absorb. It isn’t a huge deal, but feel free to hold back some of the liquid if desired. I didn’t use 1/3 of a cup.
  • Beware, this is a VERY sweet cake. The whipped cream topper has an additional 1 cup of sugar added. I’ve seen comments/complaints on other recipes about this dessert being too sweet. Just know that this is how it’s supposed to taste.
  • PRO-Tip: A caterer friend taught me to freeze the bowl for whipping the cream for a half hour or more before making it. Cream whipped in an icy cold bowl is much more stable than when done in a room temperature bowl. Meaning, it’s less likely to “break” and turn watery.
  • This authentic tres leches cake is perfect for Cinco de Mayo or your only daughter’s birthday!
Authentic Tres Leches Cake slice on a square plate with full cake in the background

Progressive Eats

Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. Each recipe in our menu this month features the flavors of Latin America and our host this month is Karen who blogs at Karen’s Kitchen Stories.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats it’s a virtual party. A theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out. Come along and see all of the delicious south of the border dishes!

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Flavors of Latin America!

Cocktails

Appetizers

Breads

Main Courses

Side Dishes

Desserts

  • Tres Leches Cake – That Skinny Chick Can Bake
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Authentic Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake

Alton Brown’s version of this “3 Milks” cake.

  • Author: Liz Berg
  • Prep Time: 45 mins
  • Cook Time: 25 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 mins
  • Yield: 24 servings
  • Category: Dessert, Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Latin American, Mexican

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour, plus extra to dust the pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tabblespoon sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Glaze:

  • 1 can evaporated milk (12 ounces)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
  • 1 cup half and half

Topping:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour, or use Baker’s Joy, to coat a 9 x 13 pan.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat butter until fluffy on medium speed. Decrease to low and add sugar slowly. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until well combined. Add vanilla and mix.
  4. Add dry ingredients in three batches and mix till just incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth top. Bake in the middle of your oven for 20-25 minutes.
  5. Remove and cool for a half hour. Poke top of cake with fork or skewer. Allow cake to completely cool.
  6. Make the glaze by whisking the milks and half and half. Slowly pour over cake and refrigerate overnight. I did not use the last 1/4 cup of glaze so that it all absorbed.
  7. Before serving, make topping by whipping heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla until mixture thickens and stiff peaks form. Spread topping over cake and refrigerate until serving.
  8. May garnish with sliced strawberries.
Lambeau eyeing the Tres Leches Cake The Birthday Girl who requested the tres leches cake
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43 comments on “Authentic Tres Leches Cake”

  1. Sounds great I must try this recipe sometime…
    Happy Birthday Katie!

  2. Best wishes, Katie!

    And I see that Lambeau is keeping an eye on things, Liz. 🙂 When will you start baking biscuits for her?

  3. biscuits for Lambeau, not Katie!

  4. Happy Birthday to Katie. The cake looks delicious!

  5. Happy Birthday, Katie!

    Liz … Lambeau loves being in the kitchen as much as Willie does!

    And, do you think I should surprise Alex and make this cake for his birthday?

  6. Happy Birthday Katie!!

  7. Go for it, Kim!

    Thanks, you all!!!

  8. your tres leches cake sounds delicious!! that is one cake I have yet to make, I am going to have to make one for my girls this year!

  9. LOL, Carole…Lambeau never met a treat she didn’t like 🙂

  10. It’s funny, but I watched Alton Brown make this on his show last night!! Only made it once, but I love Tres Leches cake. Hope Katie enjoyed it.

  11. Thanks, Kelly and Sandra!

    I think Alex would be as thrilled with this cake as Bill would be…although Bill did say it was better than the Southern Living recipe I made previously…guess that’s something! Love looking at your chocolate options 🙂

  12. Happy Birthday to Katie!

    Your cake looks delish.

  13. Thanks, Dennis, Leef and Kaye 🙂

  14. Lizzy…….

    Happy Birthday to Katie!!!!! Hope she had a fantastic day and enjoyed her Birthday cake which looks good.

    I hope that Lambeau got a slice :-)she sure looks like she likes that cake also.

  15. Aw, look at Lambeau! I’ve never had this cake and would sure love to try it:@)

  16. My husband has practically begged me to make this cake for him. I’ve never made one but love all the work you put into finding the right recipe – so I need to make yours! Thanks Liz! Pinning 🙂

  17. Your daughter has great taste in cakes! I LOVE a tres leches cake done well. During culinary school, my pastry chef instructor used to comment on my love of making complicated desserts but loving a basic tres leches cake.. I had her make me one for my birthday :))

  18. I love tres leches cake. In fact, it’s my guilty pleasure because I cant stop at just one bite even store-bought cake is sometimes too dry. But yours look so moist and blends perfectly. Craving this now!
    And happy birthday, Katie!

  19. I’m with you on Alton Brown – his recipes always work for me. And many thanks for the tips – they’re what makes this recipe do-able IMHO. Without them, there are many forks in the recipe road (pardon the pun) where a baker could go wrong. Please send Katie my best for her birthday. She picked a winner of a cake.

  20. I think I’ve only had a tres leches cake one time but this is making me crave it again!

  21. There is just nothing like Tres Leches Cake! The perfect ending to our Progressive Eats!

  22. I can see why this is such a favorite cake! Looks so delicious!

  23. Your desserts are always so gorgeous, and this one is no exception! I’ll have to give tres leches cake a try!

  24. I love the tip at the end about using an icy bowl for the whipping cream- that’s a great idea! And this cake would be perfect with a big mug of coffee. Yummy!

  25. It looks really tasty with the strawberry at the top!

  26. What a lucky young lady to have you as her personal chef! I would love to try this cake no matter how sweet it is – coffee is made to balance it, LOL. Sponge cakes are amazing to work with and this is another winner Liz!

  27. I used to see this cake in bakeries often when we lived in Florida, but not since then. And I’ve never made it. So I need to try this recipe! Looks excellent — thanks.

  28. Such a moist and tender cake – great recipe

  29. This cake looks amazing and easy enough for non-baker like me! I can’t wait to give this a try! The cake looks so moist and tasty i want to reach in and take a bite!

  30. Cannot wait to try this! I’ve always wanted to try tres leches and I here people rave about it, just have never had the opportunity to try it myself.

  31. Happy Birthday Katie!!
    Tres leches is one of my favorite cakes Lizzy!! Yours look wonderful, I think my recipe is like yours ! (Many times I dont make)
    hugs!

  32. It took me a long time to make a tres leches cake and I always wonder why. They are delicious and so easy to make. I also do a chocolate version and can’t decide what I love more! Everyone should have this recipe in their repertoire!

  33. You  have the most perfect cake recipes. I love this one! 

  34. Happy Birthday to Katie! This cake is so perfect, Liz. Keith and I get teased because our favorite dessert is white cake with white frosting. We won’t turn down chocolate, but if we have a choice…. so I know that we would LOVE this!

  35. Looks great! Glad to know Katie got her birthday wish and Bill got a present, too, by trying a bite!

  36. This looks delicious! Thanks for sharing at Merry Monday, hope to see you next week!

  37. Wow this cake is really looking so awesome, thank you for sharing your blog

  38. I love this cake Liz and haven’t had a slice in years. Just pack up Bill’s slice next time and send it to me!

  39. I have never had tres leches cake for some reason and that needs to be remedied! Looks so delicious!

  40. This is the prettiest tres leches cake!

  41. Looking forward to trying your recipe. I made it once and was underwhelmed also. Your’s looks delicious!

  42. Do you have to refrigerate over night for it to turn out?

    • It will fully absorb the “glaze,” slice easier and not be so overly sweet if refrigerated overnight (tastes best cold). BUT, if you an make it very early in the day and give it a good 6-8 hours in the refrigerator, I think that would work. Hope you enjoy!

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