Tres Leches Cake Recipe

This creamy, moist sponge cake is soaked with a three-milk mixture, topped with cream cheese-enriched whipped cream, and served thoroughly chilled.

Closeup of a round portion of tres leches cake. A bite of cake is suspended nearby on the tines of a fork.

Serious Eats / Maria del Mar Cuadra

Why This Recipe Works

  • Soaking the sponge with the classic combination of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream results in a rich, ultra-moist cake with concentrated milk flavor and a subtle lactic sweetness, as well as fresh dairy notes.
  • Poking the cake all over with a fork allows the milk mixture to thoroughly soak the crumb.
  • Stabilizing the whipped cream with gelatin and cream cheese keeps the topping firm and stiff over several days.

My high school's snack bar (known as "the fresco stand") sold itty-bitty cans of sweetened condensed milk. My girlfriends and I used to crack them open—they had a convenient little tab, just like soda cans—stick in a straw and slurp up the contents. Whether it was the intense afternoon heat, the acute sugar high, or the effort of sucking up thick condensed milk through a narrow tube, post-recess calculus was torturous for us, and no picnic for the teacher.

Sweetened condensed milk is my mood-altering drug. If it were civilized to sip it like a cocktail, I would, but being the mature lady that I am today, I choose to imbibe it in a more socially acceptable manner: tres leches cake.

Tres leches is a popular dessert throughout Latin America. Its nationality prompts debate, as many countries, namely Nicaragua (where I'm from) like to claim it as their own. Regardless of nationality, the sponge cake is poked all over with a fork until it looks riddled with machine gun fire. Then, like Cleopatra, it is bathed in milk—but three milks to make it even more luxurious. Sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. Once soaked through, the cake is topped with Italian meringue or whipped cream and thoroughly chilled.

I had it for dessert four times this weekend (for testing and quality control, of course) and caught myself making the most scandalous sounds with each bite. So much for being mature and polite.

One final note: This recipe can be halved. If doing so, bake the cake in an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish and reduce the baking time to 25 to 30 minutes.

March 2011

Recipe Details

Tres Leches Cake Recipe

Active 30 mins
Total 4 hrs 30 mins
Serves 12 to 16 servings

This creamy, moist sponge cake is soaked with a three-milk mixture, topped with cream cheese-enriched whipped cream, and served thoroughly chilled.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 4 teaspoons baking powder

  • 6 large eggs, separated

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1/2 cup milk

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk

  • 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

  • 3 cups heavy cream

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (see note)

  • 2 tablespoons water (see note)

  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened (see note)

  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325°F (160°C).

  2. Combine flour and baking powder in small bowl; set aside.

  3. In bowl of stand mixer, beat egg whites and salt with whisk attachment on medium-low speed until whites begin to froth, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and beat whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. The mixture may look a bit thick.

  4. Add egg yolks and beat just until combined. Decrease speed to low and add flour in three additions, alternating with the milk, scraping sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. Add vanilla and beat just until combined.

  5. Scrape batter into an ungreased 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Bake until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer cake to cooling rack and cool completely in pan, 60 to 90 minutes.

  6. Once cooled, poke cake all over with fork. Combine evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and 1 1/2 cups heavy cream in large bowl. Pour mixture evenly all over cake. While cake soaks, make whipped cream.

  7. Combine gelatin and water in small bowl. Microwave until gelatin dissolves, about 20 seconds. Cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes.

  8. In clean bowl of stand mixer, beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and cooled gelatin with whisk attachment until soft and whippy, about 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups cream and beat to soft peaks, about 2 minutes.

  9. Spread whipped cream over cake and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours (see note). Serve.

Special Equipment

Stand mixer, 13- by 9-inch baking dish, cooling rack


The whipped cream in this recipe is stabilized with unflavored gelatin and cream cheese—feel free to omit those ingredients if you expect the cake to go in one sitting.

Be sure to thoroughly chill the cake prior to serving. I sometimes pop it in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes right before serving.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
620 Calories
27g Fat
84g Carbs
12g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 16
Amount per serving
Calories 620
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 27g 35%
Saturated Fat 17g 85%
Cholesterol 103mg 34%
Sodium 422mg 18%
Total Carbohydrate 84g 30%
Dietary Fiber 0g 2%
Total Sugars 71g
Protein 12g
Vitamin C 3mg 15%
Calcium 428mg 33%
Iron 1mg 7%
Potassium 472mg 10%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)