The Best Tres Leches Cake features a light sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three milks and topped with toasted meringue. Ultra moist, fluffy and delicious, this authentic Venezuelan dessert is to die for!
Having grown up in Venezuela, Tres Leches Cake has forever been the quintessential cake for celebrations. Whether you’re getting ready for a quinceañera, a birthday party, a graduation – it’s time for Tres Leches!
This tested and perfected homemade Three Milks Cake is truly our go-to cake for any occasion. We whip it up often, especially when we’re making a Hispanic inspired spread for our friends. If you are looking for the Spanish version of this recipe, visit Torta Tres Leches (Pastel de Tres Leches).
About this Recipe
- Taste – known for its rich, sweet, milky flavor with a hint of vanilla.
- Texture – Tres leches cake is light and airy, yet very moist, and it has a delicate crumb that melts in your mouth.
- Effort – This cake is relatively easy to make, perfect for beginner bakers.
- Time – It takes about 30 minutes to make this cake, plus a few hours of soaking.
Where is Tres Leches Cake From?
Tres Leches Cake is believed to have originated in Latin America, with its exact place of origin being a subject of debate among several countries in the region. Not only is it popular in countries such as Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba and South American countries like Venezuela, but it is also a common menu item in Mexican restaurants in the U.S.
Food52 shared an article on the long story behind the origins of the authentic Tres Leches.
While many popular Tres Leches Cakes are adapted from The Pioneer Woman, this recipe uses the traditional Bizcocho de Saboya sponge cake base, making it an authentic Mexican and Spanish dessert.
This easy recipe calls for simple ingredients, many of which you likely already have in your fridge and pantry. It’s divided into 3 main components: the sponge cake base, the three milks mixture, and the topping.
- Flour and baking powder: All-purpose flour and baking powder give structure to the cake batter.
- Sugar: granulated sugar is included in both the cake batter and in the whipped cream topping, adding just the right touch of sweetness.
- Vanilla extract: adds those comforting, warm Mexican flavors
- Eggs: the whipped egg whites act as a leavening agent and are gently folded into the batter, creating a light and airy texture. Combined with the egg yolks, it allows the three-milk mixture to penetrate the sponge cake.
- Whole milk: Regular milk provides moisture, offsets the sweetness of sweetened condensed milk, and contributes to a lighter cake texture.
- Sweetened condensed milk: This sweet and thick milk not only adds sweetness and moisture.
- Evaporated milk: Brings a caramel-like richness to the mix, resulting in a creamy, luscious texture.
- Heavy whipping cream: Used to add a creamy and delicious topping.
No Oil or Butter
This cake does not require oil or butter. Its richness and creaminess are achieved without them. Since there’s minimal fat content in the cake base it allows the cake to absorb the milks without becoming excessively heavy or soggy.
To prepare Tres Leches Cake with Meringue Topping, you will need:
- Egg Whites: These are the key component of the meringue, providing structure and stability.
- Granulated Sugar: Used to sweeten and stabilize the meringue.
- Cream of Tartar: is an acidic ingredient that helps stabilize the egg whites contributing to the meringue’s smooth, glossy texture.
Scroll below to the printable recipe card for quantities.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Make the Cake Batter
- Separate the eggs into two other mixing bowls (Photo 1).
- In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla (Photos 2 and 3).
- Beat the egg yolks, vanilla, and sugar until pale yellow, smooth and doubled in volume (Photo 4).
- Gently fold in the flour, salt, and baking powder into the egg yolk mixture, adding a little at a time. Do not over-mix (Photos 5, 6, 7 and 8).
- In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites on high speed, until stiff peaks form and the mixture is glossy. About 6-8 minutes (Photo 9). The meringue’s air bubbles and volume prevent the sponge from becoming dense, even when soaked in the three-milk mixture.
- Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the cake batter until no streaks remain (Photos 11 and 12).
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and spread it evenly (Photo 13).
Bake, cool, and poke
- Bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown.
- Once the cake has cooled, use a skewer or fork to poke holes all over the top of the cake (Photo 14). This will help the three-milk mixture soak fully into the cake. Let cool completely before adding the milk mixture.
Make the Three Milks Mixture
- In a small bowl or jar, combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk (Photo 15).
Soak the Cake
- Slowly pour the three-milk mixture evenly over the cake, making sure to pour near the edges and all around (Photo 16)
- Refrigerate, covered with foil, for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight, to allow the mixture to absorb completely.
Make the Meringue Topping:
- In a bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and sugar (Photos 17 and 18).
- Place the bowl over a small saucepan with simmering water and cook, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves and reaches 160ºF (Photo 19).
- Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer or stand mixer until stiff peaks form, and meringue becomes glossy (Photo 20).
Toast Meringue and Serve
- Spread the meringue evenly over the soaked Tres Leches Cake (Photo 21 and 22).
- Use a kitchen torch or broiler to lightly brown the meringue for added flavor and texture (Photo 23).
- Slice and serve (Photo 24).
- Whipped Cream: freshly whipped cream adds a light and airy contrast to the cake’s richness.
- Meringue Topping – make a toasted meringue topping for a traditional Venezuelan take on Tres Leches (see recipe card).
- Fresh Berries: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or a mix of berries provide a pop of color and also a fruity freshness.
- Cinnamon: A sprinkle of ground cinnamon complements the cake’s flavors.
- Dulce de Leche: Drizzle dulce de leche (caramelized sweet milk) over the cake for a caramel flavor.
You can add additional flavorings to make this Tres Leches Cake Recipe your own. Here are some ideas:
- Strawberry Tres Leches – try my delicious Strawberry Tres Leches cake!
- Alcohol – Add 2 tablespoons of dark or spiced rum to the milk mixture for a rum-infused flavor.
- Almond extract – add 1 tablespoon of almond extract to the milk mixture for a nutty taste.
- Coffee Tres Leches – love this take on traditional tres leches from Hummingbird High.
To make Tres Leches Cake, you will need the following equipment:
- 9×13-inch Baking Pan: This is the standard size for Tres Leches Cake.
- Stand Mixer or Hand Mixer: my most used kitchen tools.
- Mixing Bowls: glass mixing bowls are my go-to, they are microwave and freezer safe.
- Measuring Cups and Spoons: Essential for accurately measuring ingredients.
How to Store
Store Tres Leches Cake in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.
Make Ahead Instructions:
You can prepare Tres Leches Cake a day or two in advance. In fact, I prefer making it the night before to allow the cake plenty of time to absorb the milk mixture, and it will also taste even better! Add the whipped topping (or meringue topping) just before serving to ensure it stays light and fluffy.
The baked and cooled sponge cake can be frozen for up to 3 months tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in a freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before adding the three milks.
You can also freeze Tres Leches Cake without the whipped cream topping for 30 days. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and top with whipped cream just before serving.
- Avoid overmixing to achieve the lightest, most tender Tres Leches Cake. Mix the flour mixture just until combined. Overmixing a flour mixture with eggs can overdevelop gluten and lead to a tough cake.
- When whipping egg whites, make sure there are no traces of yolk and use a clean, dry bowl and beaters for best results.
- Gently fold in the egg whites into the batter to maintain an airy texture and prevent the cake from deflating.
- It is easier to separate egg yolks and egg whites when cold.
- Use a fork or skewer to poke holes evenly across the cake so that it can absorb the milk mixture thoroughly.
- Pour the milk mixture gradually over the entire cake, avoiding rapid pouring to prevent uneven saturation.
- Let the cake soak in the milk mixture for at least 2-4 hours, but preferably overnight, before serving.
- Avoid over-baking the cake, as it may collapse in the middle once removed from the oven. Bake it until the center is set, and a toothpick inserted into the cake’s center emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached.
- Use an oven thermometer to accurately monitor the oven temperature. This ensures your Tres Leches Cake bakes perfectly.
The images from this post have been updated but the recipe has stayed the same! I included detailed descriptions and step-by-step images to make it even better.