Y’all, the internet is very divided about Tres Leches Cake. Some recipes want you to separate the eggs. Some people seem to think that one of the leches is coconut cream. Where they got that idea… who knows?! It sounds like nonsense to me. What I do know is that I love Tres Leches Cake, and I also don’t want it to be a huge hassle. That’s why I picked this recipe over all the others. I won’t vouch for its “authenticity” or superiority over the million other recipes out there, but what will say is that it’s the only Tres Leches Cake I ever plan to make because it’s uncomplicated and very good.
I’ve made this cake at least five times since I first got the hankering for some back in January. I know I tried the America’s Test Kitchen Tres Leches recipe a year or so ago, but all I can remember is that I wasn’t impressed. I’m a big fan of trying new recipes until I find one that stands out, then making that the go-to recipe. This is now my go-to Tres Leches Cake. End of story. Thus, I’m sharing it with you to save you the hassle of wading through the million other options online.
After making it according to the original recipe from Food & Wine, I made some slight modifications to simplify things and improve the overall experience. To me – someone who spent eight years in Texas – it’s not proper Tres Leches Cake without a nice thick layer of whipped cream on top. I also (apparently) don’t typically keep cinnamon sticks on hand, so I tested whether you really need one to make a great cake. You don’t.
This cake is better/best after it’s had a night to soak up the approximately four cups of liquid that you dump onto it after baking, so it’s a great make ahead recipe. The cake base is sturdy enough to hold up to all that liquid, and the overall effect is tender without being soggy, sweet without being cloying. It is, however, rich. So keep that in mind when you cut off a huge hunk. It keeps well in the fridge for for three days or so, too, so there will likely be leftovers to look forward to.
Ingredients are listed in the order they appear in the recipe and anything that requires prep is in bold. Ingredients are bolded in the directions when you first encounter them and the quantity required is included. Time estimates are bolded and italicized. I also include notes about any special equipment you’ll need.
Uncomplicated Make-Ahead Tres Leches Cake
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup (210 g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature* (see substitution note below if you don’t have whole milk on hand)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves (like 1/16 of a teaspoon if you have that measuring spoon)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons powdered/confectioners sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- cinnamon for dusting
Required equipment: easier with a stand mixer, but an electric hand mixer will do. 9×13 glass baking dish (metal will work, but glass is preferable), 2 qt saucepan.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly butter or spray a 9×13 baking dish.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the 3 eggs with the 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla at medium-high speed until very light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. The mixture will turn close to white and should look thick and glossy.
While the eggs and sugar are mixing, grab a small bowl and stir together the 1 1/2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Reduce the mixer speed to low, then add half of the four mixture and mix until just incorporated. Gradually add the 1/2 cup milk until just incorporated, then mix in the remaining flour mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back to the touch.
Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let it cool for at least 30 minutes. After it’s been cooling for 20 minutes or so, begin to make the leches.
In a medium saucepan, whisk the 1 1/2 cups heavy cream with the evaporated milk, cinnamon, and cloves. Continue to stir and heat until it gets steamy/is on the verge of boiling, then take it off the heat and let it steep/cool down a bit – say five to ten minutes.
Once the mixture has cooled down somewhat, add in the 1 teaspoon vanilla and sweetened condensed milk. Stir to thoroughly combine, then let it cool to close to room temperature/only slightly warm
With a toothpick or fork, poke holes all over the cake – lots, and lots of holes. You’re making access tunnels for the milk to soak into the cake, so you want a lot of them and to have relatively thorough coverage. Then, gradually pour the milk mixture all over the cake, aiming for relatively even distribution. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight (or for at least 5 hours).
Once it’s chilled and you’re getting close to serving time, make the whipped topping. I tend to be somewhat approximate with this when it comes to amount of cream and sugar, but using 3/4 cup to a full cup provides an adequate amount of coverage on top of the cake for a nice layer of cream. You can a
In a medium bowl, beat the 1 cup heavy cream until it begins to thicken, then add 3 tablespoons powdered/confectioners sugar and a splash of vanilla. Beat until stiff peaks form, then spread the topping evenly over the top of the cake. Dust with a little bit of additional cinnamon for effect if you feel like it, then serve it up!
*Substitution: I learned you can substitute equal parts water and heavy cream to make whole milk. So, in this case, use 1/4 cup heavy cream and 1/4 cup water to make 1/2 cup whole milk.