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Food & Recipes

This Tres Leches Cake Recipe Is Perfectly Airy + Deliciously Rich — Oven-Ready in 30 Minutes

Plus, learn the secrets to making the best-ever whipped cream topping.

With Cinco de Mayo coming up, we can anticipate a celebration filled with vibrant colors, celebratory music and a lot of good food. But among the spread of mole, tamales and tacos, we can’t forget a decadent dessert. And what could be more festive than a cake soaked in three kinds of milky goodness? We’ve got an authentic tres leches cake recipe to end your celebration on a high note. With a light, airy crumb and smooth whipped cream frosting, it only takes 30 minutes to prep! So, keep reading for all you need to know about choosing the right milk and making homemade whipped cream. Plus, experts share their baking secrets, including preventing a soggy crumb. Here’s your guide to Tres Leches cake.

Ingredients in tres leches cake

Tres leches, literally translating to “three milks” in Spanish, is a light and airy sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three different kinds of milk. It has become a beloved staple across Latin America, particularly in countries like Mexico, Nicaragua and Cuba. While the exact origins remain a mystery, some believe it evolved from the 19th century soaked cake recipes. Today, the cake is a popular dessert worldwide for its moist, air-bubbled texture and light flavor.

The main ingredients in tres leches cake include flour, sugar, eggs and baking powder, which combine to create a fluffy crumb. The key lies in whipping the eggs (either whites or whole) and folding them into the batter. Additionally, vanilla extract can be added for flavor enhancement. Importantly, no fat, like butter or oil, plays a role in this recipe. This prevents it from becoming too heavy. Once the cake bakes and cools, it is then soaked in a three-milk mixture, which gives the dessert its signature richness and moistness. After letting it soak, tres leches cake typically has a whipped cream or meringue topping garnished with fresh fruit or a sprinkle of cinnamon. It usually chills before serving.

What are those three milks?

“The two essential kinds of milk are evaporated milk and condensed milk, but the third one can be whole milk or heavy cream,” says chef Amy Hand, creator of The Skillful Cook. “I recommend using heavy cream as the third milk because of its delectable richness.”

Each milk brings its own unique flavor and texture to the cake. Evaporated milk, a canned variety with about 60% of its water content removed, has a thick consistency and rich flavor. Condensed milk, another canned milk product, has added sugar for a sweeter taste. Heavy cream comes from the top layer skimmed off whole milk and has a high fat content, which helps enhance moisture. Alternately, whole milk has a lower fat content, which results in a slightly lighter and less dense cake (though still moist).

Make you own whipped cream

While a store-bought whipped topping offers convenience, tres leches cake always tastes better with homemade whipped cream. And doing it yourself doesn’t require much effort at all. Here, we have a basic guide to whipping up your own batch.

To make your own whipped cream, you’ll need just two ingredients: heavy cream and sugar. “I prefer cream labeled heavy cream [instead of] whipping cream,” says chef Alina Eisenhauer, creator of “Heavy cream has a higher fat percentage than whipping cream. The higher the fat content, the easier it will be to whip the cream. Additionally, granulated (or powdered) sugar helps add sweetness. You can adjust the amount of sugar to suit your preferences, but we recommend 1-2 Tbs. of sugar for 1 cup of cream. Although some recipes don’t call for it, you can also add vanilla extract for enhanced flavor.

1. Chill your equipment

“Start with a cold mixing bowl and whisk/beaters,” says Eisenhauer. “This helps the cream whip faster and achieve a better volume.” They should only need 15-30 minutes in the freezer.

2. Use cold cream

“Always start with cold cream as this whips faster,” says Hand. Yes, we usually tell you to have room-temperature ingredients like in our Strawberry Cheesecake Bars recipe. Cold cream also holds its shape better.

3. Don’t over-whip

When whipping, Hand advises to “whip to soft peaks before adding vanilla essence and sifting in powdered sugar. Then, whip to stiff peaks. Keep checking the texture to avoid over-whipping.” It can lead to the cream becoming grainy or even turning into butter.

Watch this video tutorial below from Preppy Kitchen for a look at the perfect stiff peaks.

Expert tips for perfect tres leches cake

If you never tried making tres leches cake before, we get feeling a bit intimidated. But achieving that airy, moist texture can be a breeze with a few expert tips.

1. Choose your dairy

The choice of heavy cream or whole milk in your mixture comes down to personal preference. We recommend heavy cream for a richer, more indulgent crumb. However, whole milk yields a more delicate, moist crumb for those who want a lighter dessert.

For a dairy-free tres leches cake, you can substitute all three traditional milks for coconut milk, coconut sweetened condensed milk and oat milk. Similarly, the whipped cream can be made with coconut cream and powdered sugar.

2. Preventing soggy cake

tres leches cake with milk soak poured on top

To avoid ending up with a soggy cake, first make sure the cake has cooled completely. “If the cake is warm, the milks will mix with the warm cake and make a soggy mess,” says Hand. Next, poke holes in the cake before soaking. You can use a fork or skewer to do this; the holes allow the milk mixture to soak evenly without pooling on top.

“Instead of pouring all of the milk mixture over the cake at once, do it in stages,” advises Eisenhauer. “Pour ⅓, let some of it absorb, then add more. This prevents the cake from becoming too soggy too quickly.” After soaking, she says to “place it in the fridge overnight if possible. A longer chilling period allows the cake to absorb the milk more evenly.”

3. Whipping egg whites vs. whole eggs

“I like to use whole eggs in the cake batter instead of just egg whites,” says Eisenhauer. “Whole eggs provide richness and structure to the cake.”

If you want a lighter and airier sponge cake, consider separating and whipping the egg whites separately until stiff peaks form. Here, cold eggs work best. Fold the whipped egg whites into the batter gently to incorporate air and create a fluffy texture. Alternatively, using whole eggs can result in a denser cake with a richer flavor.

4. Chill before serving

Because tres leches cake tastes best when served cold, refrigerate it for a few hours before serving to allow the flavors to meld and the texture to set. The cold temperature enhances the cake’s refreshing and creamy qualities.

Easy tres leches cake recipe

Trust us when we say a tres leches cake will please everyone. This easy recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen bakes in casserole dish for a better rise and easy portioning. Plus, a topping of fresh strawberries and raspberries for a pretty presentation.

Tres Leches Cake

tres leches cake slice with cinnamon and strawberry
Shahid Jamil/Getty


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar, divided into ¾ and ¼ cups
  • 1 tsp, vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • 12 oz. evaporated milk
  • 9 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 cup berries, to garnish, optional


  • Active Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours (plus 1 hour resting)
  • Yield: 12 servings
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 9×13-inch casserole pan. Set up three mixing bowls. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Then, separate egg whites and yolks into the other two bowls.
  2. Beat egg yolks with ¾ cup sugar vigorously, until pale yellow. Stir in whole milk and vanilla.
  3. Beat egg whites vigorously until soft peaks form. While mixing, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.
  4. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and combine gently with a spatula. Then, gently fold in egg white mixture with a spatula until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  5. In a large measuring cup, combine evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream. When the cake is cool, pierce the surface all over with a fork. Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the cake.
  6. Pour 2 cups cold heavy cream and sugar into a large, chilled mixing bowl and beat on high speed until thick, whipped and spreadable. Spread over the cake with a spatula, then decorate with berries if desired.

Storing tres leches cake

Tres leches cake can be made 1-2 days ahead of time when covered tightly and refrigerated. After serving, the finished cake can be stored for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. However, only the un-soaked, unassembled cake base should be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months. A soaked, assembled cake may become mushy, while the whipped cream doesn’t freeze well.

Fun topping ideas for tres leches cake

If you plan on serving this tres leches cake to a crowd, you might want to add a little pizzazz. Take inspiration from these fun topping ideas for new pop of flavor that’s sure to impress.

1. Fresh berries

One of the traditional tres leches cake toppings, top yours with a colorful assortment of fresh berries, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries. Their tartness contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the cake.

2. Cinnamon dusting

Another traditional topping, ground cinnamon over the whipped cream adds a warm, aromatic flavor. The subtle spiciness of the cinnamon compliments the creamy cake.

3. Dulce de Leche

Drizzle dulce de leche over the top of your cake for an extra indulgent touch. Its rich, caramelized flavor brings out the cake’s moist, airy texture.

4. Toasted coconut

Toasted coconut flakes add a delightful crunch and nutty flavor to a tres leches cake, enhancing its tropical appeal. It also adds a satisfying textural contrast against the smooth whipped cream.

For more recipes that celebrate Mexican American cuisine, click through below:

Caldo de Res: The Mexican Beef and Veggie Soup That’s So Comforting + Good for You

Nachos for Breakfast? Yes! Here’s How to Turn the Tex-Mex Favorite Into the Ultimate Morning Treat

Air Fryer Jalapeño Poppers Are the Perfect Party Appetizer + Ready in Under 20 Minutes

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