decadent tres leches cake

Three milk cake, or Pastel de Tres Leches, is one of the most common cakes in Latin America.  The cake recipe differs slightly by country and also within families but this is one I learned in San Miguel de Allende.

My sister in law is from Costa Rica, and makes Tres Leches for special occasions.  We have all fallen in love with it.  Her cake takes three days to make because she “feeds” the milk into the cake over time. 

The recipe here does not take that long, and is adapted, just slightly, from a cooking class at La Cocina in San Miguel de Allende.  I changed around some steps to make is easier.  I also added the juice of ½ orange to the batter for a hint of flavor.  My sister in law always adds juice to her cakes and they are delicious.

tresleches PM.png

One good discipline in baking is to measure out all your ingredients before starting.  When working with batters and dough, it is important not to over mix or rest the the mixture for too long due to the reaction of liquids to flours and baking agents (baking soda and baking powder).  Getting all your ingredients out and measured keeps you organized. Remove used bowls and ingredients as you work.

For the Cake

7 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¾ cup milk

½ orange

2 tablespoons vanilla


For the Tres Leches

14 ounces sweetened condensed milk

14 ounces evaporated milk

1 cup heavy cream



2 cups whipped cream

2 cups fresh fruit of your choice

Fresh mint for garnish, or peel of orange


time.  Prep 20 minutes before, cooking 25-30 minutes, 15 minutes to soak in the milks.  1 to 2 hours to cool before serving.  
level.  intermediate
serves.  12 to 15 slices

1.    Preheat the oven to 350-degrees.

2.    Grease the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish or two 9 inch round pans (if you want to make layer cake) very well with butter.

3.    Measure out all your ingredients.

4.    Separate the eggs yolks from the egg whites.  Set aside.

5.    In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder with a whisk.  Set aside.

6.    Place egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer with whisk attachment and whip on high speed for about 2 minutes until in soft peaks.

7.    Add all the sugar and mix another 30 seconds until well blended.

8.    Slowly put egg yolks into the  egg white and sugar mixture, beating until incorporated, should be about 1 minute on medium speed.

9.    Take one-third of flour mixture and add to the wet ingredients, pour in half the milk and blen.

10. Add the second bit of flour, blend, and then add the other half of milk with juice of half an orange. Mix.

11. Finish with last third of flour and mix for one minute.

12. Place in prepared baking dishes, and pop into the oven for 25-30 minutes. Cake should spring back when poked with finger.


Soaking the cake

In the cooking class, we added the three milks when the cake was still warm.  Other recipes have suggested to cool the cake.  I did both ways and it did not seem to make a difference.



1.    Whip the three milks together until nice and mixed.

Now here is where you have to have a little patience and lots of love. 

2.    When cakes are still warm (or not), remove from baking dishes.  If they are a bit fiddley and sticky around edges,  use a knife to loosen.

3.    Place cake on a dish with a ridge, or on a cooling rack over a large baking sheet (as above photo). 

4.    With a toothpick, poke holes all over the gorgeous cake, don’t be shy, get them all over the top of the cake. 

5.    Slowly begin to pour the milk over the cakes, stopping and massaging in with gentle circular movements.  Keep repeating slowly.

6.    Add more holes and continue to soak in the milks.  This takes about 10-15 minutes—patience…sigh. 

7.    Pour any of the run off milks from the plate into container and add again to cake- you want to get all the milk in.

8.    Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour but best is 2 hours.

And to finish

If using two rounds, put fresh whipped cream in between layers.  You can also add fruit in between.  Frost with whipped cream on top and decorate with fruit.

In a rectangular baking dish, add whipped cream either on top of cake or on the side as a fluffy dollop, and add some fruit for flavor and prettiness.

Garnish with a mint leaf and/or grated orange peel.