Make this tres leches cake from scratch for your next fiesta! A dessert beloved all over Latin America, this slightly cinnamon-spiced poke cake is always a hit!
There is nothing quite like a really good tres leches cake. If you’ve never had tres leches cake, you need to remedy this. As someone who is just making this statistic up right now, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s the most popular poke cake recipe in the world because so many different countries have their own slightly varied version. You’ll find tres leches cake in all sorts of restaurants, likely in your grocery store’s bakery section, and even at weddings. Do you know why? Because tres leches cake is that good.
Here’s the thing about tres leches cake – tres leches means “three milks” by the way – you have to prepare it just right. You can’t have a dry cake, or it’s not “real” tres leches, but it can’t be so wet it’s like cake soup. The trick to getting that perfect in between, is to make the right kind of cake. You need a sponge cake for tres leches, which means a box mix just won’t cut it. I promise it’s simpler than it sounds though, and since it’s better made in a day in advance, you have no reason not to make your tres leches cake from scratch.
Tres leches is called tres leches because you use three different types of milk in the cake – whole milk, evaporated milk, and condensed milk. Sometimes, I’ll make a version I call cuatro leches (four milks) and add a bit of dulce de leche on top. It’s really rich though, so I don’t make that version very often. I was going to make it for this post, but the Godfather veto’d that idea. I promise to forward all complaints collected via e-mail to him. 😉
I forgive him though, because it’s really important to have a good tres leches cake from scratch recipe on hand since that’s the base you need for any variations. Start with the basics and add variety from there. What I like best about this recipe is that it’s not too sweet (I’m not a fan of super sweet desserts) and the texture is spot on. I took the cake to my recipe club for our “Latin Recipe Night” and everyone loved it there, but I knew this was a winner when my husband requested I bring back a piece since he ate the piece I cut for pictures before I even walked out the door.
I hope you enjoy my recipe for tres leches cake from scratch and bookmark it for your next party or family gathering!
- 1¾ c cake flour (196 g)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1½ cups granulated sugar (300 g)
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup whole milk (118 mL)
- 1 14 oz can condensed milk (397 g)
- 1 12 oz can evaporated milk (354 mL)
- 1 cup whole milk (236 mL)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1½ tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- stemmed cherries for decoration
- Preheat your oven to 350 F (177 C, mark 4).
- Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large mixing bowl (use a hand mixer). Whip on medium speed for about 20 seconds until the mixture resembles a bubble bath, then add 1½ cups sugar and whip on high speed until you have stiff peaks.
- Slowly beat in the egg yolks one at a time, and then add half the dry ingredients, half the milk and vanilla extract, the rest of the dry ingredients, and the last bit of the milk. Stir until just combined, then pour into an 9x13" baking dish.
- Bake 30-35 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
- When the cake comes out of the oven, mix the sauce ingredients together in a mixing bowl until smooth. Use a skewer to poke holes around the top of the still-warm cake, and then evenly pour the sauce all over the cake.
- Place the cake in the refrigerator at least 2 hours to chill. You may make this cake a day in advance and then just add the topping before serving.
- To top the cake, whip the heavy cream and sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form. Stir in the vanilla.
- Pipe or spread the whipped cream on top of the cake and decorate with cherries.