Tres Leches Cake

Tres leches cake sits somewhere at the intersection of custard and cake, its luscious texture able to please lovers of both. In Spanish the dessert’s name means “three milks,” referring to the combination of condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream poured over the cake after it comes out of the oven. Several Latin American communities, including those from Mexico and Nicaragua, claim the dessert as their own, but its origin story is murky at best. The roots of milk cake can be traced back to medieval England, when cooks would often soak stale cake to make trifle, extending its shelf life.

In this version from Alma, a now-closed Dallas area Mexican restaurant, an otherwise classic tres leches cake recipe includes a fourth leche—whole milk—beaten into the sponge cake batter for good measure. The cake will absorb most of the rum-laced soak if you give it time, but if there’s any remaining sauce, spoon it over the top before you serve it.

This tres leches cake is delicious as is, but if you want to decorate it for a party, you could frost the top of the cake with sweetened whipped cream or gild it with sliced strawberries, mangoes, or kiwis.

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16 servings


Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan

cups (188 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for pan


Tbsp. baking powder


tsp. ground cinnamon


large eggs, separated, plus 3 large egg whites

cups (300 g) sugar


tsp. vanilla extract, divided


cup whole milk, divided

Soak and Assembly


cup heavy cream


cup evaporated skim milk


cup sweetened condensed milk


Tbsp. dark rum


tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Cake

    Step 1

    Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour bottom and sides of a glass 13×9″ baking dish. Whisk 1½ cups (188 g) all-purpose flour, 1 Tbsp. baking powder, and ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon in a medium bowl to combine.

    Step 2

    Beat the whites from 3 large eggs (reserve the yolks) plus 3 large egg whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, 7–8 minutes. Gradually beat in 1½ cups (300 g) sugar. Add 3 large egg yolks one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in 2 tsp. vanilla extract. Add one-third of the flour mixture, followed by ¼ cup whole milk. Repeat with ½ the remaining dry ingredients and the remaining ¼ cup whole milk. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat just to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.

    Step 3

    Bake 25 minutes, then reduce heat to 325° and continue baking until cake is golden brown and middle springs back when pressed, 20–25 minutes more. Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes.

  2. Soak and Assembly

    Step 4

    Whisk 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup evaporated skim milk, 1 cup sweetened condensed milk, 1 Tbsp. dark rum, and ½ tsp. vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Poke holes all over top of cake with a skewer or toothpick. Slowly drizzle half of the milk mixture over cake, letting liquid soak in before adding more. Let cake sit for 10 minutes.

    Step 5

    Invert a platter on top of cake. Lift rack and gently invert cake onto platter. Drizzle remaining sauce over. Spoon any liquid collected on sheet over cake.

    Do ahead: Tres leches cake can be made 2 days ahead; refrigerate, covered, in baking pan.

    Editor’s note: This tres leches cake recipe was first printed in our July 2012 issue. Head this way for more of our favorite cake recipes

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