The Best Tres Leches Cake Recipe

This tres leches cake features a light sponge cake soaked in a delicious milk syrup, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a layer of the easiest homemade caramel sauce. This is definitely a crowd-pleasing dessert that’s great for parties and potlucks!

tres leches cake

What Is Tres Leches?

Tres leches is a traditional Latin American dessert that you’ll find in nearly all Mexican restaurants and bakeries. It’s made up of a sponge cake that soaked in a milk syrup which, as the name suggests(“tres leches” means three milks) , contains three types of milk- whole milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Although the cake is saturated in liquid, it’s not dense, in fact, tres leches is known for it light and airy texture.

Today I’m sharing a Tres leches recipe that’s a bit different. It’s a Turkish Trec leches or as they like to call it in Turkey, Trileçe. I’ve also changed up the milk syrup recipe a bit, I actually removed the evaporated milk entirely because it’s quite hard to find in some places, but guess what the cake still tastes just as amazing and decadent.

What You Need To Make Tres Leches Cake

Ingredients for the sponge cake

There are four main components in this cake, the sponge the milk syrup, the whipped cream and the caramel sauce. It may sound like a lot, but all of these are made with simple refrigerator and pantry staples. Which is the reason why I excluded the evaporated milk, I did however use condensed milk but reduced the usual amount and added sugar instead. If condensed milk isn’t easily available for you, or you don’t have any then head down here where I talk about a way of making this delicious tres leches cake without condensed milk!

Ingredients for milk syrup

Ingredients for caramel sauce.

Whipped Cream

For this cake I used a cream Chantilly, which is basically whipped cream in powdered form, you just add cold milk and whip it up. You can also make fresh whipped cream by beating some heavy whipping cream with sugar or use any store bought whipped cream. You can find the amount of heavy whipping cream you need in the full written recipe below.

How To Make Tres Leches Cake

The fist thing we’re going to do is make the sponge cake.

Step 1: Beat the egg whites with some of the sugar until stiff peaks form. Next mix together the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar. Add in the oil, water, and vanilla.

Step 2: Sift in the dry ingredients and give it a mix. Add some of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and mix gently. Add the all of the yolk mixture into the whipped egg white and fold gently until combined. Bake and let it cool. I used a 10 x 10 inch baking dish (25 x 25 cm).

While the cake cools. make the milk syrup and caramel sauce. Also whip up your cream if you’re using fresh cream.

Step 3: In a bowl mix together the milk syrup ingredients and set aside.

Step 4: Melt the sugar on medium-low making sure not to stir until it’s fully melted. Add in the butter and heavy cream and cook until slightly thick. Transfer into a jug to make it easy to pour on the cake.

Step 5: Whip up cooled heavy whipping cream with some sugar or whip up the cream Chantilly with cold milk following the instructions on the box.

Now it’s time to assemble….

Step 6: Poke holes in the cooled cake using a skewer, make sure to poke holes all over the cake so the syrup can seep throughout the entire cake.

Step 7: Pour on the milk syrup, and use all of it! It might seem like too much but the cake is gonna soak it all up.

Step 8: Add on the whipped cream and spread it out evenly as possible. Remember to save some for decorating the cake at the end!

Step 9: Pour on the cooled caramel sauce and carefully spread it out. Use the leftover whipped cream to decorate the cake by making lines and using a skewer to create the designs (check video to see how I do it). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving for the best results.

Storing The Tres Leches Cake

You could make tres leches cake 1-2 days in advance. I usually make it a night before so the cake has plenty of time for the milk to soak up. This tres leches cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Freezing the cake

If you’re planning to freeze the cake it’s best to add the milk syrup, whipped cream and caramel topping after thawing the cake. Wrap the sponge cake in plastic wrap then in aluminum foil and freeze for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator and add the syrup and toppings.

Tres Leches Cake

Pro Tips

  • Measure the dry and wet ingredients properly. For the flour spoon it into a measuring cup and level it using the back of a spoon.
  • Cold eggs are easier into whites and yolks, so separate them and then let them come to room temperature before using.
  • Use a spatula to fold the egg whites and egg yolk mixture. Once fully incorporated stop mixing, do not overmix otherwise your cake will deflate. This is because the cake relies on the volume of the eggs to rise.
  • Rest the cake for at least an hour or 30 minutes if you’re really short on time. Resting is key to get the perfect tres leches cake.
  • Baking in a glass or ceramic baking dish is best to get a nice rise on the cake, plus you could serve it just as it is.

FAQ’s

Can I make this cake without condensed milk?

Surprisingly yes! Although it’s best to use condensed milk I actually found a way to make it without condensed milk. All you have to do is increase the amount of sugar in the milk syrup and add a few tablespoons of heavy cream to thicken it up. I saw this on a Turkish trileçe recipe on YouTube, it was from the channel Turkish Food Travel.

Can I make this without the caramel layer?

Of course, you could just add the whipped cream and top it with some fresh berries or leave it as is. There are no rule so do what you prefer.

Check out my YouTube Channel for detailed recipe tutorials! Made one of my recipes? Tag me on Instagram, I would love to see your creations!

Recipe Card

The Best Tres Leches Cake

This tres leches cake features a light sponge cake soaked in a delicious milk syrup, topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a layer of the easiest homemade caramel sauce. This is definitely a crowd-pleasing dessert that’s great for parties and potlucks!

Prep Time: 30 min

Cook Time: 30min

Total Time: 3 hours (includes rest time)

Cuisine: Mexican / Turkish

Course: Dessert

Calories: 481kcal

Servings: 10

Ingredients

For sponge cake

  • 4 eggs, separated into whites and yolks (room temp.)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 tbsp. water
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

For milk syrup

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 4-5 tbsp. granulated sugar

For whipped cream

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla *optional

Or use store bought whipped cream or cream Chantilly.

For the caramel sauce

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 heaped tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 200ml heavy cream
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

For Sponge Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius (320 degrees Fahrenheit) , and grease and line a 10 x 10 inch baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized bowl or a stand mixer whip up the egg whites with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form, 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolk and the rest of the sugar(1/4 cup) until pale, 2 minutes. Add in the oil, water, and vanilla and mix until combined.
  4. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until combined.
  5. Add 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and gently fold using a spatula until combined. Add all of the yolk mixture into the egg whites and fold until fully combined. DO NOT overmix.
  6. Pour the batter onto the baking tray and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. While the cake cools prepare the rest of the components.

For the Milk Syrup

  1. In a bowl mix together the milk, condensed milk and sugar. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved. Set aside.

For Caramel Sauce

  1. Place a pan on medium-low heat, spread the sugar on the pan and let it melt without stirring in between, If the sugar is browning too fast reduce the heat to low. This part takes some time, so don’t increase the heat, it will burn the sugar!
  2. Once the sugar is fully melted and is a nice golden color, add in the butter and mix.
  3. Now add in the heavy cream and keep mixing until all the sugar dissolves into it. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  4. The consistency should not be too thick as the caramel will thicken as it cools, so turn of the heat once the caramel is slightly runny.
  5. Transfer to a jug to make it easy to pour onto the cake. Cool completely.

For Whipped Cream

  1. In a cold bowl (place bowl in freezer for 3-5 minutes) beat the heavy cream with the sugar until stiff peaks form. Or use boxed Cream Chantilly (I used one box) or store bough whipped cream.

Assembly

  1. Poke hole into the cooled cake using a skewer or toothpick. Make sure to get every corner.
  2. Pour on the milk syrup, make sure to use it all. It may look like it’s too much but it’ll get soaked up by the sponge cake.
  3. Add on the whipped cream and spread it out evenly with a spatula or spoon. This is where you would use an offset spatula if you’ve got one. Remember to save at least 2 tablespoons of whipped cream for decorating.
  4. Pour on the cooled caramel sauce and carefully spread it out to cover the entire cake, add horizontal lines of cream all across the cake (use a piping or zip lock bag). Use a skewer to drag the lines in opposite directions to make a beautiful design.
  5. Refrigerate the tres leches cake for 2 hours or overnight before serving. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 481.34kcal

Total Fat: 25.18g

Carbs: 56.1g

Protein: 9.11g

Sodium: 213.95mg

Fiber: 0.34g

Sugars: 46.45g

** Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more. **

Watch Video Tutorial

Tres Leches Cake Recipe Video Tutorial

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