Tres leches cake! Made with soft, buttery vanilla cake soaked in a sweet and creamy 3 milk blend, topped with a cloud of whipped cream!

Tres leches cake baked in a small jar, topped with whipped cream.

So, last week I joined my good friend Joanne for lunch at one of her favorite Mexican restaurants. It was a perfect day to enjoy that kind of food- warm, sunny, and breezy. They had the windows opened way up, so it almost felt like we were eating outside. We had every kind of taco under the sun, along with guacamole and 2 kinds of salsa, street corn fritters and spicy pickled cucumbers. It was fantastic in every way, and when it came time to order dessert we were primed and ready.

We had some difficulty narrowing it down, so we ended up getting key lime pie AND tres leches cake.

Now I have to tell you, I’ve never really had the desire to try tres leches cake. To me, it just sounded kinda blah. Wet cake? I dunno.

But I had it on my bucket list, so I decided to give it a try.

O. M. G. !!!

It completely blew me away. It was SO incredible. They served it in jars, and it was like a soft custard or an extra creamy bread pudding, with bits of buttery cake running all throughout and a creamy, almost caramel-like taste. It had a thick layer of whipped cream on top, drizzled with dulce de leche and topped with a sprinkling of toasted coconut.

I have never been more wrong about anything in my life. I’m begging you, if you have been reluctant to try tres leches cake, don’t put it off for another second!!

After eating that scrumptious dessert, I knew I had to try my own hand at making it. And I really wanted to get it done in time for Cinco de Mayo!

So here it is. It’s a dead ringer for what Joanne and I swooned over that day.

If you’re throwing a party, you’ve got to make this for dessert. Add it to your menu, along with my favorite guacamole recipe, these classic margaritas, and a big plate of crispy churros!

Tres leches cake with whipped cream in a small jar with a text overlay above reading "Tres Leches Cake."

WHAT IS TRES LECHES CAKE?

Tres leches means “three milks” in Spanish, and it gets its name from the 3 kinds of milks that get poured over the soft, buttery cake.

It’s pronounced like “trace lay-chase.”

They make it all over Latin America, and it’s a perfect dessert for a spring or summer party. Serve it chilled, with lots of whipped cream on top. It’s just so creamy-dreamy and delicious!

HOW TO MAKE TRES LECHES CAKE

Since the dessert Joanne and I enjoyed was served in jars, I decided to make mine that way too.

I think it works out well because it’s individually portioned and the cake can sit in that glorious milky soak, and just be scooped out with a spoon. But if you prefer to make it as a sheet cake, you can totally do that. There’s more info on that below.

For the cake, you’ll need:

  • Flour
  • Brown Sugar
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Egg
  • Sour Cream
  • Milk
  • Vanilla

The cake is basically just a slight tweak of my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe.

This recipe is all about the toppings, so for those you’ll also need:

  • Condensed Milk
  • Evaporated Milk
  • Half and Half
  • Sweetened Whipped Cream
And for garnishes, I highly recommend topping your cakes with:

THE CAKE

Start by making the cake.

Mixing bowl containing dry ingredients for making tres leches cake.

Put the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a big bowl and stir to combine them.

Next, work in the soft butter. Just beat it together for about a minute, until the mixture resembles damp sand.

Dry ingredients and butter for tres leches cake.

Then, add in the egg. Once it’s incorporated, it will be like a really stiff, almost dough-like batter.

Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, then add the sour cream, milk, and vanilla.

Tres leches cake batter with sour cream, milk, and vanilla.

Beat the batter for about a minute on medium-high speed, just to aerate it a bit and build the cake’s structure.

Tres leches cake batter.

Then just spoon it into the jars. I used 4-ounce mason jars, but you could also use the low, 8-ounce wide mouth kind. If you do, you’ll need to bake them for an additional 5 minutes, and you’ll get half as many.

Tres leches cake batter in individual jars.

Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean, then cool them slightly and pierce them all over with a skewer.

Piercing tres leches cake with a skewer.

THE TOPPINGS

Now for the tres leches milk mixture.

Pouring evaporated milk into a measuring cup for tres leches cake.

Whisk the condensed milk, evaporated milk, and half and half together.

Condensed milk, evaporated milk, and half and half for making tres leches cake.

Pour this mixture over the warm cakes. At first, it will seem like there is WAY too much liquid, but after a few minutes it will really soak in.

Pouring milk mixture over tres leches cakes.

Chill everything down nice and cold, then layer on the whipped cream. So tempting!!

Topping tres leches cake with whipped cream.

CAN TRES LECHES CAKE BE MADE IN A DIFFERENT SIZED PAN?

As I mentioned above, these cakes can be made in individual 4-ounce jars, or in 8-ounce jars that are perfect for sharing.

You can also bake it as a sheet cake, in a 9×9 inch square pan. Just keep an eye on the bake time, as it may need to be adjusted slightly. You’ll know it’s done baking when a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean.

Tres leches cake baked in a jar with a gold spoon and a linen napkin.

CAN TRES LECHES CAKE BE MADE AHEAD

Not only can it be made ahead, but it SHOULD be made ahead. The longer this cake sits, the better it gets. And it’s so nice to enjoy it ice cold. So summery and refreshing!

SHOULD TRES LECHES CAKE BE REFRIGERATED?

Because it contains half and half, it’s best for this cake to be kept refrigerated. It’s ok to leave it out on your dessert table for a few hours, but any leftovers should be tightly wrapped and kept cold.

HOW LONG DOES TRES LECHES CAKE LAST?

These tres leches cakes will keep in the fridge for a week or so. But I honestly doubt you’ll have them around for that long! They’re so scrumptious I’m sure they’ll all be gobbled up in a heartbeat!

Several individual tres leches cakes baked in glass jars.

Definitely think about making this tres leches cake for your next summer party! It’s perfect for Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, Mother’s or Father’s Day, or any kind of warm-weather gathering!


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5 from 2 votes
Tres leches cake baked in a small jar, topped with whipped cream.
Tres Leches Cake
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Chill Time
2 hrs
Total Time
45 mins
 

Tres leches cake! Made with soft, buttery vanilla cake soaked in a sweet and creamy 3 milk blend, topped with a cloud of whipped cream!    

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: authentic tres leches cake recipe, how to make tres leches cake, tres leches cake, tres leches cake recipe
Servings: 14
Calories: 301 kcal
Ingredients
For the vanilla cake
For the tres leches mixture
For the garnishes
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped until stiff with 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup dulce de leche, approximately (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons shredded coconut, toasted* (optional)
Instructions
To make the vanilla cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and lightly mist 14 4-ounce mason jars* with non-stick spray.

  2. Place the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. 

  3. Beat in the soft butter on medium-low speed, for about 1 minute or until the mixture resembles damp sand. 

  4. Beat in the egg on medium-low speed, until completely incorporated (about 1 minute).

  5. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, and add the sour cream, milk, and vanilla.

  6. Beat on medium-high speed for one minute, to aerate the batter and build the cake's structure.  

  7. Transfer the batter to the prepared jars, and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean.  

  8. Cool completely, then pour the tres leches mixture over the cakes, chill for 2 hours, and top with whipped cream, dulce de leche, and toasted coconut.  

To make the tres leches mixture
  1. Whisk the condensed milk, evaporated milk, and half & half together in a large measuring cup. 

Recipe Notes

*To toast the coconut, cook it in a small skillet (dry), stirring, until it becomes brown.

Nutrition Facts
Tres Leches Cake
Amount Per Serving
Calories 301 Calories from Fat 135
% Daily Value*
Fat 15g23%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Cholesterol 57mg19%
Sodium 209mg9%
Potassium 253mg7%
Carbohydrates 36g12%
Sugar 27g30%
Protein 6g12%
Vitamin A 475IU10%
Vitamin C 1.3mg2%
Calcium 189mg19%
Iron 0.8mg4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.