Mexican Tres Leches Cake (pastel de tres leches) | Authentic Recipe

This Mexican tres leches cake (pastel de tres leches) is soft, moist, and so easy to make at home. The airy sponge cake is soaked in a creamy milk mixture and topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

Mexican tres leches cake in a pan with a portion removed.

About This Recipe

Mexican tres leches cake is a classic dessert very popular in Mexico and other Latin American countries. It consists of a soft and fluffy vanilla cake soaked with a sweet milk mixture and topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

The Spanish term tres leches mean “three milk” and it refers to the three different milk products used to soak the cake: evaporated milk, whole milk (or cream), and condensed milk.

This decadent dessert is known in Spanish as pastel de tres leches a is a favorite for birthdays and special occasions but is also served in many restaurants all over the country.

A portion of pastel de tres leches, aka tres leches cake, in a plate.

The Origin

Back in the 19th century, there was a popular cake recipe in Mexico that seemed to be a variation of the English trifle or the Italian tiramisù.

Mexico was highly influenced by Europe during the 19th century, so it’s not a surprise why those types of desserts became popular in the country.

The popular recipe in Mexico featured a cake soaked in wine and topped with cream custard, just the same way the two mentioned cakes are made.

When the Nestle Company opened its plants in Mexico back in the 1930s, as a form of marketing, they started to print a recipe for Tres Leches on the outside of the evaporated milk, cream, and condensed milk cans.

And so the popular Mexican tres leches cake recipe was easily available in many households, all over Latin America.

The Ingredients Needed

Important: In the recipe card below you can find the ingredients list with US cups and metric measurements. For better results, I recommend to use a kitchen scale.

For the sponge cake:

  • FLOUR. All-purpose flour, If you’d like to use cake flour just remember to omit the baking powder listed below.
  • SUGAR. As you probably noticed, there’s a lot of sugar involved, because, well…is a cake. Sugar helps to “airy” this cake, so no substitutes here.
  • MILK. Whole milk, 80 ml (about ⅓ cup), make sure it’s at room temperature.
  • OIL. I like to use oil in this recipe instead of butter (or sometimes nothing) as other recipes suggest. A neutral-flavored oil works well, like corn or sunflower oil.
  • EGGS. I used 6 medium eggs, if you want to use large eggs weigh them and make sure to use the total that the recipe calls.
  • BAKING POWDER. 2 teaspoons is all you need. If you rather use cake flour, omit the baking powder or use only 1/4 teaspoon.
  • LIME. This ingredient is optional and you can substitute it with lemon. You will need the juice and zest.
  • VANILLA. I use Mexican vanilla extract, but it can be swapped with vanilla paste or a vanilla pod.
Ingredients for Mexican tres leches cake displayed on a kitchen countertop and labeled with names.

For the milk mixture:

  • Whole milk. I like to use whole milk because is easier for the cake to absorb it than cream, but feel free to swap for heavy cream if you want.
  • Condensed milk. Use store-bought or make our homemade condensed milk.
  • Evaporated milk. Same as above, here’s our recipe for homemade leche evaporada.
  • Vanilla. Vanilla extract is easier to mix in.

How To Make Pastel de Tres Leches (step by step)

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C and grease a 9×13″ (22×33 cm) baking pan.

Sift the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Separate egg yolks and whites in two different mixing bowls. Set aside.

Separating egg yolks and whites in two bowls.

Add the sugar to the bowl with egg yolks and use a hand mixer or a stand mixer to beat them until you achieve a fluffy and yellow pale mixture.

Mixed egg yolks with sugar in a bowl.

Add lime zest and vanilla extract, and mix for a few seconds. Add flour and beat on low speed for 1 minute.

Collage of Mexican tres leches cake batter preparation.

Pour in milk, oil, and lime juice. Beat at low speed until there are no lumps in the batter. Set aside.

Tres leches cake batter in a mixing bowl.

Clean the beaters, then add salt to the whites eggs bowl and beat for 2 minutes at high speed or until stiff peaks form.

Egg whites sift peaks.

Add egg white mixture to the bowl with the batter and gently fold in with a spatula, just until everything is perfectly combined.

Collage of incorporating 3 leches cake batter and beaten whites.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and using a spatula, spread to even out the surface.

The tres leches cake batter in a baking pan and leveling with a spatula.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Place the cake on a cooling rack and let it cool down completely.

Baked sponge cake in a baking pan placed on a cooling rack.

Make the tres leches mixture and soak the cake.

In a large measuring cup or bowl pour the 3 types of milk. Mix well to combine.

Mixing milks in a large cup.

Pierce the surface of the cake with a fork. Then pour the milk mixture all over, making sure to pour it also near the edges.

Adding milk mixture over the sponge cake.

Cover with cling film and chill pastel de tres leches for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.

Make the topping & decorate

  • Pour the heavy cream into a mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes or until soft peaks form.
  • Spread the whipped cream over the cake.
  • Sprinkle the pastel de tres leches with a little bit of powdered cinnamon.
  • Place fresh strawberries or any fruit you prefer on top of the cake for decoration.
Authentic Mexican tres leches cake, aka pastel de tres leches, in a pan, decorated with whipping cream and fresh strawberries.

Useful Recipe Notes And Tips

  • When you’re incorporating the egg whites mixture into the batter, make sure to not overmix or the cake won’t be as fluffy as it’s supposed to be.
  • Lime helps a lot to hide the egg flavor (which I personally dislike in all sponge cakes). Try it, it also adds a fresh touch.
  • If you’re in a hurry and need to decorate the cake as soon as possible, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes to cool it down. If you don’t cool the cake, the cream will melt.

Recipe Variations

The authentic Mexican tres leches cake recipe calls for decoration with meringue and Marasquino cherries, but modern versions include other ingredients and toppings, such as…

  • Whipped cream topping.
  • Cream cheese frosting.
  • Plant-based milk (coconut, soy, almond).
  • Fresh berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc).
  • Tropical fruits (pineapple, mango, kiwi, etc).
  • Canned peaches or canned pineapple.

How To Store

Mexican tres leches cake stores nicely for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Transfer the leftovers into a glass container with a tight lid before storing them to prevent them from absorbing other food smells.

You can also freeze the sponge cake alone. Once cooled, wrap it tightly with 2-3 layers of cling film, then froze for up to 3 months.

When ready to make, thaw the cake overnight, make the milk mixture and proceed as instructed in the recipe.

FAQ’s

Why do they call it 3 leches?

Because the cake is soaked with three types of milk. Condensed, evaporated, and regular milk (or cream).

Can I use other types of milk?

Absolutely. To make Mexican tres leches cake you can use any plant-based milk such as almond, coconut, soy, etc. Make sure to use some plant-based cream, such as coconut cream, or the mixture will be too watery and the cake will become soggy.

What is the best substitute for evaporated milk?

You can use half and half as a substitute to make this Mexican tres leches cake or you mix one part of whole milk with one part of heavy cream too.

How long will this cake last?

Mexican tres leches cake can last up to 4 days in the fridge, but we recommend eating it within 2 days.

Can I make it ahead?

Yes, actually I strongly suggest making it at least one day ahead and leaving it in the fridge to soak all the milk mixture. You can also make only the cake 3 days prior, then soak the cake the next day and on the third day decorate it and eat it.

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Mexican Tres Leches Cake (pastel de tres leches)

author Maricruz
12
This Mexican Tres Leches Cake is deliciously soft, moist and so easy to make at home. This airy sponge cake is soaked in a creamy milk mixture and topped with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.
prep 30 minutes
cook 40 minutes
total 1 hour 10 minutes

Ingredients 

For the cake

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (1 cup) sugar
  • cup milk
  • ½ cup corn oil (or any other neutral flavored oil)
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 lime (zest & juice)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp salt

For the milk mixture

  • 1 ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14oz/414ml)
  • 1 can can evaporated milk (12oz/354ml)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For topping & garnish

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • fresh strawberries (or the fruit you prefer)
  • cinnamon powder

Instructions
 

  • Sift the flour and baking powder in a small bowl.
  • Separate egg yolks and whites in two different mixing bowls.
  • Add the sugar to the bowl with egg yolks and beat with a hand or stand mixer at high speed until fluffy.
  • Add lime zest and vanilla extract, and mix for a couple of seconds.
  • Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined.
  • Pour in milk, oil, and lime juice. Mix at low speed until there are no lumps in the batter.
  • Clean the beaters, then add salt to the whites eggs bowl and beat for 2 minutes at high speed or until stiff peaks form.
  • Add egg whites to the bowl with the batter and gently fold in with a spatula just until everything is perfectly combined.
  • Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and with the spatula spread to even out the surface.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Place the cake on a cooling rack and let it cool completely.

Make the 3 leches mixture and soak the cake

  • In a large measuring cup or bowl pour the evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk. Mix thoroughly to combine.
  • Pierce the surface of the cake with a fork. Then pour the milk mixture all over, making sure to pour it also near the edges.
  • Cover with cling film and chill preferably overnight or at least 6 hours.

Decorate

  • Place whipping cream, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla extract in a bowl and mix until soft peaks form.
  • Spread the whipped cream over the cake.
  • Sprinkle a little bit of cinnamon powder and decorate with halved strawberries.

Notes

  • When you’re incorporating the egg whites mixture into the batter, make sure to not overmix.
  • Lime helps a lot to hide the egg flavor.
  • If you’re in a hurry and need to decorate the cake as soon as possible, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes to cool it down. If you don’t cool the cake, the cream will melt.
Nutrition Information
Calories: 528kcal | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 0.04g | Cholesterol: 150mg | Sodium: 247mg | Potassium: 346mg | Fiber: 0.4g | Sugar: 42g | Vitamin A: 915IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 292mg | Iron: 1mg
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Recipe Rating




19 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I made it two daya ago. The milk mixture was a little bit too sweet for my taste. But the cake was amazing 😻

    Next time I’ll try without condensed milk as you suggest :)

  2. 5 stars
    Wow this was delicious! I made it exactly as a recipe stated…fantastic! I already shared this recipe and I will make again 100%.

  3. 5 stars
    This is so perfectly milky and delicious! My first time making a tres leches cake and won’t be my last, that’s for sure.

  4. 5 stars
    This is one of my favorite cake recipes! I’ve made it several times and everyone always raves about it!

  5. 5 stars
    This came out very good, I had a couple of things I tried to do differently but later realized that this change wasn’t for the best, I will be making another one!!