Recipe: Caribbean Tres Leches Cake

A proper Tres Leches cake is thirsty. Really thirsty. Each dry, pocket of cake crumb soaks up more milk than a stray kitten. Our version soaks up a little over 3 cups (!) of liquid as it sits in the fridge over night. While the texture is moist, a good Tres Leches cake will never be soggy or mushy. It will – against all odds – retain a discernible crumb in spite of the milk within.

NOTE: See my recipe and associated feature story about Global Table Adventure in the Tulsa World.

They probably learn about this cake in engineering school. If not, they should.

Tres Leches cakes are primarily thought of as a Latin American/Mexican dessert.

Q: What’s in the three milk mixture?

A: It depends…

Traditional Central American Tres Leches Cakes:

- sweetened condensed milk
– evaporated milk
– heavy cream

Drunken Tres Leches Cakes (Pastel Borracho):

- water
– rum/brandy
– sugar

Caribbean Tres Leches Cakes:

- coconut milk
– evaporated milk
– heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk
– sometimes rum


Makes one 11×13 cake

Are you looking for the perfect cake for your next potluck? One that would wow even Cruella De Ville? Or what about the Grinch? I’ve got news – one bite of this ultra moist cake and everyone will love you. They’ll feel like they’re lounging on a beach as they soak up the flavors of the Caribbean  – coconut milk and rum. Try not to pass out after the first bite. It may all be gone when you wake up!

NOTES: Please do not store this cake on the counter. It must be refrigerated. While easy to make, it does need an overnight “bath” in the three milks, so plan your time accordingly. (If you are in a pinch you could soak the cake for 2 hours, but I don’t recommend it. This is not enough time for the milks to evenly distribute in the crumb… It will be wetter on the bottom of the cake than it is on the top)


6 eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk

For the milk mixture:

12 fl oz can evaporated milk (1 1/2 cups)
5.5 fl oz can coconut milk (1/2 cup)
1 cup heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk (heavy cream is mild flavored, S.C.Milk adds sweet, traditional flavor)
1 shot rum


2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar

1/4-1/2 cup shredded coconut, toasted
or maraschino cherries
or other fruit, such as blueberries


Preheat the oven to 350F. Separate eggs into their components – sunshine balls and goop. I’m partial to the sunshine balls.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat egg whites on medium until soft peaks form.

Stream in sugar until stiff peaks form. If I were a superhero, this would be my weapon:

Incorporate balls of sunshine, one at a time.

Add vanilla extract to milk. Alternate between incorporating milk mixture and flour mixture into the egg mixture, about 1/3 at a time.

The mixer should be on lowish speeds. Scrape down the sides once or twice.

Pour into greased 11×13 baking pan.

Bake for 35-40 min. Let cool for at least 30 minutes.

For the milk mixture:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the three milks and rum. Make sure you break up all the coconut milk lumps, if there are any. Lumps will not soak into cake.

Using a fork or toothpick, prick holes all over the top of the cooled cake.

Pour milk mixture evenly across the top, cover and refrigerate for about 8 hours (you can squeak by with just 2 hours but it won’t be as good).

The milk will soak in overnight and virtually disappear.

I promise.

For the topping:

The next day whip up the cream with sugar until spreadable. Then smear it all over the top of the cake.

I love whipped cream. To be fair, you could also use meringue frosting which is traditional in some regions. Personally, I think the cake is sweet enough – a little whipped cream finishes it off nicely.

Slice and serve.

Look, all that milk soaked in! Amazing.

Oh, you could also top it with some fresh prettiness…

I topped my slice with toasted, shredded coconut. Then, I ate until I had coconut milk coming out of my ears. It was wonderful. I plan on doing it again, very soon.

Eat immediately.

Refrigerate leftovers.

Eat leftovers for breakfast.

Burst with joy.

Opt In Image
Hungry for more?
Be notified when National Geographic releases my memoir.

Simply fill in your details below.


  1. There’s a measuring spoon for a “pinch”? I want one.

    I’ve been lurking for a while, enjoying my subscription, and I have to say – from frog legs to Tres Leches Cakes and everything in between, you always make it look and sound wonderful – the photography on the blog is terrific, and so are your posts. Thank you for the ongoing adventure!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Thank you for the encouraging words, Tracey! I’m so glad to have you on the Adventure. Keep in touch and happy cooking! :)

  2. I have always wanted to try tres leeches cake and this recipe sounds PERFECT!!!

  3. elisa waller says:

    all I can say is in the words of The Who: I want it… I want it!

  4. I have an abundance of 2% milk in my house right now and some rum. Is there any way to turn regular milk into something resembling the kind of milk necessary to pour over the cake? Cooking it down or adding sugar or something?

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I hate to say it, but you really need the other milks. 2% would be too thin and I think you would be unhappy with the results. For sure

  5. One of my friends made this today from your recipe and brought it into work and her co-workers were just about literally fighting to get seconds. She saved me a piece and it was AMAZING!!!! I could eat this all day every day.

  6. bahahahahaha!! balls of sunshine XD love it! also love the sound of this recipe, gonna make it right now!

  7. Just made this tonight for a potluck, and it received rave reviews! Thanks for the delicious recipe.

  8. I made this last week for bridge club – and it turned out to be oh-so-good – and much easier than I thought.
    As soon as I get through patting myself on the back, I’ll get a springform pan and try the German Tree Cake.

  9. Made it exactly how you did after serving picadillo tonight for girls’ night! It was a hit! I topped it with toasted almonds since the picadillo called for them too! Thanks!

  10. Ricardo Ramirez Saad says:

    A variation to this that I make with certain frecuency:

    Split the cake in half, and add a mixture of prune puree made of Prunes, a bit of rum, nutmeg, and all spice,
    Then follow all the same steps sasha mentions.

    Its great recipe.

  11. I made this today for a dinner party — it’s in the ‘fridge now waiting for its whipped cream topping. I debated back and forth about whether to go for the heavy cream or condensed milk — they’re such extremes. One is VERY sweet and the other isn’t sweet at all. I decided to go with the condensed milk, but I’m wishing I’d done half and half. I’m a little nervous that it’s going to be sickeningly sweet. Which way did you make it, and what did you think of the results?

    • Sasha Martin says:

      You really can’t go wrong! I tried both and, while they are very different, they were both delicious. :)

  12. Tres leches cake is forever on my to-do list, and I never got to it, yet (though I bought the evaporated milk already). This is a very tempting recipe.

Speak Your Mind