Celebrate your next special occasion with a tres leches cake! This extra moist sponge cake is soaked in a creamy milk mixture, then topped with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. You will love how easy it is to make this traditional Mexican dessert from scratch.

square slice of tres leches cake on a plate with whipped cream topping and strawberries.


 

If you’re wondering whether you will like tres leches cake, I’m here to tell you, “yes.” It’s a sponge cake that is soaked in a three different types of milk, then topped with homemade whipped cream and strawberries! The texture is super moist and creamy (but not soggy) while the flavor is rich and slightly sweet. It’s simply delicious!

Why You Will Love This Recipe

  • Easy to make ahead of time. This poke cake needs time to soak up the milk mixture. I like to make it the day before and let it sit overnight.
  • Perfect for celebrations. Serve this cake at your next party! It’s a great dessert for Cinco de Mayo, summer barbecues or birthdays (even better if it’s a quinceañera!)
  • Delicious taste and texture. The cake has a light, custard texture that is creamy and flavorful. It pairs well with fruit toppings, like strawberries!
  • Authentic Mexican recipe. I adapted this recipe from a close family friend who is from Puebla, Mexico. She said the most popular tres leches cakes in Mexico are made with strawberries, peaches or coconut!

Ingredient Notes

bowls of ingredients to make tres leches cake.
  • Eggs: Separate six eggs into yolks and whites in two separate bowls. It’s easier to separate the eggs when they are cold, then let them come to room temperature.
  • Milk: Use whole milk for the most flavorful and rich taste.
  • Evaporated Milk: This recipe calls for one 12 ounce can for the sauce. Be sure to shake it well before opening.
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk: You will need one 14 ounce can to make the sauce.
  • Rum: For a kick of flavor, use your favorite spiced rum. See recipe variations for substitutions.
  • Heavy Cream: This is used to make the whipped cream topping. Make sure it’s cold so it holds its peaks!
  • Fresh Strawberries: Toss some thinly sliced strawberries with sugar for a delicious fruit topping.

Recipe Variations

Try different toppings. I love strawberries, but any type of fruit will pair well with tres leches cake. Some popular toppings include peaches, pineapple, bananas, berry compote or toasted coconut.

Add more strawberry flavor. Omit the rum and substitute with 3 Tablespoons strawberry syrup to make a strawberry milk mixture. You can also top the cake with strawberry frosting instead of whipped cream.

Substitute the rum with cognac, sherry, Kahlua or Bailey’s. For a nonalcoholic option, substitute with 2 Tbs espresso, 1 Tbs vanilla or simply omit the rum without substituting.

Make it a chocolate cake! Replace 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. Garnish with chocolate whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Use a different pan. To make a layered tres leches cake, use two 9-inch round pans and bake at 350 F for 25 to 35 minutes. For a mini cake, cut the recipe in half and bake it in one 9-inch round pan.

How to Make Tres Leches Cake

photo collage demonstrating how to make tres leches cake in a mixing bowl with a hand mixer.
  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  2. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. With mixer running, slowly add sugar and mix until glossy.
  3. Add egg yolks, one at a time, then mix in the vanilla. Mix on low for 3 minutes.
  4. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk. Start and finish with the dry ingredients.
photo collage demonstrating how to make sauce for  tres leches cake and strawberry topping.
  1. Transfer batter to a 9×13 baking pan and bake at 325 F for 40 to 45 minutes. Let the cake cool slightly, about 20 minutes.
  2. Make the tres leches sauce. Mix together evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, cinnamon and rum (if using).
  3. Poke the cake with a skewer or fork. Pour milk mixture over the top until soaked through. Let the cake sit at room temperature for half an hour before transferring to the refrigerator to chill for at least 3 hours.
  4. Make the toppings. Stir together sliced strawberries and sugar in a bowl. Set aside. Beat cold heavy cream and vanilla until thick. Mix in vanilla. Spread whipped cream over cake, slice and serve with strawberries on top.

Expert Tips

Use room temperature eggs, but separate them when they are still cold (it’s easier!) Place the egg whites and yolks in separate bowls, then let them come to room temperature (about 30 minutes). The whites will be easier to whip into stiff peaks and the yolks will mix more evenly into the batter.

Whip the eggs whites until stiff peaks form. This is essential for achieving a fluffy sponge cake!

Let the cake cool slightly before adding the milk mixture. You still want the cake warm, but not hot. Otherwise it will lose its structure when the milk is added. Don’t overdo the milk mixture. If it begins to pool excessively, discard the remaining milk mixture or reserve it for serving with the cake.

Refrigerate the cake for at least three hours before serving. This will allow the tres leches mixture to fully soak into the cake. It’s best if left to soak overnight in the refrigerator.

tres leches cake in a 9x13 pan next to slices of cake on small plates.

Make Ahead and Storage Tips

Make ahead: Th cake may be covered stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before serving. Whipped cream and strawberry topping may be made up to 3 days in advance. Give both a good stir before assembling and serving.

Storage: The cake will last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It’s best when served the day after it is prepared and it had time to sit overnight.

Freezing: Tres leches cake can be frozen for up to 3 months. However, I do not suggest freezing it with the whipped cream and strawberry topping as it won’t defrost well. Before assembling, cut the cake into squares. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. When ready to serve, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then top with fresh whipped cream and strawberry topping.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you serve tres leches cake?

The cake is meant to be served cold with whipped cream topping and fruit. However, you can also serve it with frosting and other various garnishes.

What can I use instead of sweetened condensed milk?

Make a substitute by mixing together 1 cup heavy cream with 1/4 cup sugar. Use as directed in the recipe. Another option is using canned cream of coconut instead.

Why is my tres leches cake soggy?

It’s possible it was over-baked and can’t absorb the milk properly. Alternatively, the cake was too hot when the milk was poured over causing the crumbs to disintegrate. Finally, if the cake is at room temperature too long it will get soggy.

Why is my tres leches cake not absorbing milk?

If the milk isn’t absorbed after a few hours, then it’s likely that your cake is too dense. It needs an airy, spongey texture to absorb the milk. Avoid over-mixing the batter in order to keep it light and fluffy.

square sllce of tres leches cake with strawberries and whipped cream topping.

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square slice of tres leches cake on a plate with whipped cream topping and strawberries.

Get the Recipe: Tres Leches Cake with Strawberries

Looking for a dessert that's perfect for any occasion? Try this deliciously creamy tres leches cake with strawberries.
5 (15 ratings)

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 cups (250 g) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (120 ml) whole milk

Sauce

  • One 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • One 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup (120 ml) whole milk, (or heavy cream)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons dark rum, optional

Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup (240 ml) cold whipping cream
  • 1 ½ teaspoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Strawberry Topping

  • 1 pint (about 2 cups) fresh strawberries, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar

Instructions 

Cake

  • Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease 9×13 glass or ceramic baking dish. Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), beat the egg whites until stiff. Continue beating and gradually add the sugar until the sugar dissolves and the whites are thick and shiny. With the mixer on low, add egg yolks, one at a time, then vanilla.
  • Mix on low speed for 3 minutes. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk until the batter is smooth.
  • Transfer the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 325° F for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan on a rack to lukewarm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

Sauce

  • In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk all the sauce ingredients together.
  • After the cake is cooled a bit, but is still slightly warm, poke the top all over with a skewer or fork. Be generous with making the holes.
  • Gradually spoon the sauce over the cake and leave it to soak 30 to 40 minutes at room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.

Toppings and Assembly

  • When ready to serve, prepare the toppings. Place sliced strawberries in a bowl and toss to combine. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes so strawberries release their juices.
  • Make the whipped cream. In a cold metal bowl with an electric mixer, whip the cream and sugar to soft or stiff peaks, as preferred. Mix in vanilla.
  • Cut the cake in squares and serve cold topped with sweetened whipped cream and strawberries.

Notes

Egg whites: It’s essential that stiff peaks form in order to make a light and airy texture in the cake. The easiest way to do this is to use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment.
Rum: If you prefer to not use alcohol, omit the rum. Alternatively, you can substitute it with 2 Tablespoons espresso or 1 Tbs vanilla extract.
Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Freeze cake, unassembled, for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator before adding toppings and serving.
Serving: 1slice, Calories: 474kcal, Carbohydrates: 71g, Protein: 11g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 9g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 0.01g, Cholesterol: 128mg, Sodium: 217mg, Potassium: 438mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 54g, Vitamin A: 624IU, Vitamin C: 25mg, Calcium: 256mg, Iron: 2mg

Adapted from a recipe shared by family friend, Alma Lord, and the cookbook 1000 Mexican Recipes.

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