Tres Leches Cake


Chef Klaus Tenbergen
Juliet G. Greene



Tres Leches means three milks and gets its name from the three different kinds of milk added to finish the cake. It is a popular dessert in many Latin American countries. Pastel Tres Leches (“three-milk cake”) appeared in Mexico perhaps a generation ago. It swept through the social scene and soon became the thing to serve at fancy parties. A cake soaked in three kinds of milk and most often topped with billows of meringue, sweetened heavy whipping cream, fresh fruit, or a combination thereof. It is sweet and insanely rich. Nobody knows where this confection came from. Mexican cooking authority Maria Dolores Torres Yzabal (the co-author of The Mexican Gourmet cookbook) thinks it might have originated in a Mexico City bakery whose name is now lost. In her cookbook “The Taste of Mexico,” Patricia Quintana says that it first appeared in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. To complicate matters further, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans swear the cake is native to their countries. One pet theory is that it came from a promotional recipe once distributed in Latin America, perhaps on cans of evaporated milk. This is believed because it was thought that locally produced milk was not as safe or as good as canned milk, a luxury item. While there are many versions out there, the following formula is an authentic version from my Mexican co-worker Hector Martinez.


Quintana, Patricia. The Taste of Mexico. New York: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 1986. 

Yzabal, Maria Dolores Torres, Shelton Wiseman, and Jose N. Iturriaga. The Mexican Gourmet: Authentic Ingredients and Traditional Recipes from the Kitchens of Mexico. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, 1995.

Hints and Tricks of the Trade

Tres Leches Cake is a fairly simple dessert to prepare however there are a few things to keep in mind in order to achieve the best result.

  • When mixing both the egg white and egg yolk mixtures be careful not to over-mix. The egg white mixture should be mixed to soft peaks and the egg yolks should be mixed to a pale yellow and fluffy consistency. If either is over-mixed, this will cause the cake to rise too much and then collapse in the middle when cooling.

  • Make sure you bake the cakes fully. Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake to check that the batter is completely cooked, but most importantly feel the center of the cake to make sure that it is firm. If the cake is not fully baked, the center of the cake will cave in when you pour the milk over it.

  • Let the cake soak for at least three hours to absorb all of the milk. If you do not let it soak, parts of the cake may not be completely soaked by the milk. The entire cake should be saturated by the liquid for the best result.
  • Ingredients:

    Ingredients Cups /Tbl spoons Ounces Grams/Millimeters True %
    Eggs 8 ea 24.0 oz
    (10.0 oz yolks, 14.0 oz whites)
    400.0 g
    (115.0 g yolks, 285.0 g whites)
    Cream of Tartar 1/3 teaspoon 1/18 oz 1.5 g 0.05%
    Sugar ¾ cup 5.0 oz 145.0 g 5.30%
    Pastry Flour 1 ¼ cup 5.0 oz 145.0 g 5.30%
    Baking Powder 2 ½ teaspoonsl 0.5 oz 15.0 g 0.55%
    Media Crema 2 (7.6 oz) cans 15.2 oz 430.9 ml 15.75%
    Condensed Milk 2 (14 oz) cans 28.0 oz 793.8 ml 29.01%
    Evaporated Milk 2 (12 oz) cans 24.0 oz 680.4 ml 24.87%
    Vanilla Extract
    2 teaspoons
    1/3 oz
    9.5 ml 0.35%
    Dark Rum
    ½ cup
    4.0 oz
    115.0 ml 4.20%
    Total n/a 78.1 oz 1942.3 g/ml 100.00 %

    Food Cost Analysis:

    Ingredients Recipe Quantity Unit Cost Recipe Cost
    Eggs 8.00 ea $0.06/egg
    Cream of Tartar .05 oz $0.42/oz $0.02
    Sugar 5.00 oz $0.02/oz $0.10
    Pastry Flour 5.00 oz $.01/oz $0.05
    Baking Powder 0.50 oz $0.06/oz $0.03
    Media Crema 2 (7.6 oz) cans $0.86/can $1.72
    Condensed Milk 2 (14 oz) cans $2.06/can $4.12
    Evaporated Milk 2 (12 oz) cans $0.80/can $1.60
    Vanilla Extract
    0.33 oz
    Dark Rum
    115.00 ml
    Total Cost $10.71


    Total Cost: $10.71
    Total Yield: 2 cakes (20 slices)
    Size of Portion: 1 slice
    Cost per Slice: $0.54
    Selling Price: $2.50
    Food Cost %: 21.60%

    Nutritional Analysis:

    Tools and Equpment Needed:

    1. 2 Genoise Pans (bottom
    of pan measuring 7 inches)
    2. Bowl Scraper
    3. Metal Spatula
    4. Timer
    5. Pastry Brush
    6. Blender
    7. Scale
    8. Sifter
    9. Rubber Spatula

    10. Toothpick
    11. Measuring Cups
    12. Measuring Spoons
    13. Table Mixer
    14. Whisk Attachment
    15. Ladle
    16. Scissors
    17. French Knife
    18. Parchment Paper
    19. Mixing Bowl


    Step by Step Instructions: 2 Cakes

    Getting Started

    •  Preheat oven to 350ºF (176?C). Lightly butter 2x7 inch genoise pans (pans measure 7 inch diameter on bottom with 8.25 inch diameter from rim to rim) with clarified butter. 

    •  Dust pan with flour and bang pan on table to remove any excess flour.

    •  Clean mixing bowl well with soap and hot water and rinse with cold water, let air dry (it is important to have a clean bowl).  

    Making the Three Milks Mixture

    2 cans (7.6 oz each) Nestle Media Crema (table cream)
    2 cans (12 oz each) Nestle Carnation Evaporated Milk
    2 cans (14 oz each) Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
    (Do not refrigerate cans before use)
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    ½ cup dark rum


      •  Combine all ingredients in a blender and combine for 3 seconds or until well blended.

      •  Set mixture aside in mixing bowl to use when cake is still hot and removed from oven.

    Making the Cakes

    8 large eggs (separated)
    1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar
    ¾ cup sugar
    1 ¼ cups pastry flour
    2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

      •  Separate egg yolks and whites into two separate mixing bowls.

      •  In a table top mixing bowl, cream 3/8 cup of sugar and egg yolks together on high speed using whisk attachment, approximately 2 minutes until pale yellow and fluffy and having reached ribbon stage.
      •  Combine and sift flour and baking powder over parchment paper.

      •  In separate mixing bowl combine egg whites, remaining 3/8 cup of sugar, and cream of tartar.

      •  Mix until soft peaks form, approximately 1 ½ minutes on high speed.

      •  Using a rubber spatula, transfer 1/3 of egg white mixture into egg yolk bowl.

      •  Gently fold in egg white mixture until thoroughly combined. Return mixture to egg white mixing bowl and continue to fold in until completely incorporated.

      •  Slowly add flour mixture and blend gently.

      •  If desired, place parchment paper circles in the bottom of the pans to ease cake removal. Divide the mixture between the 2 genoise pans.

      •  Bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown. Insert toothpick into center of cake and remove. If no batter sticks to toothpick, the cake is done.

      •  Remove cakes from pan and turnover onto the final presentation plates. Cakes are almost impossible to move after they have been saturated with milk. Remove parchment circles.  

      •  While cakes are hot, using a ladle, pour milk mixture evenly over cakes. Use back of the ladle to spread milk mixture on top of cakes. If necessary, poke holes in cakes with toothpicks to facilitate soaking; several applications required. Some liquid should soak through and remain on plate.

      •  Cake should soak for at least 3 hours before serving.
      •  Final cake.

    Cutting Directions:
    10 Servings per Cake

        1. Cut Cake in half.

        2. Cut second slice.

        3. Cut new section in half.

        4. Cut remaining large sections in half.





      •   This variety of tres leches cake is made with 80 proof rum. If no alcohol can be used for dietary reasons, religious reasons, or age restrictions, the rum may be replaced with rum extract or left out. You may replace with different flavors.

      •   Genoise pan size can be substituted; note that cooking times may differ.

      •   Toppings like whipped cream, meringue (use torch to brown), fresh fruits, or a combination thereof are possible.



    Food and Wine Paring

    Wine Suggestion

    Sherry Moscatel “Las Cruces” Centenary selection, Emilio Lustau, Spain 

    Beverage Suggestion

    Café de Olla (Mexican coffee) - Café de olla at its best is pot-boiled in earthenware with molassesy piloncillo sugar and spices like cinnamon, anise or cloves. Source: Epicurious

    Mexican hot chocolate - Source: Gourmet


    Student Biography

    Juliet G. Greene was a student at Kendall College in Evanston, Illinois. She graduated with an Associates Degrees in Culinary Arts in June, 2002. Juliet has a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana and previously worked in International Banking.

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