Tres Leches Cake

Recipe Tabs


When I think about Traditional Mexican desserts, I normally think of toffee/milk based sweets or fruit pastes. I personally think that, traditionally, Mexicans are more of a savoury kind of people. A lot of our sweets are either sickly sugary or spicy. We don't tend to make cakes for dessert; cakes are more for birthday parties, christenings, weddings, more 'big' occasions rather than everyday.

We have a wonderful tradition of sweet bread making, with tons of eggs, butter and yeast. The whole Merienda meal (similar to the afternoon tea tradition but without the formality) is set around sweet breads and coffee or hot chocolate.

In my hometown of Monterrey, when average temperatures during non-winter months can reach as high as 45 Celsius, we favour cake-based celebratory desserts that are cold. King among them all, is the Tres Leches Cake (Three Milks Cake) which origins are as murky as a politician's pocket (as my dad would say). Some place it in the 19th Century in Central Mexico as a fusion dish between a trifle and a local cake. Others send it to Nicaragua where similar fusion food happened. I tend to think that Nestle had a lot to do with this recipe, but in truth, nobody really knows. The cake, however, has become the poster boy for Latin-American cuisine in the USA, where you can find it nearly everywhere.

There are literally thousands of recipes available on line, this one here, is my mother's, with my own little twists. I'm super fond of 'spiking' food, so my Tres Leches syrup is spiked with Mezcal for that 'grown up' feel. This cake is best made the day before you're going to eat it, to give it a chance to soak up all the flavours and become cold and moist. To add a bit of a tropical feel to it, I've added Mango (one of my favourite fruits) and toasted some coconut too for an extra bit of love. I really, really liked it, so hope you like it too!


Preheat the oven at 200° Celsius and grease a round 19 cms cake tin with butter and a dusting of flour. Follow by sifting the flour and baking powder for the cake three times. Yes, you read it right, sift it three times, it's very important or your cake won't be as light otherwise. Set the flour aside. 


Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the sugar while still beating. Follow by adding the egg yolks, one at a time and mixing well in between additions.


Put away your electric mixer and take a hand whisk to use for the rest of the process. Using your hand whisk, fold in a third of the shifted flour and baking powder using gentle folding movement. Don't over mix. Repeat this step twice more until all the flour has been incorporated into the egg mixture. Finish off by adding the milk and folding it with the whisk. Again, don't over mix or your cake might lose all its airy lightness. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.


While the cake cooks, get on with making the Mezcal Tres Leches Syrup. Pour the three milks and the mezcal in a jug and mix until it is all combined. Set aside.


Move on to make the Mezcal Cream for the icing. Using your electric mixer again, whip the double cream until it starts thickening a little; start adding the caster sugar gradually with the mixer still on. As soon as the sugar is in, follow by adding the Mezcal. Make sure you don't over beat the cream or you might end up with butter! Set the cream aside in the fridge until you need it.


By now, the cake must be ready, well risen and golden on top. Take it out of the oven and immediately start pricking it with a toothpick or thin skewer. Make loads of little holes as this will help the syrup sip through to the cake. Take the cake out of the tin (careful it is still hot) and place it into a serving plate with a bit of a lip. There will be a lot of liquid so flat plates are not a good idea.

Slowly and gently, start pouring the Tres Leches Syrup over the cake, making sure you saturate all the little holes with the milky syrup. Go down the edges as well. There is a lot of liquid, don't worry, the cake needs it! It is very important that you do all this while the cake is still piping hot, otherwise it will just go soggy in the outside. Let the cake cool completely before you ice it with the mezcal cream.


Once the cake is completely cold, cover it with a generous layer of the mezcal cream. Top it with the chopped mango and sprinkle it with the toasted coconut on top. Put it in the fridge until you are about to serve it.


This cake is amazing if done the day before as it has enough time to soak all the syrup. It's such a light cake, super refreshing and it keeps well for a couple of days. The mango on top gives it a wonderful tanginess and the coconut adds a bit of texture. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!