Pastel de Tres Leches

Tres Leches Cake with kiwiberries and strawberries

Pastel Tres Leches is one of my favourite cakes of all time. Who could resist a cake that’s been soaked in three kinds of milk, then slathered with whipped cream? Each bite releases a burst of sweet milky liquid from the spongecake, that’s followed by a lingering vanilla cream flavour.

I’ve decided to to throw tradition to the wind here, improving on the Mexican classic by using a flour that the Aztecs used far before Europeans showed up on these shores, while at the same time applying a decidedly French technique in making the cake.

Pastel Tres Leches with kiwiberry

Before I go into the details about what I did, let me tell you a bit about what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted a cake that had a firm crumb that wouldn’t turn into mush when doused with the tres leches syrup, but that wasn’t tough. I’m not a huge fan of chemical leavening like baking soda and baking powder in cakes because they impart a distinctly bitter minerally flavour that I don’t much care for. I also didn’t want to add more fat than necessary since I’d be adding plenty of that later with the tres leches syrup and whipped cream.

A basic génoise batter seemed like the perfect base for this cake. I wanted to give the cake a slightly irregular texture with some corn notes, so I substituted a combo of cornmeal and masa harina for the flour. If you want a more delicate texture, just use all masa harina. As a happy consequence of using corn based flours, this tres leches cake is also gluten free!

Tres Leches Cake

The génoise may sound a bit involved, but this is really quite a simple cake to make, especially if you have a stand mixer with a metal bowl. The only thing you really need to pay attention to is the amount of time you beat the egg mixture for. There’s no butter in this cake, which means that’s one less thing to think about and since there is no wheat flour, there’s no need to worry about over mixing when you’re incorporating the flour. Just be gentle when folding in the flour as you need the tiny air bubbles in the egg mixture to make the cake rise properly.

Unlike most cakes, this one benefits from a day or two in the fridge, so it’s a great make ahead cake for a birthday or tea party. On the day of the event just slice up some fruit and put it on top. I’ve used strawberries and kiwi berries for this one, but it’s also fantastic with mangoes or passion fruit.

3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
3/4 C sugar
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C masa harina
1/4 C fine ground cornmeal

for tres leches syrup
14oz can sweetened condensed milk
12oz can evaporated milk
1 C half and half

for whipped cream
1/2 pt heavy cream
1/4 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Setup a double boiler by filling a pot large enough to hold your mixer bowl and bring the water to a simmer. Move your oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9″ cake pan to prevent the finished cake from sticking.

Egg mixture at ribbon stage for tres leches cake batter

Put the whole eggs, yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a metal mixer bowl and whisk to combine. Put the bowl in your double boiler and whisk, heating until the mixture reaches 100 degrees F (luke warm). Mount the bowl on the mixer and beat with the whisk attachment for at least 5 minutes. It may look ready before then, but it really needs to go this long to get enough air integrated. The volume will triple and pale yellow ribbons of egg will flow off the whisk.

Sift the masa harina and cornmeal into a bowl though a fine double mesh strainer. When the egg mixture is ready, add 1/3 of the flour mixture into the eggs and fold together. Repeat twice more, folding between each addition until you can’t see any more clumps of flour. Since we’re using corn based flours, there’s no need to worry about gluten formation in the batter (which would make it tough). Be gentle while folding though as it will not rise properly if the egg mixture deflates. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until a skewer comes out clean (about 20-25 minutes). Put the cake pan on a rack and allow to cool.

To make the tres leches syrup, just whisk the three ingredients together in a bowl. You only need half the mixture, so you can either double the batter and make 2 cakes, or you can store the extra syrup in a sealed container for the next cake you make.

Use a toothpick to poke holes all over the cake, this will help the cake absorb the tres leches syrup. When the cake cools to room temperature, pour half the syrup mixture over the cake, making sure to evenly saturate the edges. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the whipped cream, put the cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat until you see peaks form in the cream. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the top of the cake. Slice and serve with fruit.

  • http://www.practicallydone.com/ helen

    Three milk cake made by a guy who’s lactose intolerant – it must be good.

    • marc

      Shhh…. don’t tell my doctor;-)

  • http://www.practicallydone.com helen

    Three milk cake made by a guy who’s lactose intolerant – it must be good.

    • marc

      Shhh…. don’t tell my doctor;-)

  • http://staceysnacksonline.com/ Stacey Snacks

    Marc,
    I have never had this cake, it sounds delicious.
    I love cornmeal in a cake.
    And I love milk!
    (save me a slice!)

  • http://staceysnacksonline.com Stacey Snacks

    Marc,
    I have never had this cake, it sounds delicious.
    I love cornmeal in a cake.
    And I love milk!
    (save me a slice!)

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com/ Peter G

    Beautiful and decadent too Marc…love how you used the masa as the base.

  • http://souvlakiforthesoul.com Peter G

    Beautiful and decadent too Marc…love how you used the masa as the base.

  • http://onlinepastrychef.wordpress.com/ Jenni

    I always smile in antici……pation when I see dessert over here at your place! Love the sub of corn flour for wheat; what a great idea.

    I generally am not a fan of very wet cake, but I love tres leches, too, I guess partly because the “wet” is a milky wet that is thick enough that I don’t feel like the cake accidentally fell into the sink! :)

  • http://onlinepastrychef.wordpress.com/ Jenni

    I always smile in antici……pation when I see dessert over here at your place! Love the sub of corn flour for wheat; what a great idea.

    I generally am not a fan of very wet cake, but I love tres leches, too, I guess partly because the “wet” is a milky wet that is thick enough that I don’t feel like the cake accidentally fell into the sink! :)

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com/ Manggy

    Gosh, I’ve never had tres leches before– I think I’ve only seen it offered in a ho-hum taquiera. Wish I had tried it. (I don’t want to attempt the one in Tartine… One of the milks is coconut milk!) The genoise is an excellent idea!

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com Manggy

    Gosh, I’ve never had tres leches before– I think I’ve only seen it offered in a ho-hum taquiera. Wish I had tried it. (I don’t want to attempt the one in Tartine… One of the milks is coconut milk!) The genoise is an excellent idea!

  • http://kitchensidecar.blogspot.com/ katiek from kitchensidecar

    wow. great and informative post. I feel like i learned a lot. No butter. No leavening. No flour. a flourless leche cake!

    I like the technique you used. But a question: how does the cake taste after sitting in the fridge all night? I take after my mom in that i have an aversion to refrigeration. Haha. How long did you wait for it to come to room temp before digging in?

    • marc

      This cake is more like a pudding because of all the liquid. It definitely tastes better after a night in the fridge as the liquid absorbs into the cake more (I actually like it best after 2 days). It’s fine cold straight out of the fridge, but you could let it come to room temperture if the cold bothers you.

  • http://kitchensidecar.blogspot.com katiek from kitchensidecar

    wow. great and informative post. I feel like i learned a lot. No butter. No leavening. No flour. a flourless leche cake!

    I like the technique you used. But a question: how does the cake taste after sitting in the fridge all night? I take after my mom in that i have an aversion to refrigeration. Haha. How long did you wait for it to come to room temp before digging in?

    • marc

      This cake is more like a pudding because of all the liquid. It definitely tastes better after a night in the fridge as the liquid absorbs into the cake more (I actually like it best after 2 days). It’s fine cold straight out of the fridge, but you could let it come to room temperture if the cold bothers you.

  • http://www.recipegirl.com/blog RecipeGirl

    This sounds like it would be my favorite cake too. I’ve not yet had a tres leches cake! On my to-make list!

  • http://www.recipegirl.com/blog RecipeGirl

    This sounds like it would be my favorite cake too. I’ve not yet had a tres leches cake! On my to-make list!

  • http://www.glutenfreegourmand.blotspot.com/ Gina

    Wow! Thanks for another great gluten-free idea. It sounds really decadent, and very much like something I’d love. I’m really into cakes that are made by folding in fluffy eggs – flourless chocolate cake is a good example. I’ve never had tres leches cake nor have I made it, so this one is going on my short list. Good point about not having to worry about gluten formation with handling the dough – it’s one benefit to GF flours. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  • http://www.glutenfreegourmand.blotspot.com Gina

    Wow! Thanks for another great gluten-free idea. It sounds really decadent, and very much like something I’d love. I’m really into cakes that are made by folding in fluffy eggs – flourless chocolate cake is a good example. I’ve never had tres leches cake nor have I made it, so this one is going on my short list. Good point about not having to worry about gluten formation with handling the dough – it’s one benefit to GF flours. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  • http://duodishes.wordpress.com/ The Duo Dishes

    That’s a nice, light and fluffy layer of whipped cream on top of this cake. Yum!

  • http://duodishes.wordpress.com The Duo Dishes

    That’s a nice, light and fluffy layer of whipped cream on top of this cake. Yum!

  • http://goldilocksfindsmanhattan.blogspot.com/ ulla

    I love this cake too! How inventive to use a traditional flour. Sometimes I wonder what Italian food was like before Marco Polo and Columbus. Where would it be with out pasta, and tomato sauce!!!
    I love the photos too! Breathtaking!:)

  • http://goldilocksfindsmanhattan.blogspot.com/ ulla

    I love this cake too! How inventive to use a traditional flour. Sometimes I wonder what Italian food was like before Marco Polo and Columbus. Where would it be with out pasta, and tomato sauce!!!
    I love the photos too! Breathtaking!:)

  • http://www.cookeatfret.com/ claudia (cook eat FRET)

    marc, i know i say this all the time but your blog is unbelievably wonderful. i just added you to my blog roll. i can’t believe i’ve not done this sooner. my bad.

  • http://www.cookeatfret.com claudia (cook eat FRET)

    marc, i know i say this all the time but your blog is unbelievably wonderful. i just added you to my blog roll. i can’t believe i’ve not done this sooner. my bad.

  • http://constableslarder.com/ Giff

    making this would require baking ;-) but I love how you’ve gone in your own direction with this one. certainly looks pretty too :)

  • http://constableslarder.com Giff

    making this would require baking ;-) but I love how you’ve gone in your own direction with this one. certainly looks pretty too :)

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  • http://tastewiththeeyes.blogspot.com/ Lori Lynn

    Gee, it sounds amazing. We had a Tres Leches cake for dessert at Joe’s in Chicago yesterday before flying home. I might have to make this.

    Happy Easter Marc.

    Lori Lynn

  • http://tastewiththeeyes.blogspot.com/ Lori Lynn

    Gee, it sounds amazing. We had a Tres Leches cake for dessert at Joe’s in Chicago yesterday before flying home. I might have to make this.

    Happy Easter Marc.

    Lori Lynn

  • http://savorysweetlife.com/ alice

    I like your flour substitutions. Just curious, did the cake taste at all gritty because of it?

    • marc

      Nope not gritty in the way you’d think (not like corn bread). I think the reason is because I sifted the cornmeal through a fine mesh sieve which removed the bigger bits. Also it’s soaked in enough syrup to soften any remaining bits. The crumb is large and firm but not gritty at all.

  • http://savorysweetlife.com alice

    I like your flour substitutions. Just curious, did the cake taste at all gritty because of it?

    • marc

      Nope not gritty in the way you’d think (not like corn bread). I think the reason is because I sifted the cornmeal through a fine mesh sieve which removed the bigger bits. Also it’s soaked in enough syrup to soften any remaining bits. The crumb is large and firm but not gritty at all.

  • http://smallkitchenbigideas.wordpress.com/ Sara

    Beautiful cake! I love tres leche cake but haven’t tried it home yet. This sounds simpler than I thought it would be.

  • http://smallkitchenbigideas.wordpress.com Sara

    Beautiful cake! I love tres leche cake but haven’t tried it home yet. This sounds simpler than I thought it would be.

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  • http://colloquialcookin.canalblog.com/ Colloquial Cook

    Quite a show stopper here, Marc! Three milks indeed, but no cheese – all is well :-)
    (Your kiwis are really small – at least, *they* behave)

  • http://colloquialcookin.canalblog.com/ Colloquial Cook

    Quite a show stopper here, Marc! Three milks indeed, but no cheese – all is well :-)
    (Your kiwis are really small – at least, *they* behave)

  • http://www.noteatingoutinny.com/ Cathy

    Now that is brilliant! I’d love to see you if you can make a cake with rice flour next!

  • http://www.noteatingoutinny.com Cathy

    Now that is brilliant! I’d love to see you if you can make a cake with rice flour next!

  • http://www.sophiesfoodiefiles.blogspot.com/ Sophie

    Marc, this is a really excellent lactose full cake!
    I can’t digest sweetened condensed milk!
    Looks delicious!

  • http://www.sophiesfoodiefiles.blogspot.com Sophie

    Marc, this is a really excellent lactose full cake!
    I can’t digest sweetened condensed milk!
    Looks delicious!

  • Mary Orum Jewett

    What adjustments, if any, should be made for high altitude of 5000+ feet?

    Mary

  • Mary Orum Jewett

    What adjustments, if any, should be made for high altitude of 5000+ feet?

    Mary

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  • http://www.kalofagas.ca Peter

    Congrats Marc, you’re making more ripples is the foodie pool! This dessert looks dreamy.

  • http://www.kalofagas.ca/ Peter

    Congrats Marc, you’re making more ripples is the foodie pool! This dessert looks dreamy.

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  • Tolvy

    Hungarian Plum Pastry
    Ingredients for 6 servings:
    For the Pastry: 100g (1/2 cup) sugar, 200g (3/4 cup) butter, 300g (2 ½ cups) flour, 1 egg yolk, 10g (2tsp) vanilla sugar
    Grated lemon peel, 10g (2tsp) baking powder
    For the filling: 80g (1cup) ground walnuts, 1kg (6cups) pitted plums, 120g (1cup) blanched slivered almonds,
    Cinnamon powder, 80g (6 ½ tsp) sugar
    Preparation: Make a dough from the listed ingredients using 2 tsp of water. Roll out to about 4 mm (1/4 in) thickness and place it in a baking pan. Bake until the top starts to get brown and puffy.
    Sprinkle the ground walnuts over the partially baked dough. Place the plum halves, cut side up, over the walnuts.
    Spread the blanched almonds solvers over the plums. Sprinkle the suggar and cinnamon over the almonds and bake in a 140°C (275°F) oven /if you have a top flame in the oven, use that/, for about 20 minutes.
    This pastry is very good served warm or cold, too. You can serv with vanilla sauce or sour cream with cinnamon.
    Secret: you can marinate the plums in brandy, hungarian pálinka, port wine etc…

  • Tolvy

    Hungarian Plum Pastry
    Ingredients for 6 servings:
    For the Pastry: 100g (1/2 cup) sugar, 200g (3/4 cup) butter, 300g (2 ½ cups) flour, 1 egg yolk, 10g (2tsp) vanilla sugar
    Grated lemon peel, 10g (2tsp) baking powder
    For the filling: 80g (1cup) ground walnuts, 1kg (6cups) pitted plums, 120g (1cup) blanched slivered almonds,
    Cinnamon powder, 80g (6 ½ tsp) sugar
    Preparation: Make a dough from the listed ingredients using 2 tsp of water. Roll out to about 4 mm (1/4 in) thickness and place it in a baking pan. Bake until the top starts to get brown and puffy.
    Sprinkle the ground walnuts over the partially baked dough. Place the plum halves, cut side up, over the walnuts.
    Spread the blanched almonds solvers over the plums. Sprinkle the suggar and cinnamon over the almonds and bake in a 140°C (275°F) oven /if you have a top flame in the oven, use that/, for about 20 minutes.
    This pastry is very good served warm or cold, too. You can serv with vanilla sauce or sour cream with cinnamon.
    Secret: you can marinate the plums in brandy, hungarian pálinka, port wine etc…

  • Tolvy

    Hungarian Goulash Soup

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat, 1 1/2 pounds beef boneless chuck, tip, or round, cut into 3/4-inch cubes,
    2 cups water, 1 (8 ounce) can tomatoes (with liquid), 3 medium onions, chopped, 1 clove garlic, chopped
    2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon instant beef bouillon, 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
    1/4 teaspoon pepper, 2 medium potatoes, cut into1 1/2-inch pieces,
    2 medium green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces, Fresh bread or rolls
    Preparation:
    Heat oil in Dutch oven or skillet until hot. Cook and stir beef in hot oil until brown, about 15 minutes; drain. Add water, tomatoes, onions, garlic, paprika, salt, bouillon, caraway seed and pepper. break up tomatoes with fork. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour.
    Add potatoes; cover and simmer until beef and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Add green peppers; cover and simmer until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve in soup bowls with French bread for dipping into hot broth.

  • Tolvy

    Hungarian Goulash Soup

    2 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat, 1 1/2 pounds beef boneless chuck, tip, or round, cut into 3/4-inch cubes,
    2 cups water, 1 (8 ounce) can tomatoes (with liquid), 3 medium onions, chopped, 1 clove garlic, chopped
    2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon instant beef bouillon, 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
    1/4 teaspoon pepper, 2 medium potatoes, cut into1 1/2-inch pieces,
    2 medium green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces, Fresh bread or rolls
    Preparation:
    Heat oil in Dutch oven or skillet until hot. Cook and stir beef in hot oil until brown, about 15 minutes; drain. Add water, tomatoes, onions, garlic, paprika, salt, bouillon, caraway seed and pepper. break up tomatoes with fork. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour.
    Add potatoes; cover and simmer until beef and potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Add green peppers; cover and simmer until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve in soup bowls with French bread for dipping into hot broth.

  • Tolvy

    Bon Apettit! tolvy@freemail.hu
    Have a good cook!!!
    Csaba – a restaurant manager from Hungary

  • Tolvy

    Bon Apettit! tolvy@freemail.hu
    Have a good cook!!!
    Csaba – a restaurant manager from Hungary

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  • http://www.auto-insurance-missoula.com/ Diana Car

    Hi I’m Mexican and my husband loves loves this cake I’ll make it for him tomorrow for his Birthday, Thank you so much!

  • http://www.auto-insurance-missoula.com/ Diana Car

    Hi I’m Mexican and my husband loves loves this cake I’ll make it for him tomorrow for his Birthday, Thank you so much!

  • Taissia B

    Made it and tasted it. The process was much easier than expected even if it required a one night in the refrigerator break. The cake is delicious and I am sharing it with my friends soon, knowing they will like it too. What a great recipe Marc! Thank you.

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  • Matt

    Just made this and it is delicious!

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  • Baker Wannabe

    Would it be possible to add a bit of orange zest to the batter without disrupting the chemistry of the cake batter?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Great idea! You shouldn’t need to add a ton of zest to give it flavor, so I wouldn’t worry too much about disrupting the chemistry.

  • Baker Wannabe

    Okay I’m getting myself ready to make this cake for guests for a Mexican Brunch on March 24 to welcome Spring. I have decided that I want to make it a finer cake so I will not use the corn meal. Should I then use 3/4 cup of masa harina? I want to test run the cake part without the tres leches syrup within the week. Hope to hear from you. Also I’m at sea level…any changes I need to know about? I’m a cook not a baker—just wannabe.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Yep, that should work fine. It should turn out lighter without the cornmeal.

  • Pishing Binnis

    Have you ever tried doubling the recipe to make a thicker cake and use all the milks? I’m debating whether to try this for a dinner party of 10 versus just making two cakes.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Pishing, I’d recommend splitting it into two if you double the recipe. Changing the thickness is not a good idea because it will effect how the cake rises and the length of time it takes to bake.

Welcome!

I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!