Tres-leches (three-milk) cake

March 24, 2015 (Last Updated: January 11, 2019)
Tres-leches (three-milk) cake recipe

The beautiful Spanish tres-leches cake is deliciously soaked in three kinds of milk to create a moist, golden dream. This is a perfect dessert for a special celebration.

Recipe by Katherine Jadamski

Photographs by Graeme Borchers 

Tres-leches (three-milk) cake

Serves: 1 cake


  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 230g castor sugar
  • 125ml (½ cup) milk
  • 15ml (1 tbsp) vanilla extract
  • 300g cake flour, sifted
  • 10ml (2 tsp) baking powder
  • 2,5ml (½ tsp) cream of tartar
  • 1 x 385g tin condensed milk
  • 1 x 380g tin evaporated milk
  • 300ml fresh cream
  • Meringue topping

  • 300g castor sugar
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) water
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 2,5ml (½ tsp) cream of tartar



Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease 2 x 22cm deep cake tins and line the bottom with baking paper.


Beat the egg yolks with 200g of the sugar until pale, thick and creamy. Fold in the milk, 5ml (1 tsp) of the vanilla extract, flour and baking powder and mix until well combined.


In another bowl whisk the egg whites until frothy, add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk to form soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the remainder of the sugar and continue to whisk until it forms firm, glossy peaks. Do not allow them to become stiff and dry.


Beat a spoonful of the whites into the cake mixture and then gently fold in the rest until well combined.


Pour into the cake tins and bake on the middle rack of the oven until a cake skewer comes out clean, for about 30 – 40 minutes. The top should be a deep golden brown.


Cool completely on a wire cake rack before slicing into three layers per cake.


Place each layer onto a large platter with a decent lip to catch the overflow from the milk mixture. Using a fine skewer, prick holes all over the cake layers.


Combine the condensed and evaporated milks with the cream and the remaining vanilla and pour a small amount over the layers and allow the cake to soak it up. Continue to do this until all the mixture has been soaked up. Spoon any overflow back over the cake layers as it accumulates in the serving dishes. The soaking can take up to 1 hour and the absorption rate will slow down as the cake becomes fuller.


For the meringue, put the sugar and water in a small saucepan over a high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Allow the syrup to boil without stirring until it reaches softball stage, about 8 minutes. To test if it is ready, drop a little of the sugar mixture from a spoon into a small bowl of cold water – it should form a small soft lump.


Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks form. Slowly add the boiling syrup in a thin stream.


Continue to whisk until the mixture is very thick and cool to the touch, this could take up to 1 hour. The heat from the sugar will cook the egg white, forming a soft meringue.


Place one layer of cake on a cake stand and spread with some meringue. Continue to layer until all of the ingredients have been used.


Serve the cake on its own or with fresh berries, mango, banana or lightly poached stone fruits.


A delicious labour of love, this cake must be bathed repeatedly in milk and cream. This can’t be rushed, as the sponge needs time to soak up the mixture for a rich, moist finish.


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