Baking Recipes,  Simple cakes

Alton Brown’s Tres Leches Cake

I decided to try out the Tres Leches Cake in the kitchen for the first time using Alton Brown’s recipe! It’s a butter cake soaked to the ground in three kinds of milk and topped with cream, creating a delicious milky-sweet dessert.

Sometimes there is more than one way to do things, but the outcome won’t always be the same. This Tres Leches Cake did a marvelous job driving home that point. The story starts with a craving. Having never tried a Tres Leches Cake before in my life, I went in search of a fail-safe recipe that people raved about. Unsurprisingly, I found one belonging to Alton Brown that’s gotten quite a bit of love.

Being a big fan of his pretzel recipe for quite a while now, I thought it was high time to add to my Alton Brown library of recipes to keep. And so I went ahead and made this cake without any doubt at all.

And then something weird happened. The cake was completely different from what I imagined it would be. Different is not so bad though.

So apparently Tres Leches Cake can be made two ways: using a sponge cake base or a butter cake base. It was obvious from the get-go that this was not going to be a sponge cake recipe since it doesn’t ask you to whip egg whites and such, but I was willing to put my faith into a recipe that many people love.

There’s no specific origin for the Tres Leches Cake, but frankly speaking, my desire to make it was out of my love for cakes soaked in liquid more than from where it’s from. South America, I would assume based on its Spanish name.

Stuff like this exquisite David Lebovitz Rum Cake; or the Tiramisu (which I have not yet written about on the blog to this day) are just my thing. Obviously, the thought of a milk-soaked cake made my mouth water.
The Tres Leches Cake typically features a sponge cake that is poked all over and then soaked in a three-kinds-of-milk mixture. You literally pour the milk onto the cake and leave it there until it absorbs nearly all of the liquid.

Recipe notes

I think a sponge cake base will probably absorb more liquid, but it’s still important to be able to find a recipe fit for soaking purposes. Using a “weak” sponge cake will just turn it into a soggy mess instead of an actual slice of cake holding the liquid in.

Interestingly enough, the butter cake is able to lock the liquid into its crumb, but there’s only a certain amount of milk that it will allow. I was left with quite a bit of milk to discard even after 1-1/2 days of soaking in the fridge.

A layer of whipped cream plus cherries on top help make matters prettier, and tastier. For milk lovers like myself this is an absolute dream come true. To have each and every bite of squishy cake explode with sweet milky flavour?! Count me in!

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of making and eating this sunshine of a cake, but after trying Nikkei’s version, I realized that my preference strongly lies with the sponge cake version. OH MY GOODNESS was that Nikkei Tres Leches Cake excellent! The sponge cake was tall and though you can feel it filled up with liquid it stays in shape as you slice it down. Every bite gave way to that big glorious wave of sweet milky custard. I am still remembering it today.

This butter cake version, while offering the same bursting milky joy, has a much denser cake. It’s good but can become rather sweet when you eat a lot, which isn’t impossible at all. Definitely different from the sponge cake version, but I can guarantee this will still sell out.

I will attempt another version of this kind of cake once I find another interesting recipe. Poke cakes are all the rage at the moment, and I’ve seen some really yummy-looking ones. 

Tres Leches Cake

A butter cake soaked to the ground in three kinds of milk and topped with cream, creating a delicious milky-sweet dessert!

Makes one 9x13-inch pan
Servings 12


For the Cake

  • cups 191 grams cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup 113 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup 227 grams granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Three-Milk Soak

  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup 237 ml half-and-half or whole milk

For the Whipped Cream

  • 2 cups 473 ml cold heavy cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Make the Cake

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan; set aside.
  • 2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  • 3. In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the sugar, mixing continuously for about 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary.
  • 4. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing to thoroughly combine before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and mix briefly to combine. You can switch from the hand mixer to a spatula at this point.
  • 5. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three portions and mix just until combined and no more streaks of flour can be seen. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread into an even layer. (It will appear to be a very small amount of batter.)
  • 6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 F. Move the cake to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer, making as many holes as you can. Allow the cake to cool completely before making the soaking mixture.

Make the Three-Milk Soak

  • 7. In a medium bowl, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and the half-and-half or whole milk. Once combined, slowly pour evenly over the cake and leave the cake to soak in the three-milk mixture. Refrigerate the cake for at least four hours, or overnight.

Make the Whipped Cream

  • 8. In a medium bowl using an electric mixer, whisk together the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla on low speed until stiff peaks form. Increase to medium speed and whip until thick. Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Slice into squares and top with cherries. Leftover cake should be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day.


Adapted from Alton Brown

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