Tres leches cake recipe for two. A mini tres leches cake is a light and fluffy sponge cake with a three milk sauce poured on top. Freshly whipped cream for the frosting is so perfect.
Tres leches cake recipe
You’re looking at my birthday cake of choice: the lovely, tender sponge cake soaked in 3 different dairy milks and topped with whipped cream, also known as Tres Leches Cake. Tres leches in Spanish translates to ‘three milks,’ if you didn’t know.
Tres leches is a basic sponge cake, with a sweet creamy mixture of 3 milks poured on top. The milks seep into the lovely air bubbles of the cake and make it so moist and delicious. The icing on top of the cake is really just more freshly whipped cream.
This cake is light, fluffy, dense, creamy, and unctuous all at once. Yes, I just said unctuous, and I mean it in the best way possible.
What is a sponge cake?
First, let’s talk about sponge cake. A sponge cake is when the eggs of the cake are separated and the whites are whipped separately in order to create lots of air bubbles and pockets in a cake. The air bubbles keep the cake light and airy (naturally), but they also give a place for the milk mixture to reside.
So, for this cake, we’re going to separate the egg white and whip it separately, until it’s fluffy, white and holding soft peaks. Some sponge cakes don’t call for the egg yolks at all, but I include the egg yolk in this recipe because I like the richness in the cake.
What are the 3 milks in tres leches cake?
Now, use your fingers to count the 3 milks in the entire ingredient list: half and half in the cake, sweetened condensed milk in the milk drench, and heavy cream in the frosting. All together, we have 3 milks, don’t we? Half and half is technically half milk and half cream, if you want to go there. This cake has plenty of milks, okay?
You might look at this recipe and want to shake your finger at me because the cake batter lacks 3 exact types of milk, and the milk drench doesn’t exactly have 3 types of milk in it. I’m going to ask you to first to calm down and stop being the food police. Take a bite of the cake first, and then let’s do some math.
I’ve even seen versions of this cake called quarto leches cake, because they add a drizzle of cajeta (goat’s milk caramel) on top before serving. I’ve ordered that in several Tex-Mex restaurants in Texas, and it’s incredible. Speaking of: these cajeta thumbprint cookies are calling my name right now.
Whipped cream as frosting:
We need to talk about whipped cream as frosting for this cake, because whipped cream doesn’t store very well. Whipped cream is nothing but air whipped into the fat molecules of the milk. After sitting, the air pockets collapse and it can turn back into liquid cream. So, I really suggest frosting this cake within a few hours before serving. Right before serving is best, but it’s okay to store in the fridge for 2 hours or so.
I’ve experimented over the years with added gelatin to my whipped cream to help it hold peaks longer. It works moderately well, I’d say. If you want to try, sprinkle in ½ teaspoon of powdered unflavored gelatin into the cream before whipping it.
How to make tres leches cake:
- Preheat oven to 350, grease a 6" cake pan, and gather your ingredients. To make the sponge cake, whisk the dry ingredients (flour and baking powder) together, and set aside. Then, beat your egg white with a pinch of cream of tartar. If you're out of cream of tartar, it's fine--leave it out. You may have to tilt the bowl to help your beaters beat just one egg white.
- Slowly add the sugar to the egg white while beating. When the egg white is done, it should be bright white and glossy (see photo above). Add the egg yolk. Finally, fold the flour mixture into the egg white mixture in thirds, alternating with the half and half. Start and end with the flour mixture. Bake the cake for 22 minutes, and let cool.
- Remove the cake from the pan, and prick holes all over the surface.
- Once the cake is cool, it's time to pour over the milks. Whisk together your milk mixture (half and half and sweetened condensed milk).
- Slowly pour over the milk mixture over the cake. It will take a few minutes to soak in each time. Make sure your cake is on a plate with a lip to catch the excess. As the cake rests, it will absorb everything.
- Next, whip the heavy cream for your frosting. Frost the cake on the top and all of the sides. Rustic is our look, hah.
- I like to serve this cake chilled. Slice into 4 slices and serve.
Ways to use up leftover sweetened condensed milk:
This recipe uses ⅔ cup of sweetened condensed milk from a can, leaving you with a bit leftover. Personally, I love it in coffee, but I have a few other recipes that use sweetened condensed milk:
- key lime pie in a loaf pan
- chocolate covered cherry fudge
- homemade Twix bars
- blackberry chip ice cream
- easy fudge
Can this cake be made gluten-free?
While I have not tested this cake with gluten-free flours, I’ll give you the green light to do so, only because Paul Hollywood (from Great British Bake Off) says sponge cakes lend themselves to gluten free flours very well. The goal of this recipe is to produce a light and fluffy cake that has just enough structure to hold the milks poured on top of it.
Can I make this cake ahead of time?
Oh yes, you can! You can make the sponge cake a few days ahead of time, or even make it and freeze it for up to a few months! Just to be clear: freeze the cake without the milks poured on top, okay? Once the milk is poured on top, the cake is best after sitting for a few hours, up to 24 hours. Once the milk has been poured on the cake, store the cake in the fridge. The cake gets slightly more tender at the 24 hour mark, and it’s absolutely perfect.
So, if your birthday is on a Saturday, make the cake Thursday night, wrap it tightly and store it on the counter. On Friday night, make the milk sauce, and pour it over the cake. Place the cake in the fridge. Saturday, whip the cream and frost the cake just before serving.
Can this tres leches cake recipe be doubled to make a larger cake?
Honestly, I don’t know. I specialize in making tiny cakes for two people to enjoy, and I don’t double or triple all of my recipes before serving to test for this. My heart is with small 6 inch cake pans, don’t you know?
Psst, you can check out all of my 6 inch cake recipes here.
For the cake:
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 large egg, separated
- pinch of cream of tartar
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup half and half
For the milk sauce:
- ½ cup half and half
- ⅔ cup sweetened, condensed milk
- First, preheat your oven to 350°. Grease a 6” cake pan with butter.
- In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
- In a medium glass bowl with very clean beaters, beat the egg white with a pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Tilt the bowl to help get it going if necessary. Once soft peaks form, slowly stream in the sugar while beating continuously.
- Next, beat in the egg yolk.
- Now, turn off the beaters and switch to a rubber spatula. Fold in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the half-and-half. Repeat, finishing with the flour mixture.
- Scrape this mixture into the cake pan and level it with the spatula. Bake for 22 minutes. The cake is done when it pulls away from the edges of the pan and has a golden brown crust. Cool the cake on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
- Next, invert the cake onto a serving plate that has a lip to catch the milk sauce. In a measuring cup, stir together the half-and-half and the sweetened condensed milk. Using a fork, make holes all over the cake. Pour the condensed milk mixture on the cake slowly.
- Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. Serve with whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon or Maraschino cherries, if desired.
This cake makes 4 small slices.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 392Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 80mgSodium: 203mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 0gSugar: 55gProtein: 9g