Popular throughout Latin America, tres leches is a buttery cake baked and then soaked in a combination of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk, hence the "three milks" name. While milk-soaked cake might sound soggy, this cake is the perfect summertime cake, thanks to its cool serving temperature. The cake acts as a sponge for the milk mixture and takes on a rich pudding-like texture after the milks are added. Served cold straight from the pan, tres leches cake tastes much like a rich vanilla ice cream with a pudding-meets-cake texture.
Tres leches cake often starts with a sponge cake, but here we use the magic of our one-bowl cake to make this classic dessert even easier to bake and make.
A Tres Leches Primer
Many traditional tres leches cakes skip the whipped topping used here. The cake is just as creamy and delicious without it, so feel free to skip it if you are short on time or ingredients. But be sure to chill the cake again after adding the milk mixture — that's how you get that dense, milky sweetness in every bite!
One-Bowl Tres Leches Cake
For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil, or melted and cooled unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Tres leches mixture:
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup whole milk
For the whipped topping:
2 cups cold heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the cake: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Coat 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, oil or butter, milk, and vanilla and beat with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is lightly browned and springs back when gingerly pressed with a finger, 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool the cake on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Using a skewer, stick, or fork, poke the top of the cake all over. Cool completely.
For the tres leches mixture: Whisk the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and milk together in a large measuring cup. Slowly pour some of this mixture over the cake (still in the pan). Not all of the milk mixture will absorb right away, so wait until absorbed and then pour the remaining mixture over. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Make the whipped topping: Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped topping over the cake, slice, and serve.