Pati's Mexican Table: Traditional Tres Leches

We were looking for a sweet summertime treat and we asked our food contributor Pati Jinich for her favorite treat. Her response? The cold, delicious Tres Leches cake! Check out her blog below to learn how to make this traditional Latino desert:

Tres Leches is a sweet, wet, and most important for the summertime, cold cake. Its base is a vanilla sponge cake, completely soaked in a sauce traditionally made with three kinds of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and regular milk. Some versions substitute regular milk with heavy cream. The cake sometimes has a topping of fresh whipped cream, which I seriously consider of utmost necessity! Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk's Cake is one of the most popular cakes throughout Mexico for a reason—it’s absolutely delicious.

Growing up in Mexico City, there was a bakery called La Gran Via, which sold such great Tres Leches that we used to drive very far just to buy them. This recipe I’m about to share is as close as I get to my nostalgic memories. 

The secret to this cake is all in the mixing. It is a simple cake batter: just egg whites, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla and flour. But it turns out fluffy and spongy because of the way the ingredients are used.

Some modern versions of the cake add other kinds of flavors into the sauce, like chocolate, cajeta (Mexican goat's milk version of dulce de leche) or Rompope (Mexican eggnog). If you like a hint of alcohol in your desserts, go ahead and pour in some Rum or Kahlua.

Remember that the cake tastes so much better when it has had a chance to soak and chill, so it is a good idea to cover it and refrigerate it for at least an hour. 

Tres Leches is simple to eat and simple to make. It is an unfussy and tasty dessert that is relatively neutral, so you can always experiment with different variations. Fresh strawberries work really nicely with Tres Leches, but it’s your choice.

For more delicious recipes, visit Pati at!

Pati's Mexican Table airs on National Public Television nationwide. Check here for local listings

Serves 10-12

9 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 360 degrees.  Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan, lining the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the pan.

Pour the egg whites into the bowl of your mixer and beat on medium-high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they hold soft peaks.  Slowly stir in the sugar and continue beating until they hold hard or stiff peaks. Turn off the mixer and with a spatula, move the egg white mixture onto a large mixing bowl.

Rinse the bowl of the mixer and its whisk. Now pour the egg yolks into the bowl of the mixer and beat on medium-high speed for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until the egg yolks become creamy, puffy and their color has toned down to an almost cream color rather than a loud yellow. Stir in the vanilla and continue beating for another minute. Turn off the mixer.

Pour the egg yolk mixture onto the egg white mixture and with a spatula and fold them to combine them into a homogeneous single batter. Do so gently trying not to lose much volume from the mixture. When fully combined, fold in the flour, scraping the bowl with the spatula so that all the flour is well mixed.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and place into the oven for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. It can be a bit moist, but not wet. The top of the cake should be tanned and feel fluffy if you touch it. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.

Once it cools down, turn it onto a platter. Remove the parchment paper and cover the top with an upside down platter and invert again. The platter should be large enough to hold the cake and the vanilla sauce you are about to prepare. Using a fork, or two, poke wholes all over the cake so that it will better absorb the vanilla sauce. 

In a mixing bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour the vanilla sauce over the cake.
In the bowl of your mixer, whip up the heavy cream with the confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture holds up stiff peaks, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Spread the whipped cream all over the already wet cake. Then eat it all up!