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If you’re not familiar with tres leches, it’s possibly one of the most delicious desserts ever invented. (And this is coming from a chocolate lover!) Tres leches is a light sponge cake that gets doused in a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream or milk. Topped with whipped cream, tres leches always feels simultaneously decadent but not TOO heavy.
Anecdotally, I find that it seems to convert a lot of “not dessert people” people into partakers. While I wasn’t sure I’d find enough variation to test 9 different recipes, I of course found plenty of factors to explore by the end. Let’s dive in!
METHODOLOGY // RESULTS // FACTORS // ANALYSIS // RECOMMENDATIONS
- 42 total tasters
- All cakes were baked and soaked in the milk mixture the day before and refrigerated overnight. Each cake was frosted and served the same day of tasting.
- All tasters ranked each cake on a scale from 0-10 for flavor, texture and overall as a whole
- All cakes were baked in a buttered glass or metal 9×13 pan
- Kirkland butter
- Gold Medal Flour
- Softasilk cake flour
- Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
- Carnation evaporated milk
- Producers heavy cream
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated and powdered sugar
PARTNER NOTE: I’m delighted to be partnering with Imperial Sugar on this bake off as I’ve consistently used their consistent, high-quality pure cane sugar products throughout my bake offs. Imperial Sugar is non-GMO verified, allergen free and gluten-free!
For more sweet inspiration, you can visit Imperial Sugar to find more than 4,000 expert-tested recipes, free downloadable vintage cookbooks, sugar scrubs and bath products at the Sugar Spa, and lots of helpful guides on their blog. You can also check out their Pinterest, You Tube, Instagram for even more recipe inspiration!
How I Selected the Recipes
Whenever I’m selecting recipes for a bake off, I typically look at many recipes on Google and nominations from Instagram. I typically collect 50+ recipes to compare and whittle down to 9 final recipes that use different ingredients or unique techniques.
In the below chart, you’ll notice differences such as: butter vs. no fat, whipped egg whites vs. whole eggs, etc. I also tried to note other recipes that were somewhat similar in case you’ve tried and loved a recipe that wasn’t included.
|Ina Garten||Whipped whole eggs, whole milk, almond extract, creme fraiche in the whipped cream||Soledad Correa, Joanna Gaines|
|A Cozy Kitchen||Whipped egg whites, whole milk||Serious Eats, Smitten Kitchen, Cupcake Jemma, Simply Recipes, King Arthur, Candid Appetit, Joy the Baker, Isabel Eats, Joshua Weissman, Pioneer Woman|
|Hola Jalapeno||Cake flour, almond extract, whipped egg whites, cream of tartar||A Cozy Kitchen|
|Pati Jinich||Whipped egg whites, high egg ratio, no chemical leavener||N/a|
|Michael Cordua||Whipped egg whites, whole milk, high egg ratio, meringue topping||Binging with Babish|
|Muy Delish||Oil, whipped whole eggs||N/a|
|America’s Test Kitchen||Butter, whole milk, whipped whole eggs, dulce de leche, cinnamon||Carlsbad Cravings, 5 Boys Baker, Zoe Bakes|
|Mexico in My Kitchen||Butter, whipped whole eggs||Martha Stewart, Mely Martinez, Cooking Classy, Alton Brown, All Recipes|
|New York Times||Butter, whipped egg whites, coconut milk, dulce de leche, cream of tartar, spices||N/a|
Like virtually all baked goods, I think the absolute “BEST” tres leches is so subjective. I gravitated towards the airier, spongier tres leches that reminded me of the first cakes I tried in Houston. (El Bolillo holds a special place in my heart!) But there’s a wide variety of cakes to try in this bake off, from airy-crumbed to finer-crumbed, from super moist to more lightly dampened.
As always, I think pretty much all of these cakes could be someone’s new favorite. I highly recommend you read through all the cake descriptions for one that sounds best to you!
Factors in Tres Leches Cakes
Here are the main factors that varied from recipe to recipe and my analysis of how each affects the final cake!
The main factor that I was most interested in from the start was the inclusion of fat into the cake sponge. Because tres leches gets so much moisture from the three milks, I suspected that the cakes with no fat (leading to a drier, airier sponge) would lead to a superior cake. Sure enough, I far preferred the lighter, spongier texture of the recipes with a fatless sponge. Imagine soaking an already rich butter cake in a mixture of rich milks–it can easily become stodgy and feel overly heavy. This isn’t to say it can never be good (Mexico in My Kitchen was very popular), but most traditional recipes don’t include fat. Interestingly, I would’ve guessed that the oil-based cake (Muy Delish) would be the best of the fat-including cakes. However, I think the lower ratio of sugar in this cake contributed to a tougher texture that overpowered the effect of the oil.
Whipping eggs is crucial in tres leches to get the proper volume of the cake. A couple recipes use eggs as the sole leavener (no chemical rising agents!). Around half of the recipes used whipped whole eggs for a genoise cake. The rest fold whipped whites + sugar into the batter (the typical process I expected) for a more classic chiffon cake. In the end, there wasn’t a clear edge for either technique. I love the ease of a genoise with whipped whole eggs (as in Ina’s winning recipe), which still leads to an airy, spongy cake. This is the technique I’ll likely use going forward!
I was really racking my brain trying to understand why some of the cakes felt tougher than others. After worrying that I had overbaked some of the cakes and introduced baker’s error, I realized the answer might lie in the sugar ratios. I noticed Muy Delish and Hola Jalapeno had some of the tougher crumbs. Hola Jalapeno has a 1.8 ratio of flour to sugar by weight while Muy Delish has a 1:1 ratio. Most of the other cakes ranged from .6 (ATK) to .9 (A Cozy Kitchen). Sugar is a tenderizer so higher ratio of flour to sugar means the cake crumb is likely to be tougher. (Less sugar to tenderize the crumb.) The top 4 recipes all had a flour to sugar ratio of under 1:1.
The milk soak
The traditional tres leches mixture includes sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. As for the third milk? It seemed to be a toss up between heavy cream and whole milk. Personally, I didn’t miss the richness of cream when tasting cakes that used whole milk. I think they are easily interchangeable!
To me, a tres leches is all about showcasing unadulterated milky flavors. I didn’t love the cakes that introduced cinnamon, nutmeg or dulce de leche, but this is a total personal preference. A slight majority of tasters also preferred the unadulterated traditional flavor, which is reflected in the rankings.
Whipped cream vs. meringue
Only one recipe used a meringue topping (Michael Cordua), which proved quite divisive. Some people loved the lightness while others found it added unwelcome sweetness to an already sweet cake. I tend to prefer a more traditional whipped cream, but meringue is a very fun alternative if you don’t mind extra sweetness.
Tres Leches FAQ
Tres leches is a light sponge cake that is traditionally soaked in three milks (sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream or milk). It’s most often served with a whipped cream frosting, though it can also be served with a meringue topping.
At its simplest, the sponge can be made of flour, eggs, sugar. Sometimes milk, leaveners, vanilla extract or butter may be added. The milk mixture is typically made from 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk, 1 12-oz can evaporated milk and 1 cup of heavy cream or whole milk.
Most tres leches cakes take just 30-40 minutes to bake, but require an overnight soak with all the milks. Accordingly, most cakes will take between 8-12 hours from start to finish. In a pinch, you could refrigerate the cake for as short as 1-3 hours before serving.
Virtually all tres leches cakes use sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk as two out of the three milks. Some people choose to use heavy cream, half and half or whole milk as the third milk. Heavy cream will give a richer flavor while whole milk will be lighter–it depends on your preference.
Yes! Most tres leches recipes need to be soaked in milk at least overnight. You can store most tres leches cakes in the fridge for up to 3 days.
I wouldn’t recommend freezing an assembled tres leches cake. You may freeze the baked sponge cake (wrapped tightly) and defrost before finishing the cake with the milk soak and frosting.
It’s best to let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes before pouring the milks on top. This allows the structure of the cake to cool (so you don’t destroy the delicate structure while it’s still warm, turning it to mush). I think it’s best to start with a well-aerated, fatless sponge for the best chance at a cake that will be well-saturated but not soggy.
Tres leches is often served cold, though you can take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving if you’d like it a little less cold. It’s very refreshing straight out of the fridge!
Beating egg whites used to be my nemesis–I would always hold my breath and hope for perfectly glossy, stiff peaks instead of sad, soupy whites. Here are my tips for perfectly whipped egg whites:
1. Start with a clean, dry bowl and beaters: any fat or grease will prevent the whites from whipping up correctly
2. Make sure no egg yolk gets into the whites: for the same reason as above
3. Use 1/8 tsp cream of tartar per 1 egg white: Cream of tartar lowers the pH of the egg foam, helping to create a more stable foam. Even if the recipe doesn’t call for it, you can always add this for security. You can also sub the same amount of lemon juice or vinegar for the cream of tartar.
4. Use fresh egg whites: If you have these on hand, fresh whites will always whip up faster! Some people recommend letting egg whites sit out at room temperature as warmer whites will whip faster, but I find this isn’t necessary–your beaters will quickly help warm them to temp.
5. Start low before increasing speed: When whipping egg whites, start on a lower speed for the first few minutes before increasing the speed. This will create more even bubbles and ultimately, a more stable egg foam.
Analysis of the Best Tres Leches Recipes
Muy Delish: an airy cake with a coarse, slightly tougher crumb
Ana’s cake was one of four cakes to use fat in the sponge, but the only one to use oil. Whole eggs are whipped for nearly 20 minutes to get a really fluffy mixture before folding in the dry ingredients. Interestingly, the oil gets added last before baking. The soak is a typical condensed/evaporated/cream/vanilla situation with a lightly sweetened whipped cream.
The first thing that struck me about this cake was how tough the crumb was. This could either be due to overbaking on my part or the relatively low sugar ratio–or a combination of both. Whipping the eggs extensively led to large air pockets, evident in the very coarse, open structure of the cake. This cake uses a similar technique as Ina Garten but with double the amount of eggs, which I think could have also contributed to a slightly tougher structure. While the milky flavor felt fairly classic, I couldn’t get past the rough texture on this one.
- The cake texture wasn’t as moist as preferred, but still very good. On the denser side of the moist cakes tested, but didn’t come off as dry. Unfortunately, the frosting was bland and didn’t compliment the cake well. Overall we liked the cake itself but would skip the frosting next time.
- Flavor was off. Could not put finger on it. Cake has large, grainy crumb but dry, like an actual sponge or wet cornbread.
- My least favorite flavor of the bunch. Something tastes… stale? Not sweet enough and comes off bland.
- The texture was off, not creamy enough. It crumbled in my mouth with the weirdest sensation of being mushy and scratchy (?) – I could feel the crumbled rub against my tongue and mouth. It distracted from tasting it. Liked the less sweet topping. Flavor ok but too sweet for me.
Hola Jalapeno: a denser, cinnamon-studded, rice pudding-reminiscent cake
I was intrigued by Kate’s sponge and its unusual use of cake flour (the only one in this test that didn’t use all-purpose). Her recipe calls for separated, whipped yolks and whites before folding everything together. She uses the standard three milks and a lightly sweetened whipped cream on top with a dusting of cinnamon for garnish.
While this cake looked beautiful with its airy, relatively fine crumb, it didn’t quite draw me in. The cake felt denser and heavier than others with a soak that didn’t quite saturate the cake to my ideal level. Like Muy Delish, this cake also had a relatively low sugar ratio, which I think contributed to a less tender cake from the beginning. I agreed with one taster who noted this had a “starchy aftertaste” while somehow not conveying as much flavor in the cake itself. Some tasters enjoyed the cinnamon on top, but I thought it distracted from the milky flavor of the cake. Overall, I think this cake would be a good pick if you like a denser tres leches.
- The cinnamon sprinkled on top was delicious. The cake was very milky (shocker, I know!). It tasted like a cake form of rice pudding. Was there rice milk in this? I love rice pudding, so probably why I liked this one so much.
- It looked really pretty with the cinnamon on top but the cinnamon was almost overpowering. The texture wasn’t as light and smooth as I’d like! It was a little lumpy and heavy.
- Moisture wasn’t evenly distributed throughout the cake, weirdly dry and heavy while still being wet. I like the cinnamon but otherwise bland. Not too sweet. Nothing memorable.
- Cake and frosting combo felt uneven in texture. Small crumb, delicate. Bottom of cake seemed a little dense and getting mushy. Starchy aftertaste. Whipped cream was lightly sweetened which I liked, also had a light buttery flavor. Leche flavor did not really stand out.
- Texture is spongier and dry, lacks flavor. Difficult to eat following the perfect bite from [Ina Garten].
New York Times/Melissa Clark: a spiced, coconut and dulce de leche-infused denser butter cake
In the face of my classic concern (will they all taste the same), I decided to include Melissa Clark’s seis leches cake from the New York Times. In additional to the typical three milks, Melissa adds coconut milk, condensed coconut milk and dulce de leche. This was one of three cakes to use butter in the sponge (just 5 tablespoons) along with cinnamon and nutmeg. Whipped egg whites are folded into the batter to lighten it. A layer of dulce de leche is spread over the cake before frosting it with a dulce de leche-infused cream (and topped with cinnamon). (Note: I omitted the rum and took her suggestion to use more sweetened condensed milk instead of the sweetened condensed coconut milk.)
Well, this cake definitely stood out in the crowd! The caramel notes of the dulce de leche instantly elevated this cake’s sweetness to several notches above others. I enjoyed the caramelized flavor of the whipped cream, though I felt the layer of dulce de leche on top of the cake was a bit excessive. Sadly, I felt the sponge was too butter cake-like for my taste–it both looks and tastes like a regular vanilla cake. It didn’t seem to soak up the milk as evenly as other cakes, and it felt generally heavier. This has a a LOT of flavor going on. If you find regular tres leches boring and want notes of coconut, cinnamon and rum (if you make it as specified)–give this a try!
- The cake is very coconutty. A little less coconut and less goo and this is the perfect cake! Delicious!
- Unique coconut cream flavor without being too overpowering, lots of spice (which I love) but not as milky, which is more what I think of in a tres leches cake. I prefer the classic tres leches flavor.
- Overall too sweet. Tasted like there was coconut milk used and dulce de leche? Flavor wasn’t bad, but cake was quite dense and well-saturated. Some bites had a pasty texture.
- Loved the coconut! A scrumptious bite although it was heavy and the cake was dry on the bottom. I could not eat a lot of this as it’s very filling. But I did like the couple of bites I took!
- The milk and other liquid did not get to the bottom of this cake at all, so it was weirdly wet on top and dry on the bottom. The brown color of the top layer was offputting. I thought it could be dulce de leche, but the cake didn’t benefit from it’s addtion (no caramel notes). There was identifiable spice in this one, but nothing too prominent.
America’s Test Kitchen: a tight-crumbed, eggy butter cake spiked with dulce de leche
The team at ATK use whipped whole eggs rather than whipped egg whites for a cake that would “sturdy enough to hold up to the milk mixture.” A lower ratio of cream in the milk soak is aimed to not oversaturate the cake. They also call for cooking the condensed milk in the microwave (or oven) until it becomes dulce de leche for a “hint of caramel flavor.” (Note: I tried their microwave method and ended up with condensed milk exploded all over my microwave. I highly recommend this boiling method:https://www.seriouseats.com/dulce-de-leche-recipe instead.)
This cake had a buttery, tight-crumbed texture–it was similarly dense as were all cakes that contained fat in the sponge. Note that baker’s error definitely occurred with this cake as I accidentally let nearly an hour elapse before soaking the cake with milk instead of the recommended 10 minutes. This definitely affected how much liquid soaked into the cake as a warm cake will absorb more liquid. Still, I think the main things you need to know about this cake are: there is cinnamon in the cake (which is dense and eggy) and the flavor will be somewhat caramel-y from the dulce de leche. It’s a fun adventure for those looking for an untraditional tres leches.
- I like it, The inside is creamy and I love it and I feel like this is a very good cake. Delicious once again.
- Very cinnamony in the best way! I love that the cake is not too soaked. It’s very flavorful without being soggy. If I wanted to make tres leches cupcakes, I’d choose this recipe!
- Larger crumb but very dense cake, Holds leche but the leche flavor wasn’t very present. Maybe there wasn’t enough or the cake was so dense that it didn’t permeate. Tasted like there might be rice flour or rice milk used. Frosting was mild – didn’t really add much too it. Cake to frosting ratio could be better balanced (needed more frosting).
- This was by far the driest cake. The liquid didn’t absorb much. Tight crumb on the cake instead of a more traditional open crumb. Flavor-wise, this tasted like horchata in cake form. I’m a huge horchata fan, so the flavor was a win, but the drier texture wasn’t traditional or what I’d think of as a tres leches cake.
- Texture was more like poundcake so felt it didn’t soak in the flavors as much and would like more topping. Very eggy.
Pati Jinich: a tall, perfectly spongy and fluffy cake with an ideally creamy texture and milder flavor
Award-winning TV host and cookbook author Pati Jinich’s recipe caught my eye for its simplicity–just 4 ingredients for the cake! Pati uses the highest ratio of eggs with the whites and yolks whipped separately. Interestingly, she uses the same ratio of milks as America’s Test Kitchen–but she uses milk instead of heavy cream as the third milk for an even lighter mixture.
As to be expected from the large amount of eggs, Pati’s recipe made one of the tallest cakes. Pati notes that the milk mixture (which gets poured onto a cooled cake) may seem alarmingly excessive. While it did pool in the center of the cake, most of it was absorbed as we cut into it without leaving a giant pool in the bottom of the pan like some others. I liked the airy sponginess of this one–it was evenly soaked through for a creamy but structured texture. Some found this a little sweet but bland and I agree. Perhaps the lack of salt led to a slightly lacking flavor? Still, a solid cake!
- Nice. A tad too sweet but the cake was a nice fine texture. Although it was completely soaked, it held its shape. Kind of melted in my mouth. Despite a bigger piece of cake relative to topping, it wasn’t heavy. Happy to eat this anytime!
- Loved the texture. Good level of creaminess. Could have been elevated by more flavor.
- Wish there was more of the frosting on top. Very good texture. Deceptively looks dry but is not at all! Needs less cake and more cream.
- This was, to me, the sweetest cake of the bunch. Pretty one note in terms of flavor. It just tasted like consensed milk. The cake itself was a traditional texture of a tres leches cake: spongy and light.
- This one tasted like milky angel food cake to me with both taste and texture! I liked it but I wouldn’t necessary call this a tres leches cake.
Michael Cordúa: a very moist, almost squishy cake topped with a sweet meringue
I was extremely excited to find this recipe by Michael Cordúa, a Nicaraguan-American chef who opened a number of restaurants in Houston. The tres leches at Américas was renowned (I miss it!) and I was excited to see whether this recipe lived up to my memory. Michael’s recipe was the only one listed as an 8×8 recipe (so I doubled it to fit in a 9×13 like the other recipes). The sponge is simple with just flour, eggs, sugar, baking powder and milk (the whites get whipped and folded in). This recipe is most similar to Pati Jinich’s (but with 1 less egg, double the sugar, added baking powder and milk). The milk mixture includes cream as the third milk and most uniquely, the cake gets topped with a billowy meringue.
The moment I took a bite, it was as if a core memory was unlocked–it tasted exactly like how I remembered. Light, sweet, VERY moist and delicious! However, the cake did slightly overflow out of my 9×13 pan, so I’d be inclined to 3/4 the recipe next time. The meringue was also out-of-control–as you can see in the picture, it’s nearly 5x the height of the cake! I’d halve the meringue amount next time around. While some did find the meringue too sweet, I loved the sweet-on-sweet effect.
The cake was also literally swimming in milk thanks to DOUBLE the typical quantity of milk for a 9×13. Yes, this meant the cake was nearly mush by the end. Tres leches soup anyone? I have to admit, I still loved this cake despite all its flaws. It’s VERY sweet, moist and rich–but somehow feels light? One of my favorites.
TLDR – If you make this cake: try halving the meringue and milk mixture and doing 3/4 the cake recipe. I will update this blog post if I give it a try!
- Love the lightness of the merengue, balances the moistness of the cake very well. The cake just melts in your mouth, no grainy mouthfeel!
- I LOVE the meringue topping. The texture of that topping is amazing. The actual cake is far too wet, though. It was almost completely disintegrated and swimming in liquid. I enjoyed the flavor but was a bit too sweet. [Mexico in my Kitchen] with but with [Cordua’s] topping would be PERFECTION!
- This was my favorite cake – but just the cake part. It was perfectly moist and flavorful. But the fluffy topping was a bit too sweet. And the ratio of topping to cake was a bit off for me. I’d like more cake.
- The cake had a pleasing texture but the meringue gave a perhaps unwelcome marshmallow flavor. On a cake that’s already so sweet, it seemed unnecessary. Because of the dryness of the meringue, it instantly separated from the cake on the plate, so it was hard to eat the two elements together.
- The cake was good but it was way too sweet for me. I think the ratio of milk was so high that the cake ended up being a bit too soggy
A Cozy Kitchen: a light and tender, moist, finely-crumbed tres leches that’s not overly saturated
Adrianna uses a popular formula for her cake. It’s similar to Ina’s recipe but doubles the amount of egg (which gets separated with both whipped whites and yolks). In the milk soak, Adrianna uses slightly less milk than most–just half a cup instead of the more standard 8 oz.
As with pretty much all of Adrianna’s baked goods, this cake looked so cute and perfect! This had a close, fine crumb while still remaining light and fluffy. Texturally, the cake had an almost perfect amount of soak but left a surprisingly dry pan behind. Personally, I’d leave off the sprinkle of cinnamon as garnish, but add it if you like cinnamon! This was a solidly delicious, definitively crowd-pleasing cake that I think most would enjoy. Not too sweet, not overly moist, and just great!
- Texture is perfect! Not too moist but not too dry. A lusciously tight crumb with a nice, but not soggy, soak.
- The texture was smooth and light! There was almost too much frosting for the cake. The cinnamon also overpowered the cake similar to [Hola Jalapeno] but I liked that it was eggier.
- Very milky. Good texture and good soak level while maintaining structure. Cinnamon on top adds complexity–don’t know if it is needed but a good add on. Didn’t get much from frosting, would want more.
- Flavor is great, cinnamon forward–like horchata. The cake has solid structure, light but wasn’t able to absorb the liquids well so was a tiny bit mushy.
- The cake texture was almost perfect – perfectly moist, but not overly squishy. But the flavor came off a bit bland, including the frosting. Slightly eggy flavor.
Mexico in my Kitchen: a close-crumbed, very moist cake with a starchy sweetness
Mely’s recipe was one of three recipes that uses a butter-based cake. This recipe is somewhat unusual in that she calls for whole eggs to be beaten with sugar, but doesn’t specify how long (most other recipes call for 5-10 minutes for full aeration). Heavy cream also serves as the third milk in this recipe (I omitted the optional rum/brandy). I like that Mely gives the option to bake this in an 8×8 if you want a taller cake. Note: I made mine in a 9×13 and thought it was a little short but fine.
This cake was quite divisive among tasters. Some loved how moist, sweet, dense and almost custardy this was. Others thought it was too heavy and a little soggy–there was a ton of liquid left in the bottom of the pan after serving. The recipe does call for soaking the cake once it has completely cooled, which I imagine could be partly why there was so much milk that didn’t absorb. As someone who prefers a more moist tres leches, I liked this cake but wished the crumb was airier.
- My favorite. Similar to [Ina Garten], the cake was lighter than most. I could eat a serving without getting weighed down. Vanilla dairy flavor is strong (good!) Some extra sauce on the bottom which was yummy and the cake still held together. This is what I want from tres leches.
- I feel like this cake was very moist, perfectly sweet (maybe too sweet?) and overall great.
- This one had a sweeter, denser cake texture. I liked the custardy flavor of this one! It also seemed to have the most liquid leakage compared to others. I liked that there was some bite to it but it was almost too sweet
- Most sweet cake so far. Texture is denser than I would like but still very solid. I like the absorption of liquids.
- Texture was like a tres leche bread pudding. Very heavy and dense, soggy, overly saturated, very starchy aftertaste. A very prominent vanilla flavor, which I liked, if maybe a bit one note.
- This feels very average, it’s got that rice pudding texture present in a lot of these which I really dislike, but the flavor is nice.
Ina Garten: a classic spongy, fluffy, well-saturated cake with clean, sweet dairy flavor
Ina’s recipe uses among the lowest ratio of eggs with a pinch of salt and vanilla for flavor. She calls for whipping the egg, sugar and vanilla for a full 10 minutes before folding in the other ingredients for a highly aerated batter. Her milk mixture includes slightly more heavy cream than most with both almond extract and vanilla bean seeds (I subbed extract). Like many, she calls for cooling the cake almost completely (30 minutes) before soaking it in milk. The whipped cream was the only one to diverge from a simple sweetened cream with a hint of creme fraiche (I subbed sour cream) and both granulated and powdered sugar.
Biting into this cake was bliss! This is my quintessential tres leches. The cake is airy and soft with a holey texture that I’d never want in any other cake. Liquid soaks into this cake beautifully for a well-saturated but not overly mushy way (okay, some might find it a little mushy). I personally loved the almond extract in the milk soak though some didn’t prefer it. The slight tang in the whipped cream is extremely subtle but adds a slight complexity that really elevates this cake. To me, this is the perfect density, sweetness, texture and flavor. This is the cake I will return to!
- To me, this was the quintessential tres leches cake. The cake seemed like it was airy before being drowned in milk. It was light and easy to eat quickly. It has a familiar/comforting sweetness level and flavor.
- It has a lovely custardy taste but isn’t too heavy. The cake was one of the lightest. You can tell the milk/custard was fully absorbed but the cake still held its shape. The tang (sour cream?) was refreshing. I really liked this one.
- I didn’t appreciate this one enough on my first time around the horn, but after trying all of them, this may actually be one of my favorites. An overall really nice balanced flavor, the frosting isn’t overpowering. Really delightful.
- The absolute GOAT. Perfect cake density, just right sweetness and flavor, excellent cake:whipped cream ratio. We all found ourselves wanting to steal another bite of this cake after taking bites of the others.
- Very strong almond flavor, maybe too strong, but amazingly moist and decadent.
- Consistency is very nice and spongy but wish it was soaked a bit more. I personally don’t really like almond extract but it was nice.
Best Tres Leches Recommendations
Erika’s picks: Ina Garten, Michael Cordua (with many modifications!), A Cozy Kitchen
Best classic tres leches: Ina Garten, Pati Jinich
A delicious denser tres leches: Mexico in My Kitchen, Hola Jalapeno
Best drier-but-not-dry tres leches (i.e. no chance of mush): A Cozy Kitchen
The uber-moist and sweet tres leches pick: Michael Cordua
Best non-traditional tres leches: New York Times, America’s Test Kitchen
For more reading on tres leches, I highly recommend Nicola Lamb’s incredible, knowledge-packed newsletter post!
Fantastic write-up! Thank you! Do you still share your raw all-recipie comparison spreadsheet from the preliminary phase? I enjoy looking at that when it’s available.
I just made the Ina Garten recipe and brought it to work. My manager who is from Mexico said it was the best he has ever had! Can’t recommend it enough!!!
I really enjoyed your post!!! Here in my country Chile this cake is so much popular. I’m addicted to your blog ❤️
thanks a lot of information
I’ve used Ina Garten’s tres leches cake for years! It even impresses my Mexican in-laws. I make mine special by steeping the tres leches mixture with a cinnamon stick and some freshly grated nutmeg. Then I top the whipped cream with fresh strawberries. Delish!