Call the Milkman: Cinnamon Tres Leches


Many a long time ago, I first heard of this now seemingly ubiquitous dessert when Andouille raved about his aunt’s version of this sweet, milky cake.

“OHMYGODCHRISSY!  Tres leches is ugghhhh.  THE. BEST.”

I know you don’t know Andouille…but…really everyone should.  He is really just the most colorful person ever. Perhaps I’ll get him to guest post for me some day. He’s a very busy and important lawyer, so I’m not sure he would be up for it…but I’ll work on it.

Anyway, it’s no surprise that many a nation, specifically those in Latin America and the Caribbean, wants to lay claim to inventing this cake and each has its own version. Some use a base of butter cake (like this one), while others go for the sponge.  Some recipes use heavy cream, others regular milk. Some are frosted with whipped cream or a meringue, some are topped with nothing at all.  However, the consensus agrees that it’s the cake of three milks.  And all agree that it’s ugghhhh…THE. BEST.

Despite the uncertain origin, I knew that when it came time to pull out the cake pan and turn on the oven to make Andouille’s favorite dessert, of course I had to ask him for his aunt’s famous recipe.  Problem: she died.  And so did the recipe with her.


Option #2 was Mango.  Mango’s family hails from both Cuba and Puerto Rico,  AND she cooks like I do;  surely she had a family recipe. However, when I got it…it used boxed cake mix and Cool Whip.  Now, nothing against those things (I’ve consumed many a funfetti cake in my day), but as I’ve gotten grown-up, from-scratch is the name of my game.  Foiled again.

After a call to Facebook for authentic recipes yielded nothing, I did my best to create one using the vanilla cinnamon cake from my Mexican Hot Chocolate recipe drenched in Mango’s combination of sweetened condensed, evaporated and 2% milk laced with vanilla. And for my own touch, some rum for good measure.

Rum is often good measure.

And topped with whipped cream. I never forget whipped cream.



I admit that at first bite, the cake was meh, but after a few hours on the counter to come to room temperature…it was sort of perfect.  I think that, due to the denseness of the cake, the liquid took quite a long time to sink in completely and get appropriately distributed throughout.  So, a bit of delayed gratification, but in the end very gratifying.  

Then, as fate would have it, just yesterday I got sent another recipe from an old friend that I’m sure is actually fantastic and a whole lot more authentic than this one, so I’ve put that in my back pocket for now.  

Always good to have a cake recipe in one’s back pocket. 

So at some future date, you’ll be seeing this again in another iteration, and you’ll be happy about it because who doesn’t like more cake?  But for now, we have this one and this one, while perhaps not 100% island authentic, is pretty darn good.  Both my fantasy football and book club groups, neither of whom harbor any bias, agree with my assessment.  And I think you will, too.

Tres Leches
Yields 9
The Latin American cake of three milks
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For the cake
  1. 1 cup butter, unsalted, at room temp
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. 3 cups all-purpose flour
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  6. ½ tsp salt
  7. 1 tsp cinnamon
  8. 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  9. 1 ½ tsp vanilla, preferably Mexican
For the milk
  1. 1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  2. 1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk
  3. 12 oz 2% milk
  4. 2 TB dark spiced rum
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the topping
  1. 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  2. 3 TB granulated sugar
  3. cinnamon, to garnish
Make the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Butter and sugar a 9 x 13 cake pan. Set aside.
  3. In a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla and beat well.
  4. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly add the dry to the egg/sugar mixture, alternating with the milk. Mix well.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake 35-45 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely.
  6. While the cake is cooling, mix together all the milk ingredients. Set aside.
  7. Once the cake is cooled, poke holes all across the top of the cake to allow the cake to absorb the milk. HOWEVER, don't poke too many or else the cake will fall apart. Pour the milk over the cooled cake, a little at a time as the cake absorbs the liquid. This may take some time.
  8. Once the liquid has been mostly absorbed, put in the refrigerator overnight.
  9. A few hours before serving, whip the cream and sugar to stiff peaks, and spread over the cake. Let come to room temperature before serving.
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