This very vanilla tres leches cake is soaked in a decadent creamy milk sauce and topped with whipped cream.
tres leches cake

Allow me to introduce you to: The Original Poke Cake.


Before you crazy kids came up with all of these new-fangled flavors, there was just…

…vanilla. On vanilla. On vanilla.

(And it was glorious.)

So today we’re going back to basics. There are no crazy twists, surprise fillings, or totally random toppings.

It’s just vanilla. On vanilla. On vanilla. With a hint of cinnamon.

(And it is glorious.)


If you’ve never had tres leches cake (or any kind of poke cake) before, you are in for a real treat. It’s basically cake that has been poked all over and doused in some kind of sweet liquid, in this case: sugar milk.

My mother was so confused at how this could be the “sauce”, because it tastes. so. good.

Every five minutes, she would ask, “BUT WHAT IS THIS SAUCE.”

And I would reply, very emphatically, “IT IS MILK. WITH SUGAR.”

I’m not sure I ever got through to her.

Anyways, the cake gets soaked and becomes impossibly moist to the point that you’re pretty sure this is what heaven tastes like. And then you top it with a barely sweetened whipped cream and cinnamon sprinkle.

And then you die. Of happiness. It’s a good thing.


Tres Leches Cake
This very vanilla tres leches cake is soaked in a decadent creamy milk sauce and topped with whipped cream.
Yield: 10-12 servings
For the cake
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
For soaking the cake
  • 1¼ cups evaporated milk
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
For the topping
  • 1¾ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • cinnamon, for dusting
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Microwave the milk for 1 minute. Stir the vanilla into the hot milk.
  3. In a clean stand mixer bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they form soft peaks. Pour in ¼ cup of the sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Remove to a clean bowl and return the mixer bowl to the stand mixer.
  4. In the mixer bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining ¾ cup of sugar until light in color and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and stir in the milk.
  5. Slowly add in the flour mixture, mixing until just a few floury streaks remain, then mix by hand until well combined.
  6. Fold a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining egg white mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
  7. Bake until the cake is a deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely, about 1 hour.
  8. Place the cake in a shallow serving bowl. Pierce all over with a fork or skewer.
  9. In a medium bowl, whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream. Pour all over the cake, lifting it to make sure it gets underneath as well on top. Let rest until the liquid is absorbed, a few hours or overnight in the fridge.
  10. To make the topping, beat together the cream, sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean paste until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Cover the cake with the whipped cream. Serve immediately.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 slice

CAKE. Because, Friday:

vanilla cloud cake

Vanilla Cloud Cake

perfect vanilla cupcakes

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

strawberry vanilla bean buttermilk cake

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake

From Around the Web:

Vanilla Birthday Cake from Sweetapolita

Strawberry Vanilla Donuts from Annie’s Eats

Vanilla Bean Sweet Potato Waffles from Joy the Baker

Cardamom Vanilla Cake from My Name is Yeh

Glazed Vanilla Bean Scones from My Baking Addiction


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56 Responses to Tres Leches Cake

  1. How divine. I’ve been wanting to try tres leches cake for years (because how can condensed milk and whipped cream be wrong?) but haven’t had the opportunity.

  2. Thank God for Friday and this cake. Love that you made this. . the basics are good!! and this cake looks amazing!

  3. Vanilla on vanilla on vanilla – my idea of the perfect cake! 🙂

  4. Glorious indeed! Sometimes a little vanilla on vanilla action is just what we need. And lol about your mom’s reaction to the sauce!

    Happy Friday, love!

  5. Poke Cakes! You just zapped me all the way back to my grandma’s Vermont kitchen. I think she made hers with…Jello? Is that possible? Your sauce looks waaaaaaay better. 🙂

  6. I’d love a slice of this! Any chance you can ship some to Boston? I’m sure this cake will travel well 😀

  7. As much as I love crazy flavors, sometimes you can’t beat vanilla. I like this back to basics you!

  8. Heather says:

    Oh wow, that looks so creamy and delicious! For Mother’s Day I am making this cake for myself and eating it for breakfast with coffee… in bed. Heaven.

  9. Trisha says:

    I have to admit that if I had to choose between a big fancy layer cake with butter cream and a simple cake like this with whipped cream topping, I would totally choose the latter! Give me all that sweet milk! And if liking all that vanilla on vanilla makes me, well vanilla, I’m totally ok with it!

  10. Absolutely, positively, my favorite cake flavour! Yummy!!

  11. chloe says:

    my Puerto Rican husband is going to LOVE this

  12. MUST have this now! You’re right the original poke cake— PS- can we call it something better than poke… how about soak cake!

  13. Love everything about this. You can never go wrong with vanilla!

  14. Love, love, love a good poke cake! And tres leches…mama…you are speaking to my soul! My absolutely ideal cake is one that is soaked to the point of near liquidity. This looks like perfection!

  15. Pam says:

    It looks AMAZING Joanne.

  16. Ala says:

    Yes. Yes yes yes yes, tres leches is totally the original poke cake and I love making it so freaking much. I’m making one tomorrow–YAY and YUM.

  17. Marci says:

    This looks fabulous. I recently had tres leches cake at a restaurant in Hammonton, NJ that I haven’t stopped thinking about. Going to try your recipe.

  18. Kate says:

    I love tres leches. It makes me understand the whole concept of calling dessert “pudding” in England.

  19. this was totally the original poke cake. love it! so pretty!

  20. Oh vanilla indeed! This looks amazing, Joanne!

  21. This looks amazing! I’m kind of a vanilla hater because vanilla desserts are usually lackluster, but this looks phenomenal and basically all your vanilla recipes (I’m looking at you, cloud cake) are, so you’re slowly turning me 🙂

  22. Lori R. says:

    My goodness this looks amazing! Oh, that sweetened condensed milk. Gets me every time.

  23. Christine says:

    Oh my, death by sweet milk 😀 Total heaven.

  24. Zainab says:

    I’ve never made tres leches cake but I think that needs to change!! Just sounds too delicious.

  25. One of my all time favorite desserts!! Love that this is loaded with vanilla!

  26. Rachel G says:

    This looks delicious! In high school, one of my friends’ moms made this cake all the time – it was my favorite! I haven’t had it in years but I think I’ll need to attempt it on my own with this recipe!

  27. gloria says:

    Look absolutely wonderful and delicious Joanne!

  28. Sometimes there is nothing better than the basics and the regular ol’ traditional ways. Cause you know they have to be good for them to become this crazy thing it is today. This cake is just beyond <3

  29. Katie says:

    oh vanillia – The Husband’s favourite flavour. and then cinnamon – his nemesis. I wonder what would happen if I made this, some kind of world-imploding reaction somehow!

  30. I won’t ever turn down chocolate, but at heart, I’m a vanilla gal. Poke cakes are the. best. !

  31. I have never even heard of this! But I do love vanilla, so I’m all in favour of going back to simple flavours sometimes.

  32. Mouth watering. I never thought of tres leches as the original poke cake. Great comparison!

  33. I am in love with everything vanilla! Also… I have never tried a poke cake. I need to get on this!

  34. It sounds delicious. Love how moist it looks.

  35. Hotly Spiced says:

    I have heard of the tres leches cake but I’ve never made one. But when I was growing up you had a choice of chocolate, vanilla or orange cake and vanilla was always my favourite. I must make one of these one day xx

  36. Johanna GGG says:

    You see in my childhood there was vanilla cake and it was very very boring (no fancy amazing vanilla pods back then). Some days now I appreciate some really good vanilla baking but it is still at the bottom of my baking priorities. I have seen tres leches cake before and am always fascinated – have never known it as a type of poke cake but what really makes me sit up and take notice of the cake is that is has condensed milk and there is nothing in the world the condensed milk can’t improve.

  37. I too love vanilla cakes! This looks amazing.

  38. Amanda says:

    This looks so yummy! Amazing recipe!

  39. I looooove tres leches cake! This one looks wonderful! So decadent. YUM!

  40. June Burns says:

    The original poke cake, indeed! This variation looks awesome 🙂

  41. How have I never heard of a poke cake? This really does sound heavenly, and now you’ve got me dreaming of lots of other different kinds of poke cakes. Chocolate poke cake, anyone? (me, me, me).

  42. mira says:

    This cake is gorgeous Joanne! Love it! Pinned of course!

  43. Asha says:

    I could eat tres leches everyday..oh wait, I did a few years ago. So addictive. Love this Joanne, you just reminded me of my obsession for this cake.

  44. cquek says:

    These are SERIOUSLY blowing my mind!

  45. Krista says:

    I love your descriptions of food, Joanne. 🙂 Your words put the biggest smile on my face. 🙂

  46. Yes…tres leches cake! Delicious, gorgeous and decadent. I need to find a way (or four) to slip it into my Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

  47. grace says:

    this is most definitely on my list of favorite cakes–moistness is an awful word but it’s a fabulous phenomenon in a dessert!

  48. Oh, this looks so fabulous – could do with a piece right NOW:-)

  49. […] Happy Cinco de Mayo! May your day be filled with tasty tacos, saucy enchiladas and delicious tres leches cake! […]

  50. Kelly says:

    This looks heavenly!! Vanilla cake is my favorite and dousing it with milk and sugar makes this even more perfect! Love this!

  51. Susan says:

    That is some gorgeous vanilla and cinnamon goodness! I’ve never made a tres leches cake but I’m drooling to try it.

  52. 1-your cake server is looovely
    2-I love vanilla. It is so darned delicious
    3-This cake is gorgeous-the texture is perfect and I love each and every element!

  53. elly says:

    My husband’s birthday is in a couple weeks and he asked if I had any cake suggestions. I mentioned tres leches, basically because I’m selfish, I love it, and I’ve never made it. He didn’t turn it down, but he wasn’t that enthusiastic either. So I’m going to show him this and keep bothering him until he picks it.

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