Coconut Tres Leches

By • May 14, 2013 • 120 Comments

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Author Notes: I started making tres leches because it is my neighbor's favorite thing and I like her. I started with Martha Stewart's recipe which is a great jumping off point -- but it is not as juicy as a traditional tres leches, which you will find resting in a shallow lake of sweet milk. So I adjusted up for that, and here I have swapped in some coconut, some lime (because it is one of coconut's BFFs) and I used Tahitian vanilla which is a bit more floral than Mexican (but if you can't find it, go with whatcha got). It's rich and milky and coconutty and good. Ask the neighbors.aargersi

Food52 Review: WHO: The same cook who brought us a knock-out Thanksgiving turkey also has dessert in the bag. We can't say we're surprised.
WHAT: A tropical, decadent take on a classic.
HOW: Make a simple batter, bake, pour a milk mixture over your cake, and watch as it drinks it all in.
WHY WE LOVE IT: How could we not love this? If you need any more convincing than the title, we'll say this: the day after we made this cake, a Food52 staffer had this for breakfast and lunch. And she wasn't the only one.
The Editors

Serves one 9x13 cake

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), plus more for the pan
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • One 13 1/2 ounce can coconut milk
  • One ounce 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • Zest from 1 lime
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  1. Heat the oven to 350. Butter a 9x13 baking dish. Melt the butter and honey together and set aside.
  2. Whisk the flours, salt, and baking powder together in a medium bowl.
  3. Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a larger bowl until everything lightens in color and is nice and smooth. Now on lower speed or with a gentler arm, beat in the flour in 2 additions until the batter is just smooth. Fold in the butter and mix until it is just fully incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 25-30 minutes, rotating cake once halfway through, until it is golden and a toothpick comes out clean. This is going to look like a sort of shallow cake. Don't worry.
  4. While the cake bakes, mix the three milks (tres leches) together and also spread the coconut out on a baking sheet. When the cake comes out, pop the coconut into the oven to toast. Check and stir every 3-4 minutes. It should only take 8-9 minutes to get golden brown.
  5. Use a toothpick to poke little holes all over the warm cake. Now pour the milk over it -- slowly. It is going to look like a LOT of milk and you are going to want to panic. Don't. My cake actually floated up like a raft briefly! But pour it all on and wait -- 95% of that milk is going to adsorb into the cake and the rest is that lake you are looking for. Allow the cake to cool completely, and the toasted coconut as well.
  6. Now whip the cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and lime zest together until stiff peaks form. Spread the cream over the cake, then sprinkle the coconut over top. You can dig in right now, our keep it in the fridge for 3-4 days, though I doubt it'll last that long.
Jump to Comments (120)

Comments (120) Questions (4)

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about 1 month ago Jennifer

Growing up in Mexico in an area without fresh milk, we always made this using 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 1 can coconut milk, and one can condensed milk. Sometimes I put in cajeta instead of coconut milk - have to whisk it a lot to break up the caramel. Also, goats milk is wonderful in it.

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3 months ago Lusty Dish

Making again tonight and I think I am going to add a tablespoon of dark rum to the milks... Its a Labor Day tradition that people look forward to..

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3 months ago diana foggia

I live in Canada and our cans are metric...would a can of 396ml coconut milk and 1 can of 300ml sweetened condensed milk be equivalent to use in the recipe? I have tried to convert, but it does not come out to the same can measurements in the recipe.

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5 months ago Luisa Ormonde Hancock

is the butter supposed to be melted or room temp please?

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5 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

the butter and the honey are melted together

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7 months ago Amanda

What are the calories per serving?

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5 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

oh dear - just saw this - the answer is, a lot. I don't have an exact count but, well, a lot

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7 months ago Lusty Dish

It has to be refrigerated just take it out a couple hours before serving, put cream and coconut on and serve.

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7 months ago Lusty Dish

When I made this cake I soaked it the day before and put the coconut and whipped on it before serving.. This cake is a show stopper... make sure you poke lots of holes in it and put the milks over it while still warm.. I will be making many this summer.

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7 months ago bmorecharmer

if i were to bake the cake about 24 hours before it will be eaten, should i go ahead and complete the cake, or just let it soak and add the topping at the last minute? also, is it imperative (for food safety reasons) that the cake be refrigerated? i prefer a room temperature cake over a cold one.

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7 months ago rachel e-s

is the coconut flour critical? I don't have any in the house...

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7 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

no - you can use all AP flour!

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7 months ago GullMom

I've always been tempted to try making this, but no recipe has ever really inspired me....until now! How long does it usually take for the milk to soak into the cake? I've got it on my counter now and can't wait to try it tonight!

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7 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Hi GullMom - have you eaten it yet? I usually bake / soak in the morning and let it cool completely (a couple of hours) then add the whipped cream and fridge it until cake-thirty. Another hour or so, up to a few hours.

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7 months ago GullMom

OMG....so amazing! Served this last night and it was a huge hit! Gave some to friends and they loved it, too. Thanks for an amazing recipe!!

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7 months ago Detrishious

I baked this today. I baked it gluten free. It absorbed the tres Leches perfectly! Yum!
Thank You!!

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7 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

Another wonderful bake. It's currently chilling in the fridge. Will top it with chopped mangoes, tossed in lime zest and juice, and maybe some sugar. And maybe freshly ground cardamom. So looking forward to it. Thank you.

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7 months ago Debbie

it has to be wrong to make another cake when there is still some left over in the fridge right??? On some level- clearly this one, I need to get better control of myself.

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7 months ago Debbie

okay so I made this cake......... It's not the recipe at all, it is very good- so if you enjoy soggy cake, this is for you. I just can't get over the texture- and the....sogginess. It's been sitting in my stomach, it feels, since yesterday. I wouldn't make this again. The taste is good though.

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7 months ago mshlm

any changes for high altitude?

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7 months ago Cindy Foreman

I just made this for Mothers day at 7600' altitude. Followed the recipe , and it was wonderful.

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7 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

This will be the best one I've made and I'm not nearly done.

I just made it, split into two dishes. And for the first time, all the milk mixture was absorbed....by the minute. The cakes literally sucked up the liquid.

My observation - it is crucial not to over-bake the cake. This is my fourth time making it and this appears to be the major difference.

I watched carefully after the 20-minute mark (because I used 2 smaller dishes), turning it once and then checking on it every couple of minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre came up clean.

When poking the cake, I poked the centre and all around it but also worked my way around the rim of the dish. All the way around.

Thank you Abbie for convincing me to even look beyond this cake will make me a STAR. Stay well.

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7 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Good Morning KB! I am so happy that you have been enjoying this cake! I agree on the not over-baking ...

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8 months ago Lusty Dish

I made this cake for a party last Labor Day and it came incredible. It's a masterpiece to look at and the tast is just sublime. I made it with all the ingredients in an oval baker. You must POKE A LOT OF HOLES WITH A SKEWER IN THE CAKE. The cake will absorb all the milk, Let it sit overnight. I can't wait to make it again.

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8 months ago borntobeworn

I made this cake tonight for my son's 23rd birthday tomorrow. I am totally dismayed at the smallness of the cake and the total soup on the top (and I left out the whole milk because it just seemed like way too much volume of liquid to absorb into a thin cake). I measured everything correctly (checked all measurements against the recipe 3 times). Since the picture is of an oval dish (that I guess is 9"x13"), I'm thinking that my mistake was in using a rectangular pan that is 9"x13" (which is the standard shape that most people have that is 9"x13"). However, there is no way that even the 2 leche liquid is going to disappear into this cake (and I left out 1.25 cups of milk). Even if I had used an oval baker, this still seems like way too much liquid. I'm going to have to pour some off before topping with whipped cream. Any ideas on how this went wrong for me??

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8 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Good Morning - hmmm, I am not sure, I make mine in a rectangular pan and use the full volume of milk. Two things that are key - you have to poke a LOT of holes, and pour the milks on while it's warm. Remember you don't actually want every drop to absorb, and it does take a little time before most of it does. How long did the cake sit with the milks?

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8 months ago borntobeworn

I did poke lots of holes (fork poked in 1/4" from the next set of holes). I let the cake cool a little bit (I could touch the pan but it was too warm to hold comfortably) because when I've made this style of cake (using a box mix for the cake), if you try to poke the holes when it's too hot, it tears up the top of the cake. I let the liquid sit on top of it for 45 minutes before I poured some off and finished it off with whipped cream & coconut. I'm sure it's going to taste good but I've never had such a mysterious failure. I checked my baking powder's date (Jan 2015) even. Now that I have coconut flour, I'm going to have to make another one when this one is gone to see if I can get it to turn out correctly.

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8 months ago darksideofthespoon

So, I made this last week. It was expletive amazing! I made less of the leches mixture but wish I hadn't because my cake didn't have the lake of milk underneath.

So, I'm writing this to tell you about my experiment. Today is my husband's champagne birthday and after he tried this cake (2 weeks ago for our daughters 2 year birthday), he wanted a chocolate one. You see, any time he has any kind of cake, it goes right in a bowl of milk. So the tres leches is his dream cake!

I'm thinking of replacing a portion of the AP and coconut flour with cocoa powder and making a whipped ganache or chocolate mousse to top it with. I will report back with how it goes!

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8 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

how did it go?

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7 months ago Detrishious

How did it work out? Sounds delish!

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8 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

Thanks Abbie for making me a star. Twice in the last week, I've made this for parties. Everyone, I mean EVERYONE loves it.

I could have drunk the milk combination on its own. The lime in the whipped cream? Genius.

Thank you for a great recipe and for making me shine :-).

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8 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Hi KB thanks so much for letting me know and I am thrilled that you enjoyed it so much!

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8 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

On take 3......

Split it into two small pans - to gift! Thank you.

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11 months ago Louise

Would it work to swap almond flour for the all purpose flour?