Coconut Tres Leches

By • May 14, 2013 • 119 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.
A&M

Serves one 9x13 cake

  • 1 1/4 cup 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 cups sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • One 13 1/2 ounce can coconut milk
  • One ounces 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cup 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 (119)

Comments (119) Questions (4)

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24 days 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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27 days 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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3 months ago Luisa Ormonde Hancock

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

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3 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

the butter and the honey are melted together

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4 months ago Amanda

What are the calories per serving?

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3 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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4 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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4 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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4 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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5 months ago rachel e-s

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

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5 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

no - you can use all AP flour!

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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 months ago mshlm

any changes for high altitude?

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4 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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5 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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6 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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5 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

how did it go?

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5 months ago Detrishious

How did it work out? Sounds delish!

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6 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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6 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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6 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

On take 3......

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

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8 months ago Louise

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

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9 months ago CurioCook

I'm in the midst of making this for a NYE party. I'm in New Zealand, and they don't carry sweetened shredded coconut here, only the unsweetened desiccated variety. Any tips on process for toasting the coconut? Should I sweeten it somehow before, or just watch it extra carefully while toasting? Thanks!!

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9 months ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I would toast carefully in a skillet and carry on! The cake will be plenty sweet.

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9 months ago LeeLeeBee

I made this cake for a Mexican fiesta party just before Christmas. The response? "Best tres leches cake ever!" The addition of coconut milk is genius, and the touch of honey adds a lovely fragrance to the cake. However, I had the opposite problem of most people - my cake absorbed absolutely all of the liquid and there wasn't any puddle - still delicious, but I always love those spoonfuls from the bottom of the dish. I poked over a hundred holes with a wooden skewer when the cake was about five minutes out of the oven, and pour the milks over VERY slowly (it took over five minutes, as I waited for a small pour to absorb before pouring the next bit). Thanks so much for the recipe.

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about 1 year ago za'atar

I also had a problem getting the cake to absorb the liquid - it all ran to the bottom and didn't get soaked up, even after letting it sit overnight in the fridge. I was serving it for company so I was afraid to fiddle with it too much, but now that the guests have gone I will just dunk the cake in the milk and enjoy!

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about 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

That's so odd! Mine drinks it up - the cake was warm when you soaked it? Maybe poke bigger holes if you try again - I use a cake tester thing and poke the dickens out of it but they are small holes ...

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about 1 year ago Morecookiesplease

I made this last week & it was really delicious. I think I may have cooked the cake itself a little too long as it didn't absorb the milks all the way throughout the cake, only on the bottom. But the taste was superb & people commented on the delicious taste.

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about 1 year ago luckygypsy

oops! never mind! just read below about the flour!

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about 1 year ago luckygypsy

where in the heck do you get coconut flour??

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about 1 year ago Lusty Dish

I have a question for the cook or anyone else that made this cake. Coconut milk do I buy unsweetened or sweetened or there's no such thing. I've never made anything with coconut milk not even a cocktail but I think it's very sweet. Making this weekend for a party and need to know. Thank you

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about 1 year ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

Hi Lusty Dish, I was planning on making this cake too, and although I haven't made it yet, I agree with you that it is very sweet, so I bought Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk (contains Coconut Milk, Water). I have seen a lot of coconut milk which contains some questionable added ingredients, and I don't buy anything with preservatives. Hope this helps and your cake (and mine) turn out really well! PS If you like coconut and do have a Trader Joe's nearby, they just came out with an awesome Coconut Cranberry Granola that I cannot get enough of! :)

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about 1 year ago Kukla

Hey Lusty! Coconut milk is unsweetened; it should be a full-fat not light coconut milk. I suggest making the cake at list a few hours in advance or even a day before and keeping it refrigerated. I am sure you and your guests will love this wonderful cake. I made it for parties twice already and everybody loved it!

Stringio

about 1 year ago Plazma

When do you incorporate the butter and honey?

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about 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Step 3 - fold it into the batter after everything else is mixed. I hope you like it!!!

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about 1 year ago tonimmartin

I can absolutely see why this is a contest winner! I've made it twice in the last week with rave reviews. Perfect summer cake that is not too heavy or too rich (even though the ingredient list would lead you to think so). The whipped cream icing with lime is the perfect finishing touch. Easy to make and even easier to enjoy!

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about 1 year ago ChefFace

omg so excited to make this!!

Stringio

about 1 year ago Peter Gagnon

I just finished making this cake. We'll have it tomorrow for a birthday celebration. I haven't whipped the cream yet but....this cake smells incredible. I can't wait to taste this cake!!!!!!

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about 1 year ago JPJ

Great cake with some minor twists that take it from good to great. I wasn't sure of the directions concerning the sugar. Does the cake take 3/4 cups of sugar and the whip cream use 2 tablespooons? Or is the batter 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons for the batter and another 2 tablespoons sugar for the whip cream? The directions were not clear.

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about 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

hi there - sorry for confusion - it's 3/4 c in the batter, and 2 tbs in the whipped cream

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about 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I made this cake and used 3/4 cup for the cake batter and 2 tbs for the whipped cream and it turned out perfectly. It's so delicious!!

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about 1 year ago LeslieF

I'm a coconut fan and am really looking forward to making this cake, but I've never heard of or seen "coconut flour". Is this a specialty item, and do you think I could replace it with regular flour? Thanks!

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about 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Hi Leslie - if your grocery carrys Bob's Redmill flours you might see it there - but if not, yes, just use all AP flour - I do that for my other Tres Leches (the non coconut ones)

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I forgot to let you know Abbie, my daughter made this cake for Fathers Day and it is beyond delicious!! She frequently makes tres leches cakes and said that this goes so far beyond anything she has ever tasted or made, it blows the mind. Delicious recipe that will be used over and over again. Everyone loved it!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

What a great compliment! Thank you so much!

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over 1 year ago Kukla

Dear Abbie! I made yesterday your cake, as planned, and it really is as delicious as I knew it would be just by reading the recipe. I baked and assembled the cake in the morning (did not have any difficulties while preparing), chilled in the refrigerator until we were ready to enjoy it and we really did! My granddaughter couldn’t thank me enough and we packed a few large slices for her boyfriend to take home. BTW, when chilled, it is very easy to slice. Thank you for a delightful recipe!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Yay I am so happy and flattered that you made and enjoyed it!

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over 1 year ago Christina @ Christina's Cucina

Holy cow this sounds good! Putting it on my list! Congrats!

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over 1 year ago kyokki

Yay! So happy this recipe won. I love coconut, but I am aware that not everyone is as coconutty as I am. So this dessert is perfect for almost everyone and so delicious. I have already made it twice and am already thinking when I can make it again! Congrats and thank you aargersi!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Wow that is so nice of you to say and great you have made it twice already! We had one over the weekend too :-) Thank you!!

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over 1 year ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Warm congratulations, Abbie! I'm genuinely looking forward to making this at work.

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over 1 year ago inpatskitchen

Congratulations Abbie!! Beautiful recipe!

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over 1 year ago diaday

You used coconut in three different forms: shredded, flour and milk. It's a fabulous, delicious dessert...congratulations!

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over 1 year ago monica_m

Congrats! My dad loves coconut - I'm definitely making this for Fathers Day.

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over 1 year ago Kukla

Many Congratulations Abbie!!! I am planning to make this fabulous cake next Wednesday; this is when my granddaughter returns from Paris France, where she took a writing class and of course indulged every day another new pastry, cake or pie. But I am convinced that she’ll love your version of the famous Mexican Cake!

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over 1 year ago lapadia

Congratulations, Abbie, such a delicious recipe!

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over 1 year ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Big congrats, Abbie! this cake is too fab to fail! :)

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over 1 year ago Bevi

Warm congratulations, Abbie!

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulations Abbie, so happy for you your cake is amazing.

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over 1 year ago nannydeb

Congratulations! Can't wait to taste it!

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over 1 year ago EmilyC

Big congrats on your win, Abbie! It was fun to be finalist with you, and I'm not surprised at all that your beautiful cake took the win. Well deserved. Can't wait to try it -- I plan to make it for a crowd so I won't eat the whole thing myself! : )

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Thanks so much! I am sure this was VERY close because your tacos look amazing too, and are on my to-try list!!!!

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over 1 year ago JSP

I made this yesterday....it is sickly sweet and swampy.

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over 1 year ago nannydeb

I'm sure you meant this comment in a good way since that's what a Tres Leches cake is all about, right? Cake soaked in lots of sweet milk...

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over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

I found this version to be less sweet and more flavorful than typical tres leches, too.

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over 1 year ago Alev Esmer

I used organic cane sugar and it was perfect. It was perfect and the cake has the perfect amount of sauce.

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over 1 year ago JSP

I definitely have never had this before, so my comment reflects my ignorance.

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Hey not everyone loves everything, right? Not ignorance, just learning!!!

Stringio

over 1 year ago JSP

Thanks!

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over 1 year ago Kitchen Butterfly

This is the first time I've bothered to read a Tres Leche recipe. Can I say I'll be making it soon. Promise.

Many congratulations - it looks stunning!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Oh I hope you make it and like it!!!

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over 1 year ago Lusty Dish

OMG this looks incredible. Does anyone know if a Gluten Free flour would work in this recipe?? Comments are welcome.

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over 1 year ago ATG117

I've heard that Thomas Keller's cup4cup flour works really well in most applications

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over 1 year ago Hilarybee

Cannot wait to try this! I need to find a crowd to feed it to, first!

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over 1 year ago gingerroot

Yipee! Well deserved congrats on being a finalist, A! What a scrumptious, beauty of a cake. I look forward to trying it soon.

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over 1 year ago calendargirl

This is a glorious recipe, and beautifully written. Brava!!

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over 1 year ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Hey Abbie, I'm not surprised this gorgeous concoction is such a hit- I can't wait to indulge!

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over 1 year ago Marian Bull

Marian is Food52's Associate Editor.

I am obsessed with this.

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Cake crack? :-)

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over 1 year ago Marian Bull

Marian is Food52's Associate Editor.

Yes!!

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over 1 year ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Yay Abbie!!!! This cake looks insane-o good. Next time I need a show-stopping cake, I'm definitely giving this a try.

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over 1 year ago EmilyC

Congrats Abbie! This is a seriously gorgeous cake. And you have some seriously lucky neighbors! I hope to make it very soon.

Junechamp

over 1 year ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I'm going to have to go get a 9 x 13 pan so I can make this. OMG! Congrats on being a finalist.

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over 1 year ago TheWimpyVegetarian

Many congrats Abbie on being a finalist !! It's gorgeous !!

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over 1 year ago dymnyno

Abbie, Wonderful flavors and creativity make this a richly(!) deserved finalist.

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Thanks everybody! I am thrilled and my neighbors are too!! They have been my guinea pigs all along!

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over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Congratulations! I was one of the testers of this recipe, and am not surprised to see it as a finalist. Yum!!!

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over 1 year ago QueenSashy

Congrats! This looks sinful...

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over 1 year ago darksideofthespoon

This looks divine! Congrats!

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over 1 year ago Midge

I had a feeling about this beauty. Congrats aargersi!

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over 1 year ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

To die for. And brilliant. Abbie, I cannot wait to try this. Congrats on the richly-deserved finalist honors. ;o)

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over 1 year ago nannydeb

Congrats Abbie!!!!

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Yay!! this is a fantastic cake and so deserves a finalist spot!! Congratulations.

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over 1 year ago Kukla

Congratulations on being a finalist Abbie!!! I knew your wonderful cake would be a finalist!

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over 1 year ago savorthis

Yay~Congrats! This looks wonderfully decadent.

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over 1 year ago Madhuja

How is it possible that I've never had tres leches cakes?! Wish I was digging into this right now! :)

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

It's common in Texas and Mexico, I am not sure if it's made it's way to the rest of the country as much?? You need to try it - yum!

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5 months ago bhivedesign

This is also very popular in South Florida. I'm making this for Mother's Day.

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5 months ago bhivedesign

This is also very popular in South Florida. I'm making this for Mother's Day.

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over 1 year ago Midge

Yum! Very jealous of your neighbors.

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over 1 year ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

This looks decadently delicious! Love your step 5 instructions, too!

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over 1 year ago Kukla

This cake looks stunning and must taste SINFULLY DELICIOUS, Abbie!!! Saved.

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over 1 year ago nannydeb

OMG that looks good!

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over 1 year ago Bevi

This looks absolutely scrumptious!

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over 1 year ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I LOVE tres leches cake and this is amazing. I have to make this cake. Never tried with coconut milk its brilliant.

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

It's milk-a-licious :-)

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over 1 year ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I want to eat this right now!!!

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over 1 year ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I ate a giant hunk for lunch. Oops!