Chocolate Cake

This Chocolate Tres Leches Cake Is Our Only Weekend Plan

And we feel great about that.

May 31, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

Simple Cake by Odette Williams is as carefree as a cookbook gets: 10 cakes, 15 toppings, mix and match the recipes however the heck you want. This means 150 possibilities for us readers. And a lot of work for the author.

“In the year that I wrote Simple Cake, I lost track of how many cakes I baked,” she told me. “It was a lot more than 150.”

Her suggested flavor combos include a hazelnut cake with Nutella whipped cream (want), lemon yogurt cake with a berry crumble (want), and olive oil cake with boozy crème anglaise (want). But the one that stood out to me the most took two of my favorite cakes and turned them into one: Chocolate Tres Leches.

It starts with Williams’s go-to chocolate cake, which she describes as “ridiculously moist” and comparable to “Betty Crocker in terms of ease.” She adapted the bowl-and-whisk recipe from a friend, who taught her that “the magic lies in the marriage of baking soda, boiling water, and oil.” Those ingredients give the cake its can’t-be-beat texture—and make it the ideal candidate for a tres leches soak.

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Top Comment:
“Hi! Since this cake was developed with oil, it might end up drier than intended with butter. Another oil—like vegetable or canola or even olive—would be your best bet. ”
— Emma L.

While tres leches traditionally starts with a plain or vanilla-flavored sponge cake, “it can work with all sorts of cake flavor profiles,” according to Williams. “Even ones you least expect.” All you need is “a cake that has enough structure and air for the liquid to penetrate and soak the cake evenly.”

As its name gives away, the liquid here is actually three liquids: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and whole milk (or, even better, heavy cream). With the cake still in its pan, you use a skewer or chopstick to poke it a bunch of times, spoon the milk mixture on top, then refrigerate overnight.

This soak “transforms a cake into a puddinglike dessert,” Williams writes in Simple Cake. And you already love chocolate pudding, do you not? For bonus points, reserve some of the sweetened condensed milk and put it toward the whipped cream, for swooshing and swirling on top.

As Williams put it, “It’s one of those great desserts that can be made ahead, feed many, and not take up too much of your time.”

And as if that weren’t enough, its flavor alone had our staff smitten. Executive Editor Joanna Sciarrino said it “tastes like what the brown chocolate scented marker smelled like.” Which, by the way, is a compliment (“That was my favorite scented marker”). Meanwhile, Senior Editor Eric Kim stumbled into the test kitchen to find breakfast, “but decided to have cake instead,” because it’s just that good. We should all be so smart.

Not-Chocolate Tres Leches

Have you ever made tres leches before? Tell us more about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Amna
  • Joanna Sciarrino
    Joanna Sciarrino
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Amna May 27, 2020
Looks delicious! I’m thinking of doing it for an afternoon tea but I don’t have grapeseed oil, could I substitute it with butter?
Emma L. June 1, 2020
Hi! Since this cake was developed with oil, it might end up drier than intended with butter. Another oil—like vegetable or canola or even olive—would be your best bet.
Joanna S. May 31, 2019
I fully endorse this cake.