Coconut Tres Leches

June 21, 2021
21 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes One 9x13 cake
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Coconut Tres Leches
  • 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
  • 13 1/2 ounce can coconut milk
  • 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest (zest from 1 lime)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. 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.
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Recipe by: aargersi

Country living, garden to table cooking, recent beek, rescue all of the dogs, #adoptdontshop

209 Reviews

Christine F. August 30, 2023
I think a tres leches cake is the most perfect of perfect cakes! Made this cake and loved it, but every time I make this kind of cake it never seems to soak up all the liquid. I think part of the issue is that the bottom and the edges of the cake are "too stuck" to the bottom and sides of the pan, not allowing the milks to run through and under the cake. Any thoughts or suggestions? I butter the dish as instructed in the recipe.
aargersi August 30, 2023
Hi Christine! The cake is actually supposed to sit in a bit of a puddle of milky goodness … around here that’s a sign of a well-soaked cake! Mine never sticks, sometimes it even floats up on the milk for a while before sinking down! I am so glad you like it!
Megeanann June 8, 2022
This was a beautiful recipe, I did basically what the recipe said just whipped a little longer on somethings & used a little less of some ingredients to suit our liking but this sponge with the coconut/lime flavor was genius 👌, spot on, thank u for sharing this with us
cms1951 February 8, 2022
This is a really great tres leches recipe. Have made it multiple times. Always completely gone at end of party.
jcasare November 6, 2021
Making this AGAIN, because it's soooo good. Noticing that the sugar amount is 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons but the directions read "beat eggs sugar and vanilla". I think it should read, " beat eggs. 3/4 cup sugar and vanilla". And then the extra 2 tablespoons are for the whipped cream. That could be clearer.
AntoniaJames June 21, 2021
aargersi, hope you're doing well!

Would you be so kind as to edit the ingredient list to delete the first "ounce" for the entry for sweetened condensed milk? That's caused a bit of confusion.

Thanks so much. ;o)
aargersi June 21, 2021
Hi AJ! Fixed! Hope you’re well too! All is groovy in my corner of Central Texas 🙂
AntoniaJames June 22, 2021
Thank you, darling. ;o)
charles May 31, 2021
I thought this was okay, but not too special. I can definitely see it polarizing for people as it is a wet cake. For me it has a lot of promise, but just isn't there yet. I think I would add a few more ingredients to help enhance the flavor. You could go a little more Asia influence and I think some ginger could make it interesting, or some nutmeg or a splash of grand marnier, could go nice with the coconut and vanilla. Pineapple to go with the lime zest and coconut also seems like a good option.

I also feel it needs another texture. Some almond slivers or pistachios would definitely be added to the top next time. I'm not sure if I would make this again, but if I did I would use the recipe as a base and really take it my own direction.
tally T. March 3, 2021
Well, this is a new favorite. So easy, with just the right amount of coconut and the slightest hint of lime. Insanely good and so easy!m
Laura December 13, 2020
Make it once, crave it forever. I can not stop thinking about this cake.
Nathalie P. July 17, 2020
I did not like this recipe at all. I ended up throwing away the cake.
Jill E. April 23, 2020
This cake is amazing. I used regular flour as I didn’t have reg flour, and I made it in a rounded springform pan, which I recommend. Also, adding a layer of strawberries between the cake and whipped cream layer would be divine.
Mary B. August 22, 2019
Samia J. May 15, 2019
Do you think I can use coconut cream rather than coconut milk? Will it make it too mushy when baking? Also, how many days in advance can you make this cake without it getting mushy?
GrannyGo May 16, 2019
I actually used coconut cream instead of coconut milk and it was great! Just so you know, the milks are not part of the baking process...they are poured over the cake after it is baked. I reduced the amount of milk (see my comments below) and also changed the AP flour to almond flour.
GrannyGo May 15, 2019
I made this for a neighbor's birthday who is a coconut maniac. A party guest was gluten-free so I adapted the recipe by substituting almond flour the the all-purpose flour. It worked out well. I was afraid the almond would bot absorb as well as the all-purpose, so I reduced the whole milk to 1/2 cup. I assumed that this recipe has a typo ("1 ounce 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk") and used the whole can instead. The cake absorbed the milk mixture very well and it still had the "lake" effect. Everyone who ate it raved about the cake. Thank you for a fabulous recipe!
Adrienne I. September 29, 2018
I made this and let it soak for 3 hours, but it still left me with 3/4 cups of milk floating on the top. I drained 1/2 a cup out before topping with the whipped cream. There was still a substantial amount of liquid left, which kind of made some of the whipped cream kind of soupy as I spread it on the top. I might make this again with 1/2 cup less of the whole milk. Or I might double the recipe since the cake was so thin.
Bub November 2, 2018
It is very important to pour on the milk mixture when it is still warm, or this exact thing will happen.
Danielle B. July 1, 2018
I would double the recipe next time. Bc the 9x13 pan is too big!
Also, the recipe should say to mix the eggs and sugar until a fluffy meringue like state. Then fold in the rest of the ingredients.
Martin January 19, 2019
Yes, yes and yes! "...the recipe should say to mix the eggs and sugar until a fluffy meringue like state". I did this the first time and it turned out well. Then I tried again and, thinking maybe I'd not followed the recipe correctly, I didn't mix it as much. The result was sad. It was not spongey enough to absorb the liquid.
mshlm May 25, 2018
Are there any adjustments for high altitude?
tally T. March 3, 2021
Made this at 5,000 ft exactly as written, no problem. Be sure to beat the eggs and sugar til light and smooth (thickened slightly).
Tucker &. May 25, 2018
Sounds great. Can you give me an idea about how many servings? Thanks.
In my house it served only one. Me. I had to kill everyone else who attempted to approach the cake.

In other less selfish homes it would easily serve 10.
Kathy V. April 9, 2018
If I wanted to make this Tres Leches of dairy-free, would it be tastier using almond milk or soy milk as a substitute for the whole milk? Or any other suggestions are welcome too!
aargersi April 10, 2018
I think almond would be good, it’s a bit thinner than whole milk right? So maybe more coconut milk and a little less almond? Then you could do the whipped coconut fat thing for the cream (I have never tried it but have heard good things)
jcasare March 24, 2018
I'm making this for the third time. It's fantastic and no-fail
Christina @. March 22, 2018
I made a trifle version, much quicker if you don't have time to bake a cake. Had leftover cake scraps (a lot), placed them on the bottom of an oval bowl, drizzled with Grand Marnier (it was orange cake). Mixed one can of coconut milk, one can condensed milk and 1/2 cup half and half and poured over the cake. Left in the fridge overnight. Next day topped with whipped cream (no sugar added) and sprinkled with toasted, shredded coconut! Fabulous!