Coconut Tres Leches Recipe on Food52


Coconut Tres Leches

May 14, 2013
13 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
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

Watch This Recipe
Coconut Tres Leches
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes 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
  • 1 13 1/2 ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 ounce 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
In This Recipe
  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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I work in databases by day, but creativity is my outlet. Food - imagining it, making it, sharing it. And art, I come from a family of artists and have been collaging in my garage studio. You can see my work on Etsy in my shop AbbiesGarage

    197 Reviews

    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?
    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!
    Author Comment
    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!
    Striga March 9, 2018
    Great cake, highly appreciated. I only replaced whole milk (which I did not have) by cream (10 % fat), and it worked well. I made a little mistake by pouring the milk mixture over a cooled cake (see method, point 5) - it took a lot of time, yet the outcome was perfect!
    Ayesha A. January 10, 2018
    how can i adjust the recipe to bake the cake base in either an 8", 9" or 10" round pan ?
    Hillary F. November 12, 2017
    I made this last night for my super picky Mexican husband for our wedding anniversary. I was really nervous since I have never made tres leches, I'm not Mexican so it's not something that I could really determine the authenticity of. But last night when we dug into a piece, he was so happy and declared it the best tres leches he's ever had!
    Wonderful recipe! And much easier to make than I thought it would be!
    Erica September 15, 2017
    I made this two weeks ago and thought I had commented because it was such an experience! We had a heat wave in SF but I had invited people over for dinner- only because I wanted to make this cake! I baked it at 11:30 the night of the intense heat when it was cool enough to finally light the oven, and the only thing I subbed was coconut sweetened condensed milk for the regular (found it in a health food store and it was a few oz less than regular, but this didn't matter). I did not want to use sweetened coconut on the top- but I had half a very old pkg and went for it. I'm so glad I did because the cake actually isn't that sweet and the topping was delicious. I was lucky and my slowly - over 15 minutes - poured milks soaked in perfectly. The cake is amazing. There was a bit left that I brought to work on it's 3rd day, and it was pure soft mush in cake form perfectness, i.e. puddingish. MAKE THIS CAKE NOW.
    Kelsey September 3, 2017
    My cake only absorbed about 50% of the liquid after soaking overnight. My best guess is maybe I should have added an extra egg since mine were "medium" sized instead of large - the cake was denser than I expected and another egg may have made it lighter and more spongy. Nevertheless, I poured off the extra milk, topped with whipped cream, and everybody loved it!
    ihaventpoisonedyouyet August 18, 2017
    Is this cake sweet enough to make with unsweetened coconut? For some reason I purchased a ridiculous quantity...why?...WHY?! I prefer things less rather than more sweet but don't know if the cake would taste flat or disappointing with the unsweetened product.
    Author Comment
    aargersi August 18, 2017
    I think it will be fine! Maybe make the whipped cream a hair sweeter to compensate?
    CurioCook August 18, 2017
    I've made it with unsweetened coconut with no problem at all - I didn't adjust anything!
    Windischgirl August 18, 2017
    I've made it both ways depending on what I had at home and the unsweetened coconut was fine. It's a great recipe and has always received raves. The lime zest is key !
    ihaventpoisonedyouyet August 20, 2017
    Thank you all for your guidance re the coconut issue. It's a great recipe, I added 1 extra tbs of sugar to the whipped cream. It wasn't overly sweet, ergo the perfect cake. Even more lime flavor would have been good but I didn't know if i could add lime juice to either the cake/milk/whipped cream without screwing things up.
    Joyceski March 17, 2018
    HA: Love your name, Ihaventpoisonedyouyet!
    Thanks. Although there are times I have wanted to! What says love like ptomaine?
    cosmiccook August 27, 2020
    Try making smitten Kitchen's Brown Butter coconut cookies
    cosmiccook August 27, 2020
    I use lime oil too.
    bitememore May 16, 2017
    If this Tres Leches Goodness would have a sibling, it would be this scrumptious Banana Dulce de Leche Milkshake: