Buttermilk

Tangy Tres Leches Cake

March 19, 2018
5 Stars
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

My favorite version of the most classic tres leches cake subs out buttermilk for the whole milk. I love the subtle tang it adds and how it makes the cake itself a little less rich, meaning I can really load up on the whipped cream topping later. —Erin Jeanne McDowell

Test Kitchen Notes

For more on how to make, and vary, tres leches cake, see the full article. —The Editors

  • Makes one 9 x 13 inch cake
Ingredients
  • Cake:
  • 12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups (297 g) granulated sugar
  • 7 large (397 g) eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 g) vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups (271 g) all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (6 g) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 g) fine sea salt
  • Soaking:
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • one (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • one (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
  • lightly sweetened whipped cream, as needed for finihsing
  • ground cinnamon, as needed for finishing
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well to combine. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt to combine. Add the mixture to the mixer and mix just until incorporated. Scrape well to ensure the batter is evenly combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 38-40 minutes. Let cool completely.
  6. Poke the cake all over with a wooden skewer. In a large container, preferably one with a pour spout, whisk the buttermilk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk to combine.
  7. Gently pour the mixture all over the cake, letting it soak in through the holes. Most of this will happen quickly, but if some liquid pools up anywhere on the surface of the cake, just spoon it back over the cake until the mixture is absorbed (let it sit for about 30 minutes).
  8. Finish the cake with the whipped cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 5 hours before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • chezjenne
    chezjenne
  • Lola Lopez
    Lola Lopez
  • Bria Knowles
    Bria Knowles
  • Erin Jeanne McDowell
    Erin Jeanne McDowell
  • Mackenzie Skye King
    Mackenzie Skye King
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, came out on November 10th, 2020, and my pie merch collaboration with Food52 is out now too: https://food52.com/shop/merchants/manifest-food52/food52-x-erin-mcdowell

16 Reviews

chezjenne September 13, 2021
The only thing I changed was to add a pinch of nutmeg to the whipped cream. I sprinkled freshly ground cinnamon on top also. This cake was TRULY perfect. I've never been a big fan of tres leches, but a beloved friend requested one for his 21st Birthday. No one commented that it was tangy or sour. I didn't want it to come off as anything other than a perfect representation of the classic, but I really wanted that buttermilk tang to cut the sweetened condensed milk factor so I went for it and everyone, including myself, ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS CAKE. The texture of the cake soaked in the milk was perfect, the egg-heavy cake really stood up to the challenge. Thanks for helping me advance my Culinary Genius reputation Erin Jeanne!
 
Jennifer March 31, 2018
I grew up in an isolated mining village in Durango. We never had fresh milk - so our tres leche pastel was always made with canned milk. The milks varied based on what was available in the little tienda - so we always had sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. The third milk was up in the air. Sometimes we used goats milk, which I can tell from the conversation so far would be considered heresy as it would be somewhat like buttermilk, sometimes we used coconut milk, and sometimes we used cajeta (sweetened condensed milk boiled in the can to caramelized perfection - although now days you can buy it pre-made). The one milk we never had was whipping cream. The only possibility for that was a kind of dry powdered Dream Whip type product that my mother really didn't like.
But you know what? We loved that cake. It was all good. When what you eat is what is based on what is available in the company store, you do what you can.
 
BatchesOfCookies April 8, 2018
That's such a great perspective. Thank you for sharing!
 
BatchesOfCookies March 31, 2018
This is a delicious recipe built on a Latin American classic. The three milks cake made with buttermilk makes the dessert taste a bit less rich, which means I can take a bigger piece! Thanks for the spin on a traditional treat! I'll be making this again - even for my Mexican boyfriend who thought it was awesome. Traditional recipes are always fun and carry a lot of meaning for families - hence "traditional." Tweaking those classics is also fun and truly refreshing - the most renowned chefs and bakers do this in their kitchens.
 
Lola L. March 30, 2018
This is NOT a tres leches cake! Don’t mess with the perfect classics!!
 
Bria K. March 30, 2018
Sounds delicious and like a fun twist, thanks!
 
Gordon March 29, 2018
This is not a Tres Leche cake by any defination. Please think of a new name for it. And although it may be very good, you have insulted the many peoiple who LOVE Tres Leche and bake it at home frequently.
 
Author Comment
Erin J. March 29, 2018
Sorry you feel that way! I tested lots of traditional recipes and also love those! I wanted to present my own take, and am certainly a huge fan of classic tres leches as well! If you have a recipe you love, I encourage you to post it to the site - I’m sure the community (myself included!) would love to try and taste it!
 
Mackenzie S. March 29, 2018
"By any definition"? "A tres leches cake (Spanish: pastel de tres leches or torta de tres leches), also known as pan tres leches ("three milks bread"), is a sponge cake—in some recipes, a butter cake—soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream." So the heavy cream is being replaced with another dairy product. It's still using three "milks". What definition are you using?
 
Lhos Y. March 30, 2018
Why? Folks are aloud to re-work a traditional recipe. My mom who bakes a lot, loves tres leches had to rework the recipe, because the ‘tradiotnal’ recipe my cousin had gave her well we didn’t have that one milk in the states, I can’t remember what it was to be honest, but it wasn’t something common (and we live in NY). Well so she reworked it so it worked for her, not to mention how sweet this darn cake can be traditionally (we like not having diabetes) so my mother had cut the amount of sweet. Also my cousin always preferred my mother’s cake recipe vs the recipe from the ‘traditional’ recipe (again less sweet and more spongy). Why does it have to be such rules to everything. As a Latina I am not offended at all. In fact I am going to veganize this recipe since I don’t eat dairy and eggs (I hope that doesn’t offend you 😐). Best✌🏼
 
Lola L. March 30, 2018
That should be “allowed”— another reason why you shouldn’t be messing with a perfect recipe!
 
Honeylishuss June 19, 2021
Can you supply an authentic recipe, please?
 
Honeylishuss June 19, 2021
All foods are “messed with” my husband is Mexican and a chef in Australia and I can assure you, his messing is mighty popular. We also call it evolving
 
Ttette March 28, 2018
Sorry, not even close to the real genuine Tres Leches...this recipe is like any other one, just adding the buttermilk doesn't make any difference....
 
Mackenzie S. March 29, 2018
Why would you think that a recipe that is open with the fact that a major ingredient is being substituted is trying to be "genuine"? And are you saying that a cake soaked in buttermilk is going to taste the same as one soaked in milk. Have you tasted real buttermilk before?
 
Honeylishuss June 19, 2021
But the owner already said it would be tangy- so not the same. Ffs