Coconut Tres Leches Cake

The Reason:

This recipe was specifically requested by Sara. A long time ago, we had a delicious coconut tres leches cake at a restaurant, and I promised to make one for Sara’s birthday. I almost forgot, but she didn’t! So here we are.

For the record, “tres leches” is Spanish for three milks, which will be demonstrated shortly.

The Journey:

The idea here is to make a very light and fluffy cake, which will absorb the milk mixture and turn into a nice, delicious, pudding-y mush. This is all about aerating everything, and in this case it requires separating the egg whites from the yolks. This is something I have always had a lot of trouble with, until Sara showed me the trick of doing it in the actual egg shell.

Basically, you just crack the eggs in half and then dump the yolk back and forth between the shells until all of the white is out. Seriously, I’ve tried all sorts of little tools and things, and they just never work. I can’t really explain why this works better, so you’ll have to take my word on it.

After that, it’s just a lot of mixing to put air in and make it light and fluffy.

After the cake is baked, you poke holes in it and pour the milk mixture on top, to let it soak in. You’re going for that tiramisu-sort-of-texture, where everything is just soft and delicious.

Note that this picture only shows a half recipe’s worth of cake, because we made two halves and froze one. We haven’t gotten out the frozen one yet, so I can’t vouch for it, but it certainly seems like the kind of thing that will do well frozen.

I do believe we made a full batch of the whipped cream and toasted coconut, which we didn’t need since we froze half. But wait a minute, what am I saying? When do you not need more homemade whipped cream and toasted coconut??

The Verdict:

It was awesome, and specifically a nice change of pace from a regular cake.

However, it wasn’t exactly perfect. I blame myself more than the recipe. The cake itself was a little dense, and I’m not sure why. Was it the substitution of whole wheat flour? Maybe I didn’t beat eggs enough? Perhaps the holes I poked with the toothpick were not quite big enough to let the milk soak in?

I don’t know. If anybody gets better results, let me know. But these were really minor issues and didn’t take away from the deliciousness at all. I think I’m just being hard on myself. But hey, I set a certain bar with Sara’s cake last year, and I wanted to do a good job!

The Recipe:

This recipe is adapted from

  • Butter, for coating the baking dish
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (we substituted whole wheat flour)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk (not nonfat)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened canned coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum, such as Myers’s, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Whisk the flour to aerate and break up any lumps (I didn’t do this, but maybe I should have).
  2. Split the egg whites and yolks into separate bowls. Add the sugar to the yolks and beat on high until pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Whip the egg whites on high speed until medium peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes.
  3. Gently fold the egg whites into the yolks. Sprinkle the flour over the egg mixture and gently fold it in, just until there are no more white flour streaks. (Do not overmix.)
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake until the cake is puffed and golden and the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, place the three milks and the rum in a large bowl and whisk until combined.
  6. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. Using a toothpick or wooden skewer, poke holes all over the cake and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Pour the milk mixture evenly over the cake and continue cooling, about 45 minutes more. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
  7. When the cake is ready to serve, spread the coconut in an even layer in a large frying pan. Toast over medium heat, stirring often, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Immediately remove from the pan.
  8. Place the heavy cream and powdered sugar in large bowl and whisk until medium peaks form. (If you like, flavor it with a teaspoon of dark rum. We opted to go rum-free on the whipped cream.) Slice the cake and serve topped with a mound of whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted coconut.

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