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Tres leches cake
A decorated slice of tres leches cake
Alternative namesTorta tres leches, трилече or Trileche (Macedonian), Trileçe or trileqe (Albanian), trileçe (Turkish), bizcocho de tres leches, pastel de tres leches, tres leches
TypeSponge cake (or butter cake) dessert
Place of originMexico
Region or stateMexico
Main ingredientsCake base; evaporated milk, condensed milk, heavy cream

A tres leches cake (lit.'three-milk cake'; Spanish: pastel de tres leches, torta de tres leches or bizcocho de tres leches), dulce de tres leches,[1][2] also known as pan tres leches (lit.'three-milk bread') or simply tres leches, is a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk. The cake is popular throughout Latin America as of recent years but it’s origins trace to Mexico.

Tres leches is a very light cake, with many air bubbles. This distinct texture is why it does not have a soggy consistency, despite being soaked in a mixture of three types of milk.

Its Macedonian variety is referred to as trileče. Its Albanian and Turkish varieties are referred to as trileçe.[3][4]


The dessert originated in Mexico in the 19th century.[5][6][7][8][9] It is the country's national pastry.[1]

The Austin Chronicle cited possible soaked-cake influences as English rum cake, trifle, fruitcakes, Italian zuppa inglese, bread pudding, and medieval Portuguese sopa dorada.[10]

Jaime Wheelock claimed that the colonization of Nicaragua, while a crisis, "gave rise to a vast process of experimentation and mixtures of food that had never before come together."[11] In the 19th century, European presence in Mexico gave way to the introduction of the antes dessert: bread soaked in wine and layered with milk custard and fruit or nuts.[10] With the use of European British tradition and mixing it with caribbean materials such as rum and sugar, the concept of tres leches cake was created. [12]

By 1896, the U.S. Department of Commerce was exporting condensed milk to Nicaragua.[13] Cattle, sugarcane plantations, and milk preservation techniques were introduced to Nicaragua by that time, by way of American military occupation.[11]

In 1936, president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a trade agreement with Nicaragua, which "reduced Nicaraguan duties" in favor of importing dairy products from Wisconsin. These included evaporated, powdered, and condensed milk,[11][14] which Wheelock implies affected Nicaraguan recipes.[11] Additionally, in part due to the food insecurity of the Great Depression, canned milk sales "skyrocketed" in Nicaragua.[11]

In the 20th century in Tabasco, Mexico, a dessert named torta de leche consisted of "sweetened scalded milk, baked, and served floating in its milk sauce."[10]

Some sources refer to it as a Mexican cake.[15][16]

The dessert has since become a staple in some Latin American countries (Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Panama), and in Albania as well.[11]

Soaked cakes were extant in Medieval Europe.[17] Recipes for soaked-cake desserts were seen in some Latin America countries as early as the 19th century, in countries like El Salvador, likely a result of the large cross-cultural transfer which took place between Europe and the Americas.[18] Nicaragua is one of the countries where tres leches cake has become popular.[19] The cake is popular in Central, North America, and many parts of the Caribbean, Canary Islands, as well as in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia and some other parts of Europe.[20][21]

In the US, the cake first became popular in the 1980s beginning in Miami due to Mexican immigration. Its popularity then spread across the US, possibly from Los Ranchos restaurant in Miami, which featured it on its menu when it opened in 1981. The cake was so popular at Los Ranchos that its recipe was featured on its fliers, which were pervasively distributed. The Joy of Cooking included a tres leches recipe in its 1997 edition.[21] Since the pandemic of 2020, the cake has been growing in popularity, potentially due to its use of shelf stable milk and pantry staples.[22]

European variations

A variety of tres leches known as trileçe (a caramel topped version of tres leches) became popular in the Balkans and Turkey. One theory is that the popularity of Mexican soap operas in Albania led local chefs to reverse-engineer the dessert, which then spread to Turkey.[23][24] The Albanian version is sometimes made literally with three milks: cow, goat and water buffalo, though more commonly a mixture of cow's milk and cream is used. The Albanian variation “trileçe" usually has a caramel topping while the tres leches cake is topped with cream and fruit.[23]


Tres Leches Cake consists of a standard cake base that is soaked in three kinds of milk ("tres leches" in Spanish). The milks used are evaporated, condensed, and whole milks. This mixture is poured over the baked sponge, allowing the milks to be absorbed to make a dessert with an almost pudding-like consistency. The cake is then topped with whipped cream. Sometimes, strawberries or cinnamon are also used.

The cake base of a Tres Leches Cake can be made from scratch or by using a store-bought mix.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Raichlen, Steven (1998). Salud Y Sazon: 200 Recetas De LA Cocina De Mama Todas Bajas En Grasa, Sal Y Colesterol! (in Spanish). Rodale. ISBN 978-0-87596-474-4. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  2. ^ Raichlen, Steven (1998). Salud Y Sazon: 200 Recetas De LA Cocina De Mama Todas Bajas En Grasa, Sal Y Colesterol! (in Spanish). Rodale. ISBN 978-0-87596-474-4. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  3. ^ Hoskinson, Brad. Albanian Cookbook: Traditional Recipes for The Home Cook. Brad Hoskinson. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  4. ^ The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Rough Guides UK. 2012-05-17. ISBN 978-1-4093-5877-0. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  5. ^ Avila, Carolina (1997). Sabor!: A Guide to Tropical Fruits and Vegetables and Central American Foods. Litografía e Imprenta LIL. p. 180. ISBN 978-9977-47-226-3. Retrieved 2023-05-28. This dessert is a Costa Rican favorite. Its origin is in Nicaragua, but it is savored throughout Central America and South America as of recent years.
  6. ^ American Bookseller. Vol. 16. Bookseller's Publishing, Incorporated. 1993. Archived from the original on 2023-06-05. Retrieved 2023-05-28. ...if you've never tried the Mexican dessert called tres leches, this is a good place to sample the moist cake.
  7. ^ South Florida Folklife. Univ. Press of Mississippi. 1994-01-01. ISBN 978-1-61703-455-8. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  8. ^ ISLA. Vol. 33. I.S.L.A. 1986. p. 178. Retrieved 2023-05-28. Sweet-tooths love tres leches, the thick Mexican dessert with the creamy topping and name that means "three milks."
  9. ^ Petrillo, Valerie (2009-08-01). A Kid's Guide to Latino History: More than 50 Activities. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1-61374-220-4. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  10. ^ a b c Pack, M. M. (February 13, 2004). "Got Milk?™". Archived from the original on 2023-04-12. Retrieved 2023-04-12.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "The Long, Winding Origin Story of Tres Leches Cake". 17 January 2020. Archived from the original on 11 December 2022. Retrieved 11 December 2022.
  12. ^ Rice, Hannah (2023-07-08). "The Fascinating Origin Story Of The Tres Leches Cake - The Daily Meal". Daily Meal. Retrieved 2024-04-29.
  13. ^ Report Upon the Commercial Relations of the United States with Foreign Countries. United States Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. 1899. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  14. ^ Reciprocal trade. Agreement between the United States of America and Nicaragua. Signed at Managua, March 11, 1936 ... Executive agreement series, no. 95. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1936. Archived from the original on April 11, 2023. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  15. ^ Foster, Lynn V.; Foster, Lawrence (1996). Fielding's Mexico. Fielding Worldwide. ISBN 978-1-56952-118-2. Archived from the original on 2023-06-05. Retrieved 2023-05-28.
  16. ^ Porteé, Alex. "Why leche condensada (sweetened condensed milk) is such a staple in Latin American cooking". The Today Show. Archived from the original on 2023-04-11. Retrieved 2023-04-11.
  17. ^ Rice, Hannah (2023-07-08). "The Fascinating Origin Story Of The Tres Leches Cake - The Daily Meal". Daily Meal. Retrieved 2024-04-29.
  18. ^ Pack, MM (13 February 2004). "Got Milk? On the trail of pastel de tres leches". Austin Chronicle. Archived from the original on 28 October 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  19. ^ Stradley, Linda (2015-05-05). "Tres Leches Cake History and Recipe". What's Cooking America. Archived from the original on 2021-03-02. Retrieved 2021-03-13.
  20. ^ Higuera McMahon, Jacqueline (8 August 2007). "Tres Leches cake goes one better". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on 28 October 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  21. ^ a b Galaraza, Daniela (2020-10-02). "Creamy and sweet, tres leches cake is on the rise". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2022-05-26. Retrieved 2022-06-11.
  22. ^ Galarza, G. Daniela (2021-10-28). "Creamy and sweet, tres leches cake is on the rise". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2024-04-29.
  23. ^ a b "Trileçe kazan dünya kepçe". Hürriyet. 1 March 2015. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  24. ^ Dan Nosowitz (November 12, 2015). "How a South American Soap Opera Created a Turkish Dessert Craze". Atlas Obscura. Archived from the original on November 17, 2015. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
  25. ^ Lambert, Leslie (September 5, 2022). "Easy Tres Leches Cake With Cake Mix". Lamberts Lately. Archived from the original on May 30, 2023. Retrieved August 2, 2023.