A Mother’s Day Treat – Pastel de Tres Leches

Click here to go to printable recipe: Three-Milk Cake – Pastel de tres leches 

Mother’s Day is a very important holiday in Mexico, when many people gather together to celebrate their mothers, grandmothers and any other motherly figure in their extended families.  This year is one of those when Mother’s Day in Canada and The US (celebrated on the second Sunday of May) and in Mexico (always on May 10) converge on the same day.   Tradition calls for festive parties with lots of relatives and friends, often at restaurants, but it will be very different this year, because of the pandemic.  In Mexico City, business associations and the municipal government have agreed to (unofficially) move the holiday to July 10, to hopefully keep eateries empty, and discourage people from breaking social distancing rules.   At a personal level, This is also my first Mother’s Day without my dear mom in this world, so it is a somewhat bittersweet time for me.  I am grateful, though, because both my husband and my younger daughter are safe at home during the pandemic, and although my older daughter is working full time, teaching ESL (English as a Second Language), in Japan, she is safely working online for now, and will join us virtually, so we will have a fun family celebration with games, food and, of course, cake.

Pastel de tres leches – Three-milk Cake, is a traditional dessert originally from the Mexican state of Guerrero (according to Susanna Palazuelos et al in “Mexico, The Beautiful Cookbook”, 1991).  It was often served at tea/coffee afternoon gatherings in Mexico, and became a trendy choice for wedding cakes in the late 1980s, as well.  Nowadays, it is a popular item in Mexican bakeries and dessert menus at many Mexican restaurants around the World.  The name comes from the mix poured over the cake after baking, a runny and sweet sauce made with evaporated milk, condensed milk and cow’s milk (or cream). In the original recipe, the cake was decorated with a meringue-type royal icing, but to avoid the use of raw eggs, whipped cream is now the norm. Two years ago, I posted a version with cajeta flavoured sauce and a compact cake crumb that had to be pricked with a fork for the sweet mix to be absorbed; some people also might add brandy, or decorate with chocolate, but this time, I am sharing a simpler recipe, with the tres leches sauce as defined by its name, and a cake batter that requires no separation of egg yolks and whites, still baking into a spongy and porous cake, and allowing the sweet sauce to be soaked in and impart all its flavour, with no pricking involved.

Three-Milk Cake – Pastel de tres leches

Printable recipe: Three-Milk Cake


7 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla

Sweet Sauce
1 can (354 ml, 12 fl. oz) evaporated milk
1 can (396 g, 14 oz) condensed milk
½ cup whipping cream (35% M.F.)

2 cups whipping cream (chilled)
½ cup  powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Gather ingredients for the cake, allowing the eggs to reach room temperature:

001 ingredients for cake

Meanwhile, prepare a 9-inch round springform cake mould by greasing with oil and lining the bottom with parchment paper; set aside.

Once the eggs have reached room temperature, pre-heat oven to 350°F (180°C).  Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl, and beat with the sugar using an electric mixer, at medium speed, until the sugar dissolves.  Increase the speed to high and mix for ten to twelve minutes, until very firm and fluffy (the batter should stay on the beaters when lifted.)  Place flour in a fine-meshed colander; sprinkle baking powder on top, then sift onto the egg mix in three batches, alternating with half the milk and vanilla for the first two, mixing at low speed.  Finish folding the last batch of sifted flour mix with a spatula (photo below, left).  Once uniformly mixed onto an airy batter, pour into prepared mould (photo below, right):

Bake in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick comes clean after inserting in the middle of the cake.  Remove from the oven  and set on a cooling rack for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare sweet sauce by mixing all ingredients together; set aside.  Loosen up edge from the cake mould carefully with a spatula (photo below, left).  Open springform mould and remove ring; transfer cake from mould base to a rimmed serving plate.  Allow cake to cool down to room temperature, then slice a very thin layer off the top, just enough to expose the spongy texture, and pour reserved sauce over the whole top surface (photo below, right):

Cover cake with plastic wrap or foil, and allow to rest in the fridge, soaking in and absorbing the sauce, for at least three hours, or overnight.

To finish the cake, beat whipping cream until it forms peaks; add vanilla and sugar, and continue beating until a nice firm icing is achieved.  Spread on sides and top of the chilled cake, to coat:

006 pastel de tres leches
This particular cake was donated to a bake sale at my church (November 2018)

When this cake is sliced, the porous, deliciously spongy texture of the cake is revealed, oozing tres leches sauce sweetness:

007 pastel de tres leches, slices

This is a classic tres leches cake.  Some variations include decorating with slices of seasonal fruit, topping with chocolate shavings, or as I mentioned above, trying other cake textures and/or flavourings in the sauce.  This cake will be a delightful treat for Mother’s Day, on this second Sunday of May, May 10 (or the nomadic holiday on July 10 in Mexico City!)

Happy Mother’s Day!  Feliz Día de las Madres!

I am also joining What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up #314 with Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.

30 thoughts on “A Mother’s Day Treat – Pastel de Tres Leches

  1. Oh, I think I can taste this one, but as a lactose-intolerant person, this one would put me over the top.

    Thanks for always sharing such great, detailed recipes with delicious photos. Happy Mother’s Day! And, I am sorry for the loss of your mother which makes it a bittersweet occasion, but hopefully togetherness with others will help to soften the loss.


    1. Thank you, Joy, I was assuming that your holiday would be in March like the British Mothering Day, but I just learned it is like in Canada and US, so I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, as well!


  2. Interesting to see people say this is their favorite cake; I’d never had it before. But I tried making it. It worked out, and I liked it a lot… will make it again. Thank you.


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