A Coconut Tres Leches Cake Recipe That is Long But Worth It!

Alright, I must admit it.

Since my time in London, I’m not cooking as much as I was cooking back in Bangalore. This not necessarily a bad thing; but I genuinely like cooking and I now I feel like I am getting lazy at it.

We like trying different cuisines, and so in Bangalore, the only two options were to dine out or to make things from scratch. Certain sauces, dips and base items were hard to find at grocery stores. I will find Ragu but I will definitely not find tomato & mascarpone sauce at any common grocery store.  Hence I cooked a lot of sauces, breads like bagels and ciabatta and even pasta like tortellini and gnocchi.

However here in London, apart from dining out and cooking from scratch, there is a third option – to shortcut cooking. Finding any sort of grocery item from anywhere in the world is extremely easy, thanks to the mighty Tesco. And therefore, I am often taking shortcuts and fixing things up nowadays. You know easy it was for me to prepare the Christmas feast? I didn’t even break a sweat!

I liked my Bangalore cooking from scratch because I liked knowing and controlling what exactly is going in my food. And I like my London cooking as well because I get a lot of free time and I can fix something even at the last moment.

Coming back to cooking from scratch, it was Mr B’s birthday a couple of months back and of course I wanted to go all out. Do the best that I can, cook harder than I’ve cook in months, absolutely no shortcuts and all that jazz. So I decided to bake him a cake that can put other cakes to shame. Don’t be deceived, the flavour inside will make you forget even a gooey chocolate cake.

Behold the Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

We tasted our first tres leches cake way back in 2009 in California. It packed a unique flavour, so different from any other cake that we had before or we tasted later. Tres Leches is not the kind of cake that you often find in a bakery and hence the only way to devour this goodness is by baking this goodness.

For the uninitiated, tres leches is an extremely light sponge cake soaked in tres leches (which literally mean three milks in Spanish).  Even though the cake is soaked in a good amount of three milk mixture (evaporated milk, condendensed milk and heavy cream), it is not all soggy. Yes the cake is rich rich rich, and like with any rich food, the taste is addictive; just a piece won’t suffice. It doesn’t really have any extraordinary flavour and yet, it will for sure blow your mind.

This coconut tres leches cake recipe takes tres leches cake up a notch and adds another subtle flavour to the whole party – the coconut. Even if you have never tasted a tres leches cake, you can go ahead and try this recipe. Follow it to the letter and I promise you, you will get it right.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake Recipe

Serving Size

10 generous slices

What All You Will Need


9 x 13 inch baking pan (or a little bigger than this)

The Cake

5 eggs separated (i.e. we need 5 egg yolks and egg whites of 5 eggs)

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup unsalted butter (we need softened butter so take the butter out of the refrigerator couple of hours before you start the preparation)

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (if you can’t find vanilla extract, you can use vanilla essence as well. However, vanilla extract will give you better flavour.)

¾ cup coconut milk

The Tres Leches Mixture

½ cup coconut milk

½ cup evaporated milk

1 ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk

The Frosting

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoon icing sugar

1 cup desiccated coconut

Mexican cake recipe

How To Go About It

The coconut tres leches cake has three components – the base cake, the tres leches milk mixture and the frosting. The base cake is baked and then soaked in the tres leches milk mixture for a good time. Later it is frosted.

The Cake

As the base cake is required to soak a good amount of tres leches mixture, this cake has to be soft, fluffy and airy. And therefore we are going to work on egg yolks and egg whites separately.

The first thing to do is to make pale custard out of the 5 egg yolks, ¾ cup granulated sugar, ½ cup unsalted butter and vanilla essence.

For this you need to first cream together or mix together butter and the sugar well. And then add egg yolks and vanilla to the cream and keep mixing till the entire thing achieves a thick pale-yellow custard-kind-of consistency.

You can do this entire mixing using a standing mixture with a paddle attachment or with hand. If you are mixing by hand, a coil whisk or a flat whisk may give you better result.

I added everything to one large pan, creamed the butter and sugar together on one side of the pot. Later mixed everything together using a spiral whisk.

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Mexican cake recipe

In a deep bowl, add the egg whites and whisk them till they get stiff peaks.

Make sure that the bowl you use for egg whites is copper or steel or glass one (no plastic ones). The bowl and the whisk should also be absolutely clean of any oil and dry.

Whisking egg whites is much much easier when you use an electric whisk or standing mixer. Whisking with hand takes time and more effort but it isn’t that cumbersome. I prefer whisking with hand.

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Mix in the dry ingredients (i.e. flour, baking powder and salt) using a fork. If you feel that there are lumps in the flour, sift it through a sifter.

Tres leches cake recipe

Now we have four things to mix in for the cake batter – the dry flour mixture, the egg yolk custard, the beaten egg whites and the coconut milk.

At first add in half of the coconut milk and half of the flour mixture to the egg yolk custard. While mixing just gently fold everything together. No vigorous mixing, just gentle folding till everything comes together.

Now add remaining half of the coconut milk and flour mixture to the egg yolk custard and gently fold again in the cake batter.

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Add in the beaten egg whites to the batter and again no quick mixing, just gentle folding in. We are gently folding in because we do not want the egg whites to deflate or the batter to lose its consistency. A well aerated batter is the key to this coconut tres leches cake recipe.

Mexican dessert recipe

Folding in whisked egg whites into the batter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C.

Prepare the baking pan. If you have a tried and tested way to make sure your cake doesn’t stick to the sides of the pan, use that.

I line my baking pan with a non-stick baking paper and lightly spray it with oil. I’ve used aluminium foil instead of baking paper and it works out fine as well. Aluminium foil requires spraying a little more oil than baking paper.

Pour the coconut tres leches cake batter in the pan and let it bake for 25 minutes.

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Take the cake out and check if it is well cooked by inserting a toothpick in the middle. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is cooked. If not, let the cake bake for another 5-7 minutes.

Let the cake cool for about 15-20 minutes. We don’t want the cake to cool completely; we want it to stay a bit warm when we soak it in the tres leches mixture.

The Tres Leches Mixture

Just take a bowl and or a big mug and mix together the three milks – ½ cup coconut milk, ½ cup evaporated milk and 1 ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk – together.

When your cake has cooled for about 15 minutes, gently lift up the cake and remove the baking paper from under it. Lay the cake back in the baking pan and pierce the cake all over using fork.

Mexican dessert recipe

Slowly pour the tres leches milk mixture on the cake. Make sure that the milk mixture goes to each and every part of the baked cake, especially through the fork holes you’ve got.

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Let the cake sit in the tres leches milk mixture for 30 minutes. I know, right now the milk mixture seems a lot, however wait for 30 minutes and the cake would have soaked most of it up.

The Frosting

While the cake soaks in the milk mixture, let us get on with the frosting part of our coconut tres leches cake recipe.

For making the whipped cream frosting, in a deep bowl, add in heavy cream and whip it until the consistency reaches soft peak.

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

After that, add in sugar and beat again till you get stiff peaks.

coconut dessert recipe

Again, the same caution as was while beating egg whites – clean and dry metal or glass bowl please! Before whisking, chill the bowl, whisk and heavy cream in refrigerator for 10 minutes to get better and quicker results.

Take the desiccated coconut in a large skillet. On medium heat, keep stirring the coconut and lightly toast them till they are light brown.

Coconut cake recipe

Putting the Coconut Tres Leches Cake Together

The cake must have soaked most of the tres leches milk mixture by now.

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Spread the whipped cream frosting all over the cake evenly. Sprinkle over the toasted desiccated coconut to give a crunchier and nuttier dimension to this milk-soaked cake.

coconut dessert recipe

I wanted to take better pictures of the cake itself, but couldn’t. Once it was all ready, we were so busy in eating it that I forgot about the pictures. Maybe next time!

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Coconut tres leches cake recipe

Let me know if you try this cake and if you think that this coconut tres leches cake recipe needs any changes.

Coconut tres leches cake is my absolute favourite cake right now, which cake are you drooling over these days?! Tell me in the comments below.

More cake recipes here –

The Nostalgic Swedish Almond Cake

Wheat Flour Carrot Cake

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4 Responses

  1. freya3377 says:

    Gawd that looks yum. I’m going to give it a try but I wonder if I’ll be able to find all the ingredients… Evaporated milk (whats that? milk powder?) and Heavy cream… hmm
    BTW why do you say not to use plastic bowls?

    • Bhawna Saini says:

      Evaporated milk is like milk powder but in liquid form. I have seen Nestle’s in the market. My experience with using plastic bowls while whisking egg whites had been 50-50. I think over a period of time plastic bowls become slippery with oil deposits and that makes wisking egg whites hard. But give it a try!

  2. Loved the recipe and the cake looks so delicious!!! I will definitely try this.. Happy Birthday to Mr. B!

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