Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Tres leches cake is a traditional Mexican sponge cake that is made with 3 different kinds of milk.  “Tres Leches” is literally translated “three milks”.
It is a super silky and moist cake that is served cold with plenty of whipped cream topping.  This recipe has a twist, we are going to make coconut tres leches cake, and let me tell you, this one is a keeper!

Why you will love this coconut tres leches cake

Not only does this coconut tres leches cake turn out super moist and delicious, but we are making it a little easier with the help of a store-bought cake mix so that we don’t have to waste an entire day making this cake.

It will still turn out wonderfully.  Another bonus for coconut fans!  One of the 3 milks we are using in this cake is a can of real coconut milk.

Even my husband, who isn’t a coconut guy, loved this cake!

This tres leches cake is also topped with sweetened toasted coconut flakes for more flavor and texture.  You are going to gobble this cake right up!

Tips

Since this recipe for easy coconut tres leches cake needs time to soak in all of the milks, make sure to prepare properly to make this ahead of time.  It will take 8 hours for the milks to soak into the cake, so you might want to make this a day ahead of time.

The first time I made this cake, I couldn’t get the milk to soak in all the way.  I found that cutting the cake into pieces, and poking a hole in each slice with the handle of a wooden spoon BEFORE adding the milks was what it took to get the milk mixture to soak all the way into the cake.

Ingredients

Nearly every party or gathering that I went to, when I lived in Mexico, had either tres leches cake with strawberries and fresh fruit, or flan, which is a custard type of dessert made with eggs.

Traditional tres leches cake is made with whole milk or even heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk that all soaks into a sponge cake.  It is a super moist cake, but not soggy as you might imagine it would be.

However, in this recipe, we are not using a sponge cake (too time consuming), and we are going to be replacing the evaporated milk with full fat coconut milk.  This is the coconut milk that you will find in a can in the international section of your grocery store.  There is a popular Thai brand of coconut milk that can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store and there is the Goya brand that can be found in the Latin section.

Whatever you do, just make sure not to buy the “lite” version, and don’t buy coconut milk that is in the diary section.  You want to have full fat, unsweetened coconut milk.  The sweetness in this recipe will come from the box cake mix and from the sweetened condensed milk.

These are the ingredients for coconut tres leches cake:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • Canned unsweetened coconut milk
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Half and half
  • Vanilla extract
  • Sweetened coconut flakes
  • Whipped topping (like Cool Whip)

The whipped topping that goes on top of the cake can be substituted with real whipped cream, if you are in the mood to make that yourself.  I actually love real homemade whipped cream, but sometimes it’s just easier to use the premade whipped topping.

How to make coconut tres leches cake

This recipe can be made a day or 2 ahead of time.  I do recommend at least making it the day before so that you have enough time for the milks to absorb and for the cake to chill.

Start off by preparing your box cake recipe according to the directions and baking it in a 9”x13” inch pan with deep sides.  Let it cool all the way before adding the milk mixture.

Once the cake is cooled, I highly recommend cutting the cake into pieces and poking the holes in the cake BEFORE adding the milk.  Learn from my experience and mistakes.

Take a skewer or butter knife and poke holes all over the cake.  Don’t skimp on poking holes.  When you think you have poked enough holes, poke some more.  The more holes you have, the better the milk will soak into your cake.

If your wondering how to poke holes in tres leches cake, or what is the best way to do it, I had to mess around with the size and amount of holes.  You need many many holes and I found that using a butter knife to make the holes helped immensely.

Cut the cake into serving size pieces and on each slice of cake, poke a larger hole in the middle with the handle of a wooden spoon.  Loosen the edges of the cake with a butter knife.

Pour the unsweetened coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, half and half and vanilla extract into a medium mixing bowl.

You will probably have to scoop part of the separated coconut milk out with a spoon.   With an electric mixer, mix it until well combined.

After your cake is cooled, cut, and full of holes that you poked, slowly pour the milk mixture over the whole cake.

If it starts to pool, let it soak in for a few minutes before adding the rest of the milk mixture.

Go ahead and add all of the milk mixture, even if it seems like it will not soak in anymore.  As it sits in the fridge and cools, it will continue to soak up all of that milky coconut goodness.

Let the cake chill for at least 8 hours in the fridge.  Lightly toast the sweetened coconut flakes in a non-stick skillet on the stovetop for 3-5 minutes or until they turn golden brown and fragrant.

Before serving, evenly spread the whipped topping over the top of the cake and sprinkle with the sweetened coconut flakes.

Enjoy

Variations

Coconut tres leches cake is also delicious if you serve it with fresh sliced strawberries or bananas.  If you want to take it to a whole new level, top individual servings with bananas foster.

Serving Suggestions

Always serve coconut tres leches cake cold and store it in the fridge.  It is not advisable to layer tres leches cake at all since it becomes unstable from all of the milk.

Equipment

  • Handheld electric mixer
  • 9”x13” cake pan

FAQ’s

How long can I store tres leches cake?

Tres leches cake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Why is my tres leches cake not absorbing milk?

Make sure that you have cut the cake into serving pieces before adding the milks. Then ensure you have aerated it and poked enough holes in the cake for the milk to soak in.  It might not absorb all at once.  If it is still pooling on top of the cake, cover the cake and let it sit in the fridge for several hours.  As it cools it should absorb more milk.

After several hours if it has still not soaked in, make more holes in the areas of the cake that it is pooling the most.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Print Recipe
Course Dessert
Keyword cake, Tres Leches
Prep Time 1 hour 2 minutes
Chill time: 8 hours
Total Time 9 hours 2 minutes

Equipment

  • Handheld electric mixer
  • 9”x13” cake pan

Ingredients

  • 1 box yellow cake mix fully prepared and baked
  • 1 can 13.5 oz unsweetened coconut milk (full fat, not lite)
  • 1 can 14 0z sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup sweetened coconut flakes toasted
  • 1 tub 8 oz whipped topping (like Cool Whip)

Instructions

  • Bake the yellow cake in a 9”x13” sheet cake pan according to the directions on the box and let it cool completely.
  • When the cake is cooled, loosen the edges with a butter knife and cut the cake into 24 serving size pieces. With a skewer or butter knife, poke holes all over the cake making sure the holes reach down to the bottom of the cake. Also, take the handle of a wooden spoon and poke a bigger hole in the center of each slice of cake.
  • With a handheld mixer, mix the coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, half and half and vanilla extract together until combined and smooth, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Slowly pour the milk mixture over the cake, only pouring about 1/3 of the milk at a time and letting it soak in between. When it begins to pool on top of the cake, let it sit for a few minutes before pouring the rest of the milk mixture on top. It’s ok if it all does not absorb right away. It will continue to soak in the milk as it sits in the fridge.
  • Chill the cake in the fridge (covered) for at least 8 hours. You can chill it up to 2 days ahead of time before serving.
  • Toast the sweetened coconut flakes in a non-stick skillet for 3-4 minutes on med heat until they become fragrant and begin to brown. Remove it from the heat.
  • Before serving the cake, cover it completely and evenly with whipped topping and sprinkle the toasted coconut flakes on top. Enjoy!