Pastel de Tres Leches

Photo: Anna Williams

A Spanish favorite, this sponge cake is doused in three types of milk, giving it a rich, pudding-like texture.


  • 1 stick butter (8 tablespoons), melted and cooled, plus more for pans

  • 6 large eggs, separated

  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 ½ cups milk

  • One 12-ounce can evaporated milk

  • One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

  • One fresh coconut

  • 2 cups heavy cream

  • Assorted tropical fruits, such as pineapple, star fruit, mango, and pepino, for garnish


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking pan. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine egg whites, baking soda, and salt, and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.

  2. Add yolks to the whites, and beat until completely combined. With the mixer running slowly, add sugar until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a rubber spatula, fold in butter.

  3. Sift 1/4 cup flour on top of the mixture, and fold in to combine. Repeat with the remaining flour, folding in 1/4 cup at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until golden and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a wire rack.

  4. About 5 minutes before the cake is done, whisk together the three milks, and set aside. As soon as the cake is removed from the oven, pour the milk mixture over the entire cake. The cake should absorb all the liquid within 3 to 5 minutes. Set cake aside, and let stand until cool. Cover cake well, and transfer to the refrigerator to chill, at least 5 hours or overnight.

  5. Before serving, heat oven to 450 degrees. Place whole coconut in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and using an awl or a screwdriver, pierce the three "eyes" of the coconut. Turn over, and drain the liquid. Using a hammer, break open coconut. To remove the meat from the shell, insert a small spatula or a grapefruit knife between the flesh and the shell to pry the meat out in large pieces. Using a vegetable peeler, shave off thin curls of coconut. Transfer curls to a baking sheet, and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Place in oven, and bake until edges are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and set aside until cool. These curls can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days or frozen for future use.

  6. When ready to serve the cake, whip cream to soft peaks. Slice cake into twelve servings, top with whipped cream, and serve with the fruits and toasted coconut curls.

Cook's Notes

The most time-consuming step is making the coconut curls; in a pinch you can use store-bought shaved coconut.

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