Baking/ Christmas/ Dessert/ Recipes/ Snack

Tres Leches Cupcakes (Mexican 3 Milk Cake)

21/10/2020 (Last Updated: 27/10/2020)

These Mexican Tres Leches Cupcakes are the meltiest, tastiest, fluffiest little cupcakes ever. Top these gorgeous little 3 milk cakes with whipped cream and strawberries for an afternoon indulgence or delightful dessert. Just 15 minutes prep time!

A tres leches cupcake on a plate, topped with whipped cream and strawberry slices.

Why We Love This

These gorgeous Tres Leches Cupcakes will satisfy the sweetest of sweet tooths, while still being light and refreshing on the tummy.

They’re the mini version of the traditional tray-baked Mexican Three Milk Cake, super portable and perfect for sharing at parties and gatherings. We’ll eat them anywhere… Laura may have scoffed one in the car on the way to Sarah’s parent’s place one night!

Both of our families love them as a delicious homemade dessert that is easy to tweak with different flavourings and toppings for a whole different experience every time.

It’s a breeze to make in a stand mixer, but you’ll be fine to use a wooden spoon or hand mixer. Plus, homemade will always taste way better than any store-bought dessert.

Cupcake on a plate, next to more cupcakes on a cake stand and a few fresh strawberries.

What is Tres Leches? 

Tres Leches (meaning ‘three milk’) is a traditional Latin American dessert said to have first been created in Mexico. It’s similar in essence to other soaked cake desserts like jelly and custard trifles or coffee-infused tiramisu.

There are a few cool things that set it apart from regular sponge cakes:

  • Whipped egg whites (and the absence of butter or oil) make the cake layer itself lighter and fluffier than other kinds of cakes.
  • It’s then soaked in a sweet syrup made from three types of milk: condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream. That’s what gives the sponge it’s deliciously soft and melty texture!

Also known as three milk cake, it’s a popular celebration dessert for birthdays, graduations or weddings in many countries, not just Mexico. But we love it for Christmas or family get togethers too!

What You’ll Need

Nice easy ingredients list for this one. Along with the below, you’ll also need eggs, vanilla essence and a pinch of salt.

  • Milks (Tres Leches) – You’ll need three types of milk for the tres leches milk syrup – evaporated milk, condensed milk and thickened cream (heavy cream). You’ll also need a dash of regular milk in the cake batter as well, plus extra cream for whipping!
  • Sugar – We use caster sugar (aka superfine sugar).
  • Self Raising Flour – This gives structure and lift to the cupcakes without need for extra baking powder. You can substitute with the same amount of all purpose flour and a teaspoon of baking powder if you need.
Pouring three milk syrup on top of freshly baked cupcakes.

Wandercook’s Tips

  • Stand Mixer / Hand Mixer / Wooden Spoon – It’s easiest to use a stand mixer or hand mixer for whipping the egg whites and cream. The process is pretty similar to our Australian Pavlova or Eton Mess Dessert recipes – but with a much softer, meltier outcome. However, this cake batter relies on plenty of air to keep its volume and shape while cooking. So – when it comes to folding through the egg whites, ALWAYS do this by hand with a wooden spoon. Fold through gently so you’re still seeing streaks of white and golden colour, and you should be fine.
  • Use Patty Pans / Cupcake Liners – Foil or simple paper ones will both work fine. Don’t be tempted to use non-stick cupcake or muffin trays, as the non-stick surface can potentially cause the cupcakes to shrink.
  • Don’t Overfill the Cupcakes – Allow plenty of space for the cupcakes to rise. They may deflate slightly as they cool down. Don’t worry – just like pavlova, they’ll look amazing once topped with whipped cream.
  • Don’t Skip the Poking! – Don’t forget to poke holes in the cupcakes – this helps the three milk syrup to soak in and distribute evenly.
  • Let it Rest – Give the cupcakes plenty of time to absorb all the syrup, at least 30 minutes, before topping. If the mixture is slow to absorb, try poking a few more holes in each cupcake.
  • Make it Easier – Try using a clean squeezy bottle to pour the milk syrup over each cupcake.
  • Check If They’re Done – The cupcakes are ready when the top springs back after lightly pressing with your finger.

FAQs

Can I freeze these cupcakes?

Yes, you can freeze the cupcakes after baking, but before you add any syrup or whipped cream. They’ll last for a month or so when stored in an air-tight freezer-safe container. When you’re ready, defrost them in the fridge or on the bench overnight (covered), then continue with the rest of the recipe.

Can I make tres leches cupcakes in advance?

Yes you can, and probably should! Making them a day in advance is ideal – it will give them time to soak up all that deliciously sweet milk syrup and become soft and moist. However, letting them rest for a few hours will also be fine. For the best appearance, we recommend topping the cupcakes with whipped cream just before serving so they look nice and fresh.

How long do tres leches cupcakes last?

Once assembled, they’ll last around 3 days in the fridge.

My cupcakes are soggy, what happened?

You may have added more syrup than the cupcake can absorb. It’s a good idea to pour in a little at a time, watching to see how the fast the liquid is absorbed. When this starts to slow down, stop. Don’t be tempted to use up all of the syrup. If you have a little left over, that’s okay. You can store it in the fridge for around a week, or pop on the kettle and use it in a cup of coffee or tea.

My cupcakes deflated! What should I do?

Don’t panic – if your tres leches cupcakes deflated, they’ll still be just as delicious. Top with whipped cream and no one will ever know. To avoid this happening, be very gentle when folding the whipped egg whites into the batter. You want to keep as much air as possible in the batter so the cake will hold its shape once baked.

Variations & Substitutes

  • Toppings Ideas
    • Sprinkle cinnamon or 100s & 1000s over the top of the whipped cream.
    • Swap the homemade whipped cream for caramel or chocolate sauce, cupcake frosting or canned whipped cream.
  • Get Fancy – Slice the cupcakes in half and spread the inside with jam, then reassemble and top with whipped cream.
  • Make it into a Tray Bake Cake – Swap the patty pans for a large rectangular baking dish and continue with the rest of the recipe. When it’s time to serve, slice the cake into square pieces around 5×5 cm or 2×2 inches.
  • Experiment with Flavour – For an even more festive dessert:
    • Add a dash of rum, brandy or coffee to the three milk syrup.
    • Try swapping the milks for eggnog.
    • Add spices such as cinnamon, ginger and cloves (or pumpkin spice) to the cake batter before cooking.
Cupcakes on a tray, soaking up three milk syrup.

For more sweet dessert adventures, try these next:

★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and star rating below!

A baked cupcake in a foil patty pan, topped with whipped cream and strawberries

Tres Leches Cupcakes (Mexican 3 Milk Cake)

These Mexican Tres Leches Cupcakes are the meltiest, tastiest, fluffiest little cupcakes ever. Top these gorgeous little 3 milk cakes with whipped cream and strawberries for an afternoon indulgence or delightful dessert. Just 15 minutes prep time!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 12 cupcakes
Calories: 163kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $10

Equipment

Ingredients

For the Cupcake Batter

For the Milk Syrup

For the Topping

  • 1/2 cup thickened cream heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 12 strawberries sliced

Instructions

Cupcakes

  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C / 356˚F.
  • Add your egg yolks and 6 tbsp caster sugar into a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Blend them together for two mins on medium speed until the yolks become pale yellow. Add the milk and vanilla and mix again until combined.
  • Next, add self raising flour and salt in with the egg yolks and mix slowly to combine, gradually increasing speed as the flour incorporates. If using a stand mixer, transfer to a separate large bowl and set aside.
  • Add the egg whites into your cleaned stand mixer bowl and whisk on medium high speed. Gradually add the remaining 2 tbsp caster sugar and continue to mix until soft peaks form. Increase speed up to high and mix for a few minutes until the egg whites are stiff but not dry.
  • Pour the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and fold in very gently using a wooden spoon until just combined. Your finished cupcake batter should be a nice pale yellow colour. It's okay if there are still streaks of white and yellow colour showing, just avoid over-mixing as much as possible.
  • Now pour the batter into patty pans until they’re about half full. Your cupcakes will rise a lot, so it’s best not to overfill.
  • Bake them in the oven for 15-20 mins or so, until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  • Once cooled, pierce each cupcake with a fork or toothpick a few times (this will allow the milk syrup to soak into your cupcakes!).

Milk Syrup

  • Mix the syrup ingredients together until nicely combined. Ladle a spoonful of the syrup over each cooled cupcake and wait for the mixture to absorb, then repeat once more for each cupcake.

Topping

  • Add the cream and caster sugar into a clean mixing bowl and blend on medium high until the cream is lusciously thick and spreadable. Scoop generously onto each cupcake, then top with freshly sliced strawberry.

Recipe Notes

  • Milks (Tres Leches) – You’ll need three types of milk for the tres leches milk syrup – evaporated milk, condensed milk and thickened cream (heavy cream). You’ll also need a dash of regular milk in the cake batter as well, plus extra cream for whipping!
  • Sugar – We use caster sugar (aka superfine sugar).
  • Self Raising Flour – This gives structure and lift to the cupcakes without need for extra baking powder. You can substitute with the same amount of all purpose flour and a teaspoon of baking powder if you need.
  • Stand Mixer / Hand Mixer / Wooden Spoon – It’s easiest to use a stand mixer or hand mixer for whipping the egg whites and cream. The process is pretty similar to our Australian Pavlova or Eton Mess Dessert recipes – but with a much softer, meltier outcome. However, this cake batter relies on plenty of air to keep its volume and shape while cooking. So – when it comes to folding through the egg whites, ALWAYS do this by hand with a wooden spoon. Fold through gently so you’re still seeing streaks of white and golden colour, and you should be fine.
  • Use Patty Pans / Cupcake Liners – Foil or simple paper ones will both work fine. Don’t be tempted to use non-stick cupcake or muffin trays, as the non-stick surface can potentially cause the cupcakes to shrink.
  • Don’t Overfill the Cupcakes – Allow plenty of space for the cupcakes to rise. They may deflate slightly as they cool down. Don’t worry – just like pavlova, they’ll look amazing once topped with whipped cream.
  • Don’t Skip the Poking! – Don’t forget to poke holes in the cupcakes – this helps the three milk syrup to soak in and distribute evenly.
  • Let it Rest – Give the cupcakes plenty of time to absorb all the syrup, at least 30 minutes, before topping. If the mixture is slow to absorb, try poking a few more holes in each cupcake.
  • Make it Easier – Try using a clean squeezy bottle to pour the milk syrup over each cupcake.
  • Check If They’re Done – The cupcakes are ready when the top springs back after lightly pressing with your finger.
  • Toppings Ideas
    • Sprinkle cinnamon or 100s & 1000s over the top of the whipped cream.
    • Swap the homemade whipped cream for caramel or chocolate sauce, cupcake frosting or canned whipped cream.
  • Get Fancy – Slice the cupcakes in half and spread the inside with jam, then reassemble and top with whipped cream.
  • Make it into a Tray Bake Cake – Swap the patty pans for a large rectangular baking dish and continue with the rest of the recipe. When it’s time to serve, slice the cake into square pieces around 5×5 cm or 2×2 inches.
  • Experiment with Flavour – For an even more festive dessert:
    • Add a dash of rum, brandy or coffee to the three milk syrup.
    • Try swapping the milks for eggnog.
    • Add spices such as cinnamon, ginger and cloves (or pumpkin spice) to the cake batter before cooking.

Nutrition

Calories: 163kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 65mg | Sodium: 42mg | Potassium: 107mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 16g | Vitamin A: 309IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 66mg | Iron: 1mg
Hey hey – Did you make this recipe?We’d love it if you could give a star rating below ★★★★★ and show us your creations on Instagram! Snap a pic and tag @wandercooks / #Wandercooks
Tres Leches Cupcakes (Mexican 3 Milk Cake)

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Pauline
    12/06/2020 at 2:55 pm

    Can you sub w all purpose flour or something else? I don’t have self rising flour and it’s hard to find these days. Thanks

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      12/06/2020 at 2:59 pm

      Hi Pauline, you can use all purpose flour with 1/2 tsp baking powder and that should do the trick! Enjoy!

  • Reply
    Food Shot
    22/11/2017 at 12:27 am

    Beautiful photographs ladies! Oh, you can just taste how moist those cupcakes are. I MUST make them!

    • Reply
      Wandercooks
      06/12/2017 at 11:07 am

      Yes, you must! Go go go! 😛 🙂

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