Coconut Tres Leches Cake | Leite’s Culinaria

This coconut tres leches cake is a riff on the popular Latin milk-soaked sponge cake. This truly exceptional dessert recipe uses coconut extract in the sheet cake, coconut milk in the creamy drizzle, and toasted coconut as garnish.

Three pieces of white cake topped with frosting and toasted coconut on individual blue glass plates with forks resting on the side.

Adapted from Molly Gilbert | Sheet Pan Sweets | Union Square & Co., 2022

Typically, a sponge cake soaked in three types of milk (evaporated, condensed, and whole) with Latin American roots, tres leches cake is one of my favorites. I love how it straddles the line between cake and pudding, the soft cake swathed in cool creaminess both atop and below.

This version strays from authenticity with the addition of coconut—three forms of coconut, actually. We’ll add some extract to the cake, swap in coconut milk for evaporated milk in the drizzle and top the whole thing with some sweet toasted coconut shreds.–Molly Gilbert

Coconut Tres Leches Cake FAQs

Can I make this cake ahead of time?

Yes, at least partially. Bake the cake and cool it, then pour the milk mixture over it all. Let your cake soak/cool in the fridge for a few hours or until you’re ready to serve, then make the frosting and finish it up. Traditional tres leches cake is best eaten within the first 48 hours, and we’d recommend the same with this recipe, although you may find that it’ll keep for up to 4 days.

What is the difference between shredded coconut and sweetened coconut?

The difference is in the sugar. Shredded coconut is just coconut with no added ingredients. The shreds will separate very easily and are dry. Sweetened coconut has added sugars, which make it moister and sweeter.

What’s the best way to toast coconut?

Spread it out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake it in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 3 to 8 minutes, occasionally tossing, until golden brown and fragrant.

Coconut Tres Leches Cake

Three pieces of white cake topped with frosting and toasted coconut on individual blue glass plates with forks resting on the side.

For this tres leches cake with coconut, rich coconut flavor meets creamy milk-soaked sponge cake. Sweet frosting, lime zest, and toasted coconut crown this classic dessert.

Molly Gilbert

Prep 40 mins

Cook 30 mins

Total 1 hr 30 mins

Make the cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with a rack in the center position. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition (don’t worry if the mixture starts to look curdled; it will come together as you add more ingredients).

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  • In a large spouted measuring cup, whisk together the milk, oil, vanilla, and coconut extract.

  • Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the egg mixture, starting and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing on low speed after each addition, then mix just until a smooth batter comes together.

  • Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet and spread it evenly to the corners with a large offset spatula. Bake until the sides of the cake pull away from the pan and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Make the drizzle

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, condensed milk, and whole milk.

  • Use a toothpick or skewer to poke holes all over the warm cake, then slowly pour the drizzle over the top. It’s important to go slowly here to allow the cake to soak up the drizzle; it will seem like too much, but don’t panic! (Some will be absorbed, and some will create that delicious little lake at the bottom when you slice the cake.)

  • Allow the cake to cool completely, about 20 minutes. The cake can be covered and stored in the fridge for several hours before frosting.

Make the frosting

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, whip the cream and sugar until stiff peaks form, 4 to 5 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the lime zest.

  • Spread the frosting generously over the cake. Top with the toasted coconut. Serve immediately, or store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Serving: 1portionCalories: 410kcal (21%)Carbohydrates: 42g (14%)Protein: 6g (12%)Fat: 25g (38%)Saturated Fat: 16g (100%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0.3gCholesterol: 90mg (30%)Sodium: 112mg (5%)Potassium: 239mg (7%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 29g (32%)Vitamin A: 665IU (13%)Vitamin C: 1mg (1%)Calcium: 120mg (12%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Originally published October 7, 2022

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