Coconut Tres Leches

This tangy coconut tres leche is perfectly moist, delicious, and so simple to prepare.

So, this coconut tres leches cake came to be for one reason, and one reason only. Okay, I lied, two reasons only: I absolutely adore tres leches cakes (particularly coconut ones) and I also adore oil-based cakes that are mixed by hand and that don’t require egg separation and the beating of whites. And, yes, it’s fair to say that reason number two indicates that i’m a baker with a penchant for corner-cutting. Here’s the thing about this corner-cutting penchant, though: it doesn’t necessarily prove all that useful when developing a tres leches cake recipe, as tres leches is traditionally made with sponge cake (a cake made with little fat and lots of beaten whites).Coconut Tres Leches | Jessie Sheehan Bakes

Sponge cakes are the cakes of choice for tres leches, as they are awfully efficient when it comes to soaking up liquid and a tres leches cake — for the uninitiated — is all about the pouring of liquid over cake and the miraculous absorption that ensues. And yet, I was committed to a tres leches sans sponge (read: super easy and fast to put together), and am happy to report that that is exactly what I present you with here. It’s an awfully tasty, moist, and uber coconut-y one, to boot. But there is necessary back story that needs sharing: my first experience with a coconut tres leches cake, was via one of my nieces who, like me, has a sweet spot for the dessert, and makes it frequently using a fine cooking recipe. Coconut Tres Leches | Jessie Sheehan Bakes

Now, although this beloved recipe of her’s served as my jumping off point, truth be told I took the notion of a “coconut” tres leches cake a bit more seriously than fine cooking.  My cake not only calls for the liquid poured upon the cake to be coconut-inspired, (coconut milk and coco lopez make up two of the three “milks”) but the cake itself is coconut as well, calling for coconut milk, coconut extract, and shredded coconut. Oh, and the whipped cream too, is of the coconut variety. And amping up the coconut was not the only way my recipe differs from my niece’s fave, as her’s calls for beaten whites and mine — you guessed it — most decidedly does not.Coconut Tres Leches | Jessie Sheehan Bakes

A bit (okay, a lot) of internet/cookbook research ensued in my search for tres leches made with whole eggs, and every recipe I stumbled upon was all about the beaten white. Until I found a this tres leches recipe. It’s what I needed — one recipe for tres leches with which home cooks were (relatively) happy despite the fact it did not require a traditional sponge. Armed with the realization that a sponge-free tres leches could please the (majority of the) masses, the development of my own coconut tres leches came together in close to a snap. And you will find preparing this cake to be a delicious and deeply coconut-y snap as well.

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coconut tres leches

This tangy coconut tres leche is perfectly moist, delicious, and so simple to prepare.
Recipe Author Jessie Sheehan
Servings 16


for the cake

  • 1 1/3 cups cake flour sifted
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 tsp coconut extract
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 yolks
  • 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk whisked if lumpy
  • 2/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut

for the soaking liquid

  • 1 1/4 cups coco lopez or other sweetened coconut cream
  • 1 1/2 cups full-fat coconut milk
  • one 12 ounce can 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

for the whipped cream

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 tsp coconut extract

for the topping

  • 1 cup coconut flakes toasted


for the cake

  • preheat the oven to 350 degrees. grease a 13x9x2-inch pan with cooking spray or butter. set aside.
  • combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine. set aside. add the sugar, oil, and extracts to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium til well incorporated.
  • add the eggs and yolks, one at at time, beating well after each addition, until well incorporated. reduce the mixer speed to low and add 1/2 of the dry ingredients, then all of the coconut milk, and then the other half of the dry, pausing and scraping the bowl as necessary after each addition. stop the mixer when a bit of dry flour is still visible, add the shredded coconut, and continue mixing by hand with a rubber spatula.
  • transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for about 15 minutes, checking on it after 13, until a tester comes out with a moist crumb or two and the cake just begins to come away from the sides of the pan. you do not want to overbake this cake and it will bake quickly as there is not a lot of batter (ie: the cake bakes up quite thin - don't worry!). place the pan on a cooling rack and let the cake come to room temp in the pan. meanwhile, make the soaking liquid.

for the soaking liquid

  • combine all of the ingredients (totaling 4 1/4 cups) in a 4 cup measuing cup or microwave-safe medium-sized bowl. whisk to incorporate and if the coco lopez is a bit clumpy, place the measuring cup/bowl in the microwave briefly. warming the liquid also helps the cake to better absorb it.
  • remove 1/2 cup of liquid from the measuing cup/bowl and set aside (you can use this extra liquid to serve along side the cake). using a fork or toothpick, make lots of holes over the surface of the cake. and i mean LOTS. once the surface of the cake is covered in holes, begin pouring the liquid over the cake, pausing to let the liquid soak as you work your way over the entire cake. do not be concerned if the cake does not absorb all of the liquid: it will do so while it sits in the fridge overnight. wrap the pan in saran wrap and place in the fridge overnight.

to make the whipped cream

  • when ready to serve the cake (or up to two hours ahead of serving) make the whipped cream. place the cream, sugar, and extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whisk until soft to medium peaks form. cover the cake in the cream and sprinkle the toasted coconut over the entire surface of the cake. serve slices directly from the pan, pouring a bit of the extra liquid underneath each slice before serving, if desired.


the liquid is best absorbed by the cake if you make lots and lots of holes in the cake - make more than you think you might need. really.
if there is still a bit of liquid surrounding the cake after its overnight stay in the fridge, do not be concerned.

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