Easy Coconut Tres Leches Cake

A twist on the traditional, this Coconut Tres Leches Cake is made using moist sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk (including coconut milk) and layered with fluffy whipped frosting and toasted coconut flakes.

Here are a few more cake recipes you may enjoy: Moist Lemon Glazed Pound Cake, Bananas Foster Bundt Cake, and Ooey Gooey Pineapple Butter Cake.

single slice of coconut tres leches cake

What is Tres leches cake?

Also known as pan tres leches, pastel de tres leches, or three-milk cake, this rich and spongy cake is typically soaked in three different types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk. Hence the name “tres leches.”

Tres leches originated from Latin American cuisine and became popular in many households and restaurants. It is said that the recipe started with wine being soaked in the cake topped off with custard, and has now evolved into a milk-soaked cake. Very interesting!

whole casserole of coconut tres leches cake with a piece cut out

I remember my first experience tasting this cake at a Mexican restaurant; it has become my favorite ever since. You can’t visit a Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston where you wouldn’t find a variation of Tres leches on the menu.

I knew I had to put my hat in the ring and give this “twist” a try. With the help of my wife, AKA “the baking expert,” we created what we feel is a delicious take on the Tres leches cake. 

We decided to go with coconut milk, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk for this Tres leches cake recipe. This combination is the best option for adding the perfect amount of sweetness and creating the perfect amount of coconut flavor. The cake is made from scratch and is topped off with a homemade frosting and toasted coconut flakes, which takes this recipe to the next level. 

Ingredients you will need for this recipe:

  • To make the sponge cake, you’ll need all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, sugar, whole milk, and coconut extract.
  • For your three milk mixture, you’ll combine coconut milk, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut extract. This will be used to soak the cake.  
  • For the whipped frosting, you’ll need vanilla extract, heavy whipping cream, and powdered sugar.
  • To top everything off, you’ll toast some sweetened coconut flakes.
overhead shot of coconut tres leches cake

How to make Coconut Tres leches:

This recipe starts by baking your sponge cake. While baking your cake, you can work on your milk mixture by combining three different types of milk—coconut milk, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk. You’ll also add a little coconut extract for more coconut flavor. This mixture is still poured over the cooled cake. Overnight, the cake will soak up the three milks. Before serving, make your fluffy whipped cream topping and layer the soaked cake with the frosting and toasted coconut flakes.

The best Tres leches cakes strike the perfect balance when it comes to moisture, but the right moisture level is a personal choice. The cake should be light and airy, and you should be able to see a little liquid at the bottom of the baking dish, but it should not be soggy and falling apart. I personally don’t prefer a very “wet” Tres leches, so feel free to add a bit more coconut milk or whole milk if you want to increase the moisture.

  • Make sure you use coconut milk and NOT coconut cream or coconut water, as they are not the same. Because coconut cream is thicker than coconut milk, your milk mixture may be too thick, and the sponge cake will have difficulty absorbing the liquid. Coconut water is coconut milk that has been separated from the coconut cream. While it’s delicious to drink alone, it is not the ingredient you want for this recipe.
  • This is a great dessert to make in advance as you must make it ahead of time to give the milk mixture time to soak in. You can make and layer the whipped cream frosting and toasted coconut flakes an hour before serving. Not only does this cake store well, but it gets more flavorful with time.
  • You don’t have to toast your coconut flakes, but you’re missing out on that additional nutty flavor, plus it gives the cake a night color contrast. Just watch it closely so it doesn’t burn!
single serving of tres leches cake

Whenever it’s time for cake, this easy Coconut Tres Leches cake recipe is always a great option. It’s moist, not overly sweet, and delivers the coconut flavor you expect.

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single slice of coconut tres leches cake

Easy Coconut Tres Leches Cake

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  • Author: Eric Jones
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 12 1x


A twist on the traditional Tres Leches, this coconut version is made with sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk and layered with fluffy coconut whipped cream and sweetened toasted coconut flakes.


Units Scale
  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp coconut extract, divided
  • 13.5 oz coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 10 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp powered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325º F. Line a baking sheet (paid link) with parchment paper. Place coconut flakes evenly on the baking sheet (paid link). Place the baking sheet (paid link) in the oven and toast for 3 minutes until slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.
  2. Preheat oven to 350º F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish (paid link). Set up three mixing bowls.
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate the eggs into two medium bowls.
  4. Add 1 cup of sugar to the bowl with the egg yolks. Mix. Stir in milk and 1 ½ tsp coconut extract. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir gently just until combined. Don’t over-mix.
  5. Using a hand mixer (paid link), beat the egg whites. As stiff peaks form, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter with a spatula (paid link).
  6. Pour the cake batter into the casserole dish (paid link). Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Poke holes in the top of the cake with a large fork or chopsticks.
  7. Combine the coconut milk, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and ½ tsp coconut extract in a large bowl. Whisk (paid link) until combined. Slowly pour the milk mixture over the top of the cake evenly. Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours to overnight, allow the cake to soak up the milk.
  8. Combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Whip until thick and creamy. Spread topping over the cake and layer with toasted coconut.
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 40 mins
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Bake
  • Cuisine: Mexican


  • Calories: 741
  • Sugar: 55.2g
  • Sodium: 284mg
  • Fat: 47.6g
  • Carbohydrates: 71.9g
  • Fiber: 3.3g
  • Protein: 12.2g
  • Cholesterol: 214mg

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