Pillowy and super-moist, this gluten-free tres leches cake is easy to make in about an hour and can be chilled for up to 1 or 2 days before serving. Soak it with coconut milk mixture for a delicious dairy-free option!
I've also included refined sugar-free and paleo-friendly versions. Your guests will never, ever believe this light and tender cake is gluten-free and dairy-free!
When it comes to gluten-free cake recipes, I've got you covered. Last year I shared the recipe for my favorite gluten-free sponge cake, a foolproof chiffon cake scented with vanilla that can be layered with berries and cream, or iced with frosting, or turned into GF tiramisu. It's been a big hit with you, dear readers, so today I'm sharing another variation made with the same base recipe: Gluten-Free Tres Leches Cake.
Tres leches cake (a.k.a. milk cake, torta de tres leches, pan tres leches, bizcocho de tres leches, and pastel de tres leches) is a traditional dessert that hales from Latin America.
Throughout my four years as pastry chef at a Latin-American restaurant here in San Francisco, we always had tres leches cake on the menu. I would bake a large sponge cake in a sheet pan and cut out individual rounds of cake using a plain biscuit cutter. We would serve the individual cakes in shallow bowls topped with the milk mixture, whipped cream, and seasonal fresh fruit.
My personal favorite was a chocolate rum variation that I've shared below. I also featured a GF DF coconut tres leches cake in my cookbook Alternative Baker topped with mango and lime.
Today's version is one that I created for GFF: Gluten-Free Forever magazine. It's baked in a lasagna pan and the whole thing is topped with cream and berries. It's excellent for feeding a crowd because it can be made ahead of time; in fact, it just gets better and better as it sits.
I've also included a few additional allergy-friendly variations including dairy-free, grain-free, refined sugar-free, and paleo-friendly.
Tres Leches Cake Base
While most tres leches cake recipes use a simple sponge cake made with whipped eggs, flour, and sugar, my favorite version of tres leches cake is made with chiffon cake. Chiffon cake is made with those ingredients plus oil, leavening, and the egg whites are stabilized with sugar. This makes chiffon cake fairly foolproof to execute, baking up with a plush texture that's both light and toothsome.
Like all my recipes, this one is judiciously sweetened with just enough sugar (or maple syrup) to keep it flavorful and tender. The oil in the chiffon cake gives this tres leches cake a supple texture while the lower egg-to-batter ratio makes the flavor less eggy and more akin to a classic vanilla cake.
The only difference between my vanilla sponge cake and this tres leches cake is that I've added an extra egg white here. This helps open up the crumb even more, allowing it to absorb more of the milk mixture.
Once the cake is baked, it gets poked all over and soaked with a mixture of three milks – evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream or whole milk – which is where it gets its name.
But this cake can easily be made dairy-free by using a mixture of sweetened condensed coconut milk mixed with regular coconut milk (technically dos leches, but who's counting?!). For a refined sugar-free option, use full-fat coconut milk sweetened with coconut sugar. Both versions are included below in the recipe card!
Ingredients & Substitution Suggestions
As I mentioned before, this gluten-free tres leches cake recipe starts with my gluten-free sponge cake formula, with just one small change: I add an extra egg white to keep the crumb more open and ready to absorb the milk mixture. It's made with the following ingredients:
- Oat flour adds fluff and creamy depth of flavor (can sub by weight sorghum flour, teff flour, or chestnut flour)
- Sweet rice flour adds stickiness and a neutral taste (can sub by weight cassava flour or a GF AP blend such as Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1)
- Millet flour adds a buttery, golden crumb (can sub by weight sorghum flour)
- Neutral vegetable oil moistens the cake. I usually use sunflower oil, but other good options are grape seed, mild olive oil, and avocado oil.
- Sugar sweetens the cake. If you're going refined sugar-free, make the original sponge cake recipe which gets sweetened with maple syrup.
- Egg whites whipped with cream of tartar and sugar give the cake a feather-light texture. The cream of tartar acts as an acid to stabilize the egg whites, so if you don't have any on hand, it's fine to leave it out.
- Egg yolks add richness and give the cake a golden crumb.
- Baking powder lifts the batter along with the beaten egg whites.
Three Milks Mixture
Traditionally, tres leches cake is made with a mixture of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream or whole milk. I've included measurements for this more classic version in the recipe notes below.
Since many of my readers are also sensitive to dairy, I've kept this version DF. Though it only uses two "milks" instead of three, it still has the same tres leches vibe.
- Sweetened condensed coconut milk adds luscious body and a sweet, caramelized flavor
- Full-fat coconut milk adds creamy goodness and moisture
- Vanilla complements the tropical notes of coconut and salt sharpens the flavors
Tres leches cake is traditionally topped with sweetened whipped cream. To keep it DF, use whipped coconut cream. Or for a less-sweet option, use rich coconut yogurt such as Culina, which will add a little tanginess.
Seasonal fruit makes a lovely accompaniment. Here I've topped it with fresh berries tossed with a little lime juice and sugar to draw out their juices. Other good options are fresh mango or peaches.
Sometimes tres leches cake is sprinkled with cinnamon on top. Feel free to add some if you like!
How to Make GF Tres Leches Cake
This cake takes about 20 minutes of active time to make, plus about 40 minutes in the oven. It makes one 9x13-inch cake, 12-16 servings.
Gluten-Free Tres Leches Cake for Everyone
This GF tres leches cake has a dreamy crumb loaded with richness and flavor from creamy coconut milk. With dairy-free and paleo-friendly options, it's a cake that most everyone can enjoy.
Please let me know if you try it or if you have any questions!
*Bojon appétit! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, purchase my gluten-free cookbook Alternative Baker, or subscribe to receive new posts via email. And if you make this gluten-free tres leches cake recipe, I’d love to know. Leave a comment and rating below, and tag your Instagram snaps @The_Bojon_Gourmet and #bojongourmet.*
Gluten-Free Tres Leches Cake (Dairy-Free Option)Print Recipe Pin Recipe
GF Sponge Cake
- 1 teaspoon room temperature coconut oil, for the pan (bottom only)
- ¼ cup water
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil or other neutral oil
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (120 grams) granulated sugar divided
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (50 grams) millet flour*
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (55 grams) sweet white rice flour*
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (40 grams) oat flour*
- 1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 6 large egg whites at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Dairy-Free Milk Mixture
- 1 (13.5 ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
- ¾ cup (6 ounces) canned sweetened condensed coconut milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
- pinch salt
- 3 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream, whipped coconut cream, or thick coconut yogurt
- 6 cups seasonal fruit of your choice such as berries, stone fruit, or mango
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325ºF. Rub coconut oil over the *bottom only* of a 9x12-inch or 9x13-inch cake pan. The cake batter will crawl up the ungreased sides of the pan, making for a taller, lighter cake that will better absorb the milk mixture.
- In a very large bowl, whisk together ¼ cup water with the oil, egg yolks and vanilla, then whisk in the 1⁄2 cup sugar. Place a strainer over the bowl and sift the millet, sweet rice, and oat flours with the baking powder and salt directly into the yolk mixture, adding back any bits left behind in the strainer. Whisk until very smooth and the consistency of pancake batter.
- In the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whip until the whites are glossy and just hold a firm peak when lifted from the bowl, 1 to 3 more minutes.
- Use a flexible silicone spatula to fold one-third of the whites into the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites until just combined and no streaks remain. Immediately pour the batter into the prepared pan and quickly but gently spread the batter into a thin, even layer.
- Transfer to the oven and bake until the cake is golden, springs back to the touch and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool until warm, about 30 minutes.
- Combine the coconut milk, sweetened condensed coconut milk, vanilla, and salt in a medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat, stirring until combined and warm to the touch. Keep warm; this will help the mixture absorb into the cake.
- When the cake has cooled slightly, poke it all over with a slender chopstick or skewer. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture over the cake 1 cup at a time, letting it absorb into the cake, until the cake stops absorbing liquid. Tilt and swirl the cake to help the liquid absorb. Cover and chill the cake until ready to serve, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
- To serve, top the cake with the whipped cream (or coconut cream or coconut yogurt) and fruit. To make the fruit extra juicy as shown here, toss it with a little sugar and lime juice and let sit for 10 minutes to draw out the juices.
- Cut the cake into squares or wedges and enjoy!
- All flours can be subbed out for 145 grams of GF AP flour (such as Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1)
- Millet can be subbed for sorghum flour or teff flour
- Sweet rice can be subbed for GF AP flour (such as Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1) or cassava flour
- Oat can be subbed for sorghum flour or teff flour
- The cake can be baked ahead and refrigerated for a day or two (or frozen for up to 1 month) until ready to use. Warm the cake in a low oven before adding the milk mixture to help it absorb.
- The milk mixture can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until ready to use. Warm before pouring over the cake to help it absorb.
- The cake can be baked, soaked, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days before serving. Leftovers will keep for another 2 days or so.