Fluffy, melt in your mouth Coconut Tres Leches Cupcakes soaked with sweet coconut milks and topped with soft whipped cream and toasted coconut.
What is Tres Leches Cake?
Tres Leches Cake, or "three milks cake" is of Latin American origin -- and most countries have their own version! Traditionally, the three milks used for soaking are sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream.
This light and airy sponge cake is soaked with the three milks overnight, and turns into a gloriously soft, luscious treat. While the concern for most people is that it will be soggy, that's actually not the case at all! The sponge cake (similar to angel food cake consistency) absorbs everything perfectly, while also keeping its structure. I’m here to assure you that it is not mushy by any means and the texture is fabulous.
Finally, this cake is meant to be eaten cold. Again, may feel a bit unusual with so many recipes telling you to let your baked goods come to temperature before enjoying. However, this is part of what I love best about this cake - it is SO refreshing and a nice change up from the usual routine.
Ingredients for the Coconut Tres Leches Cupcakes
For this specific recipe, I used sweetened condensed coconut milk and evaporated coconut milk from Nature's Greatest Foods. They were so generous to allow me to sample some of their product, and I LOVED it.
If you aren't able to get your hands on the coconut products, you can also use normal sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk and simply add 1 - 1.5 teaspoons of coconut extract, instead. It will taste absolutely delish!
- Tulip Cupcake Liners. You cannot use standard cupcake liners for these cupcakes, as they require higher sides for the amount of rise that will occur. If you cannot find or don't want to purchase these, you can make this into a cake, instead. Continue reading for instructions on how to do this.
- All-purpose flour. Only one cup is needed! This is because the whipped egg whites do a lot of the structural work in the cake.
- Baking powder. This leavener helps the cake rise and is not interchangeable with baking soda.
- Eggs. Large eggs, separated. Take care not to allow any yolk to get into the egg whites or else they won't whip properly.
- Sugar. Granulated sugar is used in the cake and egg whites.
- Whole milk. For both the cake and the milks. I find that whole milk to soak the cake (rather than whipped cream) absorbs better and feels lighter.
- Sweetened condensed coconut milk. If you can't find this, use normal sweetened condensed milk.
- Evaporated coconut milk. If you can't find this, use normal evaporated milk.
- Coconut extract. You will need this if you are using normal sweetened condensed and evaporated milks.
- Heavy whipping cream. To make fresh whipped cream to slather all over the top of your cupcakes!
- Shredded coconut. The sweet kind! Toasted to add extra flavor and textures.
Tips for making Tres Leches Cake from scratch
While this is a very simple cake batter to throw together, the step that catches people up is properly whipping the egg whites and folding them into the cake batter correctly.
The egg whites are properly whipped when the beaters leave tracks in the egg whites and when the bowl can be flipped upside down without them sliding or falling out. Be careful if you choose to test this way just in case they're not quite ready 😉 When you remove your whisk and hold it upright, the whites will have a stiff peak that doesn't fall over.
Once the egg whites are whipped to stiff peaks, add about half of the egg whites to the batter, careful not to stir and deflate the batter. Do this in a “J” motion, cutting down the middle of your bowl, scraping the bottom, and coming back up on the sides. Once the first half of the whites are incorporated, do the same with the other half until there are no longer ribbons of the whites visible. The batter will be thick and fluffy, it should not be easily "pourable."
After baking, the cupcakes will look brown and shriveled and not exactly... appetizing. The milks and toppings will take care of this problem, so don't even worry!
Finally, you want to poke A LOT of holes into the cake. So many that it feels like too many - and makes sure you get the sides. This is what allows the milks to really absorb and is a key step in overall outcome!
Does Tres Leches Cake need to be refrigerated?
Yes. Because of the milk for soaking the cake and the whipped cream topping, this cake must be refrigerated. This cake is best eaten within three days, but can last up to five days before the structure deteriorates and whipped topping falls.
How to make this into a 13x9" cake
If you prefer to make this recipe into a 13x9" inch cake rather than cupcakes, simply follow my standard Tres Leches Cake recipe and make the proper substitutions and additions for the coconut flavor.
Coconut Tres Leches Cupcakes
- Standard muffin tin (2)
- Tulip cupcake liners
- Stand mixer with paddle and whisk attachment (or hand mixer)
- Wooden skewers or toothpicks
- 1 cup all-purpose flour 120g
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 5 large eggs separated
- 1 cup white sugar 200g, divided
- ⅓ cup whole milk 76g
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 12 oz can evaporated coconut milk*
- 14 oz can sweetened condensed coconut milk*
- ¼ cup whole milk 57g
- 1 pint heavy cream 16oz
- ¼ cup powdered sugar 30g
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ¾ cup sweetened shredded coconut 50g
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, line a muffin tin with 12 tulip liners and lightly spray the insides of the tulip liners with cooking spray. Line another muffin tin with 6 more liners and spray.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In two separate bowls, separate the egg yolks from the whites, being sure not to let any yolks get into the whites or else they won't whip properly.
- Add ¾ cup sugar and the egg yolks to a stand mixer and mix on medium high speed (using the paddle attachment) until yolks are pale yellow, about 3-4 minutes. Add the ⅓ cup milk and vanilla and mix on low to combine.
- Pour the egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and gently stir by hand until combined (don’t over mix).
- Using a clean, dry bowl for your stand mixer, whip (using the whisk attachment) the egg whites on high. Once soft peaks begin to form, gradually add the remaining ¼ cup sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter until just combined, careful not to stir and deflate the batter. Do this in a “J” motion, cutting down the middle of your bowl, scraping the bottom, and coming back up on the sides. The batter will be thick and fluffy. Using a large ice cream scoop or two spoons, fill each cupcake liner to half.
- Bake the cupcakes for 25-30 minutes until completely set. The top of the cupcakes will be slightly browned and will look a bit shriveled. Allow the cupcakes to cool for about 10 minutes before starting to poke the holes.
- While the cupcakes are resting, combine the evaporated coconut milk*, sweetened condensed coconut milk*, and whole milk in a bowl and mix by hand until it comes together.
- Using a wooden skewer, poke holes all over the cupcakes the whole way down to the bottom (especially getting the sides), careful not to poke holes through the cupcake liners.
- Pour 1 tablespoon of milk mixture over each cupcake and allow them to absorb the milk. Repeat this two more times (for a total of 3 tablespoons). Make sure you get the sides as best as possible.
- Cover the cupcakes as best as possible and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight. This allows the cupcakes to fully absorb the milk mixture.
- Place the bowl of your stand mixer and the whisk attachment in the freezer for about 15 minutes. This will help your whipped cream whip up best.
- Toast the sweetened shredded coconut in a large frying pan over medium heat, stirring, until light brown and fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool completely.
- To top the cupcakes, whip the heavy cream on high until it starts to thicken, then turn the mixer down and slowly add in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer back to high until lightly stiff peaks form.
- Pipe or spoon the whipped cream over each cupcake. Sprinkle with the toasted coconut.