Chocolate coconut tres leches on a plate

Tres Leches translates into three milks cake. With nearly the consistency of a pudding cake, the dense cake batter is designed to soak up a sweetened milk glaze that you pour over it before after baking and before adding the frosting.


I first sampled the traditional vanilla tres leches not in Mexico, but La Crosse, Wisconsin of all places. In a tiny Mexican restaurant frequented by college students and foodies our server brightened when we ordered the tres leches. The owner of Iguana’s Mexican Street Cafe made it from scratch and took great pride in serving us a huge slice. I’ve been thinking about making it ever since. That was July.


I wanted to amp up the flavor of the cake so of course I thought it needed chocolate. I found a version of Chocolate Rum Cake from Chow that lead me through how to add chocolate to both the cake batter and the tres leches glaze. But I also wanted to temper some of the tres leches glaze, which can become too sweet for my taste, with another ingredient. I found it in coconut milk – a great stand-in for much of the heavy cream and some of the sweetened condensed milk. I just couldn’t stop there. I also added dark cocoa powder into the whipped frosting for a rich dessert that really is more like Cinco Leches – sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, heavy cream, and milk chocolate chips. I usually opt for semi-sweet but this creamy dessert works better with a milky chocolate.


Both of the recipes I combined made the tres leches cake as a layer cake. I like it better in a casserole dish – it’s easier to make that way and serves more people. If you want a layered cake go ahead but your cake may not soak up all the tres leches glaze, which was another reason I went with the dish – I didn’t want to lose any of the sauce!

Chocolate Coconut Tres Leches


For the cake

¾ cup water

2 tsp. dark cocoa powder (opt. I used black onyx)

½ cup cocoa powder

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 ¼ cups sugar

5 large egg yolks

½ cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)

8 large egg whites

¾ tsp. cream of tartar


For the tres leches

4 ounces chocolate (milk chocolate chips work well)

1 cup coconut milk

½ cup sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup evaporated milk

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)

Tres leches ingredients

For the frosting

2 cups heavy cream

1/8 cup coconut milk

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder

1 tsp. coconut extract (opt.)


For the garnish

Shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

Mini chocolate chips



For the cake

  1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously coat the inside of a 9” x 13” casserole dish with cooking spray.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, ½ tsp. salt, and ½ cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In another bowl whisk the egg yolks, oil, and extracts until combined. Whisk dark cocoa powder into the water right in the measuring cup and then whisk into the egg mixture.
  4. Whisk the egg yolk mixture into the flour until combined. (Lots of whisking!)
  5. In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites, ½ tsp. salt, and the cream of tartar in a bowl until the egg whites become frothy, about 2 minutes. (Yes, you’re essentially making a meringue.) Gradually add the rest of the sugar, ¾ cup, into the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.
  6. Working in three batches, add 1/3 of the egg whites to the flour-egg yolk mixture and fold together until there are no white streaks. Follow the same procedure with the rest of the egg whites.
  7. Pour the batter into the casserole dish and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Test to see if the cake is done by putting a toothpick into the center – if it comes out clean take the cake out of the oven. Cool the cake for 10 minutes.

Adding tres leches

For the tres leches glaze

  1. In a large, glass measuring bowl, melt together the chocolate and ¼ cup heavy cream in the microwave on medium-high heat for 90 seconds. Stir until smooth.
  2. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk in coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, extracts.
  4. Pour 1/3 of the tres leches glaze onto the cake. Wait 10 minutes and then pour the next 1/3. Follow the same process with the rest of the glaze.
  5. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or, if possible, overnight.


For the whipped topping

  1. With a hand-held mixer beat the whipping cream until frothy. Add the coconut milk and powdered sugar to the whipping cream until stiff, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add in the extracts and cocoa powder and whip 30 more seconds.
  3. Spread the whipped topping onto the cake using a spatula.
  4. Optional toppings – shredded coconut and mini chocolate chips.
  5. Refrigerate 1 more hour.


To serve

  1. On a large plate use chocolate sauce (such as Hershey’s syrup – it’s for the design not the flavor) and make a swirl shape on the plate.
  2. Use the extra tres leches sauce in the pan to do another swirl of sauce.
  3. Cut the cake into square pieces.


*Not a coconut fan? The coconut flavor in this recipe is subtle. Nix the coconut extract and the coconut milk in the whipped topping if you don’t like coconut. Keep it in the tres leches and you probably won’t notice it. Or, just go ahead and use all heavy cream instead of any coconut milk.


Pieces of chocolate coconut tres leches

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