Tres Leches Cake is served all over the world using different accent ingredients ranging from rum to caramel, but always using three milks (hence the name!).
My gluten free vegan Tres Leches Cake recipe breaks the traditional mold, but does so deliciously, and remains true to the spirit of the confection.
The original recipe likely hailed from somewhere in Latin America … somewhere in the late 1800s. As with so many great recipes, it has lots of disputed history!
The basic recipe is something like a cross between a poke cake an old fashioned Hot Milk Cake — if you know what that is! It’s one of those — use what you’ve got! Let nothing go to waste! sorts of recipes our grandmothers would have appreciated. Like my Depression Era Gluten Free Wacky Cake (also vegan!).
Apparently the “tres leches” twist came about in large part because refrigerated milk was hard in short supply, so canned evaporated and condensed milks began to provide options as substitutes for more than just sustenance.
It seems hardly a coincidence that the recipe grew in fashionability around the time of Nestle’s investment in manufacturing in Mexico in the 1930s — also when Nestle began printing a recipe for tres leches cake on its cans of evaporated, condensed and cream milk cans. Hmmmm tres leches…. Handy.
This luscious cake is still made today all over the world with the three milks: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream. They combine to form a rich sauce poured over and largely — but not totally — absorbed into the moist, spongy cake. All of which is to say that this dessert is truly unique and not to be missed.
Which brings us to the fact that many of us have missed out for far too long on gluten-full and dairy-full desserts. I think we deserve to enjoy treats like tres leches cake too, don’t you?
So how, exactly, does one make a gluten free vegan tres leches cake recipe? It’s easy enough to make your own evaporated and sweetened condensed vegan milks, but there are also great coconut versions on the market now – yay, us!
Be even more that just the fact that we have vegan substitutes, I would argue that these analogs are BETTER!
The flavor is deeper, richer and more robust than ordinary dairy milk when you’re using a combination of nut milks as accent flavors. And topped with homemade coconut whipped cream … the texture is as dreamy as the taste!
If you’d like to explore some of the new ready-made vegan “leches” available, I’ve given you lots of ingredient options in my review of my preferred dairy-free brands and varieties, and I’ve also highlighted my choices for this recipe in parentheses. SO. MANY. OPTIONS! (Isn’t it nice to have options for once?!)
When you make this cake, be sure to use the award-winning gfJules Flour I used to develop this recipe — you know, the most important part of the tres leches CAKE. You don’t want a gritty or crumbly cake, you want a soft, spongy, moist cake. So don’t skimp on ingredients and think subbing for those won’t affect the end result because it will (here’s why).
No excuses – it’s time to celebrate … just in time for Cinco de Mayo!
Gluten Free Tres Leches Cake
- 1 Tbs. gluten-free Egg Replacer (Ener-G®) + 4 Tbs. warm water (equivalent of 2 eggs) OR 6 Tbs. aquafaba OR 2 large eggs
- 2 Tbs. non-GMO canola OR mild vegetable oil (like safflower or sunflower oil)
- 1 cup granulated sugar (white, organic or vegan cane sugar OR unrefined coconut palm sugar)
- 1 tsp. pure almond extract OR pure vanilla extract OR rum
- 3/4 cup vegan milk like Almond, Cashew, Coconut, Macadamia or Hemp Milk (I used So Delicious® Cashew Milk)
- 1 cup (135 grams) gfJules® Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
- 2 Tbs. non-dairy milk powder like coconut milk powder — do not reconstitute (here's a widely available "cheat": powdered GF vanilla pudding like Jell-o® Brand)
- 1 1/2 Tbs. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup Coconut Milk Beverage (I used So Delicious® Coconut Milk Beverage)
- 3/4 cup Almond Milk (I used So Delicious® Almond Milk)
- 1/2 cup vegan Kefir OR Almond or Coconut Milk Creamer (I used So Delicious® Coconut Milk Creamer)
- 1/2 cup flaked coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), optional
Homemade Coconut Whipped Cream:
- 11 ounces unsweetened canned coconut milk (full fat, at least 13 grams) -- refrigerated until cold -- do not shake!
- 1/3 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
- 1/4 cup non-dairy milk powder like coconut — do not reconstitute (use my favorite non-dairy "cheat": powdered GF vanilla pudding like Jell-o® Brand)
- 1/2 cup toasted, sliced almonds, optional
- 1/2 cup toasted, flaked coconut (sweetened), optional
To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F (static) or 325°F (convection or for dark pans). Coat bottom and sides of 8×8 inch pan with oil or cooking spray (without flour).
In a small bowl, combine the gluten-free egg replacer powder with warm water and whisk together (or whisk eggs). Set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together oil, sugar, almond extract, and almond milk. Add the egg replacer mixture and mix well.
Whisk together the gfJules™ flour, non-dairy milk powder, baking powder and salt. Slowly stir these dry ingredients into the wet mixture bowl, then increase the mixer speed and beat for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is lighter and well-mixed.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake are pulling away from the sides of the pan. The cake will be lightly browned on the top and sides.
Set aside to cool for 5 minutes while preparing the Tres Leches Sauce.
In a medium-sized sauce pot, whisk together the three “milks”: coconut, almond and kefir coconut milk. Add the untoasted coconut. Stir over medium heat on the stove until warmed — approximately 5 minutes.
Poke holes in the top of the cake with a toothpick or fork, every 1/2 to 1 inch. This perforation will help the Tres Leches sauce to seep into the cake itself. Once the sauce is warmed, pour slowly over entire cake, but do not allow it to pool in the center. Tilt the cake pan, if necessary, to help disperse the sauce, and reserve extra sauce if there appears to be too much for the cake to absorb (this may be served with the cake later, if desired).
Cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the sauce is mostly absorbed – usually 3- 4 hours or overnight.
To make the coconut whipped cream:
Plan ahead by putting the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator the day before, making it super easy to make insanely delicious coconut whipped cream in just minutes.
Chill coconut milk by putting the unopened can in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours – this will help the milk to separate.
Before preparing the cream, chill a metal mixing bowl and whisk attachment or beaters in the refrigerator or freezer.
Open coconut milk can by removing the lid. Using a spoon, skim the thick cream off the top of the coconut water and transfer to the chilled bowl. There should be approximately 1 cup of cream skimmed off, leaving approximately 1/2 cup coconut water in the can to save for other uses.
Beat the cream with the chilled whisk attachment or beaters until thick and fluffier – at least 3-5 minutes.
Meanwhile, sift confectioner’s sugar and mix with non-dairy milk powder. Stir in the sugar mixture with the cream and beat again until integrated.
Cover and chill until serving.
Serving Suggestion: Serve chilled Tres Leches Cake in sliced squares, topped with a dollop of fresh homemade coconut whipped cream or So Delicious® CocoWhip (found in the freezer section). Sprinkle toasted almond slices and toasted coconut on top.
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