Tres Leches Cupcakes

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Tres Leches Cupcakes

Tres Leches cake, Spanish for “three milks cake,” is a perfect dessert for Cinco de Mayo. It’s a traditional Mexican cake drenched in sweetened condensed milk, creating a sticky, sweet and decadent dessert. To simplify and modernize things a bit, I’ve created a cupcake version that will be a hit at parties.

Tres Leches Cupcakes

The key to tres leches is using a toothpick to create lots of tiny holes before using a pastry brush to press the sweetened condensed milk into the cupcakes. You can decide how far to push this. If you go easy on the soaking, the cupcakes will have a typical cupcake consistency. If you want to push things further and really soak the cake, you’ll probably want to eat these with a spoon (which is not a bad thing).

Tres Leches Cupcakes

I’ve included a standard buttercream recipe with these cupcakes, as well as an alternative in the notes. Buttercream frosting is very sweet and when combined with a cupcake that has been soaked with sweetened condensed milk, the results are definitely geared toward people with a sweet tooth. If you’d like to dial back the intensity of the sweetness, try topping the cupcakes with whipped cream instead of buttercream. Store-bought whipped cream may be used or you can whisk heavy cream with a bit of sugar, vanilla and rum. See the recipe notes for more detailed instructions if you’d like to try this!

Tres Leches Cupcakes

Tres Leches Cupcakes

Yields: 12 large cupcakes
Total Time: 60 minutes
Notes: For an alcohol-free cupcake, swap the 1 tablespoon dark rum with 1 additional tablespoon heavy cream. For a lighter frosting, replace the buttercream recipe with 2 cups heavy cream that has been whipped to a stiff peak with 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and a splash of dark rum or vanilla.


For the cupcakes:

  • 5 ounces (by weight – approximately 1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons corn or tapioca starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons evaporated milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

For the Buttercream:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large cupcake pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, corn starch, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In a liquid measuring cup, combine the evaporated milk, dark rum, heavy cream and vanilla.
  4. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars until light in color and slightly fluffy, 2-3 minutes. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each egg. With the mixer on medium-low, quickly alternate between the dry and wet ingredients until they’re just added and combined. Scrape the bowl all the way down to the bottom to make sure there are no dry spots, then mix the batter on medium-high for 20 seconds.
  5. Scoop the batter evenly into the 12 cupcake tins and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then carefully remove to a cooling rack.
  6. Place the sweetened condensed milk in a small bowl. While they’re still warm, use a toothpick to poke numerous holes into each cupcake, avoiding the edges. Dip a pastry brush into the condensed milk and use the brush work the liquid into each cupcake as much as possible (there might be leftover sweetened condensed milk at the end).
  7. To prepare the buttercream, place the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Start on low speed, mixing to combine the butter and sugar and then slowly increase the speed to high. Mix until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium-low, add the rum, cream and vanilla.
  8. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost using a pastry bag with the desired tip.

Photo credit: Jennifer Farley

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