This might be one of the most stunning desserts to ever come out of my kitchen.

I mean look at it. Layers of tender white coconut cake infused with a silky tres leches mixture, rich and creamy coconut pastry cream, fluffy whipped cream and a generous helping of toasted coconut.

Be still my coconut tres leches cake loving heart. And if you think I like this type of cake, you should have seen Brian when I unveiled Sunday’s dessert. Coconut tres leches cake is one of his favorite cakes of all time and I pretty much knew in that moment that I didn’t even have to worry about getting him anything for our anniversary a few days later. This basically completed his life.


It’s a show-stopper that’s for sure. And although the recipe might look long and intimidating, it’s all done in steps and several of them can be prepared days (days!) ahead of time. In fact, the entire trifle should be assembled at least 12, but more like 24, hours in advance which makes it a perfect dessert for company so you aren’t slaving in the kitchen the day of. The end result of this made-from-scratch labor of love is unbelievably delicious.

I hope you can find a reason to make it very, very soon.


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Two Years Ago: School Lunch Solutions!
Three Years Ago: Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Pasta

Coconut Tres Leches Cake Trifle

Yield: Serves 10

Coconut Tres Leches Cake Trifle

This trifle should be refrigerated for at least 12 hours and preferably up to 24 hours before serving so that the milk mixture can soak into the cake and everything can set up. Also, if you don't want leftover tres leches (the 3 milk mixture) leftover, just use 1/2 cup of each ingredient (sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and coconut milk). Of course, you'll still have leftovers in the can, so either way, looks like you'll need to make some french toast or smoothies with the leftovers. I like to toast my coconut in a skillet on the stovetop set over medium heat. Stirring frequently, it toasts perfectly in 5-10 minutes.


    Coconut Pastry Cream:
  • 1 can (14-ounces) coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Cake:
  • 1 cup white sugar, divided
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Whipped Cream Ingredients & Extras:
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups toasted coconut for assembly and topping
  • Tres Leches Mixture:
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk


  1. First up, make the pastry cream so it can chill in the refrigerator. In a medium saucepan combine the coconut milk, sugar, salt and vanilla. Heat the mixture over medium heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cornstarch. When the coconut milk mixture comes to a simmer, slowly ladle about 1/2 a cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking vigorously and constantly so the eggs don't scramble and form hard, cooked bits. Add the entire egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly while the mixture cooks over medium heat for 3-4 minutes; it will thicken considerably. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and coconut extract. Pour the pastry cream into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface, and refrigerate until completely chilled, 3-4 hours (you can speed up this process by placing the bottom of the bowl in an ice water bath and stirring the pastry cream constantly until cool). Once the pastry cream has cooled completely, beat the 1/2 cup whipping cream until thick and creamy. Fold it gently into the pastry cream until combined. Refrigerate the pastry cream until ready to assemble the trifle.
  2. While the pastry cream is chilling (before folding in the whipped cream), make the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease two round cake pans. Measure your trifle dish to determine what size is needed. My trifle dish would only fit an 8-inch round cake layer so I baked mine in 8-inch layers but some trifle dishes are larger and could work with 9-inch cake layers.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with the 3/4 cup granulated sugar until they are light and thick, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the coconut milk, vanilla extract, coconut extract, flour, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl whip the egg whites until foamy. While beating, add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 12-14 minutes (watch closely!) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  4. For the whipped cream, combine the cream and sugar together in a medium bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.
  5. To assemble, whisk together the condensed milk, evaporated milk and coconut milk (or be like me and shake it all up in a canning jar with a lid). Place one cake layer in the bottom of the trifle dish, flattest side up. Poke holes all over the cake with a fork. Pour 3/4 cup of the milk mixture over the cake gradually, swirling the trifle dish back and forth to cover the cake with the milk mixture and adding the rest of the milk as the first layer soaks in. You can refrigerate for 30 minutes to let the milk soak in or just keep swirling and poking the cake until the mixture settles in. Top with 1/2 of the coconut pastry cream, 1/3 of the toasted coconut and 1/2 of the whipped cream.
  6. Poke holes all over the flattest side of the 2nd cake layer (before you put it in the trifle dish). Set the cake layer over the whipped cream layer (with the flattest side up; the side you poked all over) and pour 3/4 cup of the milk mixture over the cake, again, pouring it on gradually and swirling to distribute the milk mixture. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes if needed to help the milk mixture absorb into the cake. Top with the rest of the coconut pastry cream, 1/3 of the toasted coconut, the remainder of the whipped cream and sprinkle with the last of the coconut.
  7. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours (or up to 24 hours) before serving. Serve chilled.

Recipe Source: adapted from Willow Bird Baking found via Pinterest repinned from my cousin Merianne who tasted it at a potluck (and pinned the recipe)

59 Responses to Coconut Tres Leches Cake Trifle

  1. Maria says:

    I made this for Easter dessert and it was a unanimous hit with everyone from 18 months to 65 years old. I made the cake, mixed the milks, and the pastry cream 2 days ahead, and assembled the cake about 30 hours ahead of time. It was delicious, and I think I could have made the whole cake 2 full days ahead of time because it is still delicious 2 days after!

  2. Misty E says:

    I made this for the Super Bowl and it was delicious! The cake part was a lot more dense than I was expecting. I have a recipe that is very similar to your coconut tres leches cake recipe only it uses a boxed cake mix, so I was expecting the cake in this to be similar to that. I’m wondering if I did something wrong to make the cake not as soft and fluffy or if that is just how made from scratch cakes always are?? My sister also brought a from scratch cake and we felt the same about hers. We grew up on from the box cakes so not sure if that’s why homemade ones don’t seem as light to us or if we are doing something wrong??

    • Mel says:

      A lot probably depends on the from-scratch recipe, but generally speaking, homemade cakes have a totally different taste and texture than boxed mixes (which can be super light in texture). One thing to remember with a homemade cake is to avoid overmixing the batter. The cake will be tough the longer it is mixed (with a few exceptions; I have a chocolate cake that you mix like mad and it’s still light and fluffy).

  3. Laura says:

    I made this for a our dinner party tonight. It was a huge hit!! Everyone loved it so much. Even my husband whonis extremely picky!!

  4. Melissa says:

    This trifle is one of the most amazing desserts I have EVER made. If you love coconut this trifle is for you! The coconut really shines through the custard and the milk mixture. I did modify the recipe for the milk mixture because I didn’t want to have so much extra milk. I used 1/2c evap milk, 1/2c condensed milk, and 1 cup coconut milk and used half the mixture for each cake. I was worried it wouldn’t be enough to moisten the cake, but it was perfectly moist. Definitely a repeater!

  5. Sara Spasic says:

    I’m confused about the coconut milk…I’ve only seen coconut milk in the dairy case in a carton while this recipe calls for a 14 oz. can. The cans I find our cream of coconut, which is very sweet. Which do I use? The coconut milk that is NOT sweet or the cream of coconut? Making this for Easter dinner tomorrow so I would love to hear back from someone real soon!

    • Mel says:

      Sara – I use the cans of coconut milk usually found in the Asian foods aisle by the soy sauce. Usually there are full-fat and light options. The refrigerated coconut milk in the dairy section won’t work well here.

  6. Donna Degnan says:

    Why did I have extra milk mixture? 3/4 on first layer and 3/4 on second layer of cake. That equals 1 and 1/2 cups of liquid. If you add the milk mixture as per recipe it comes to way over that right? Oh we’ll, hope I did it right. Made this for a party!!!!

  7. Chrissy Walsh says:

    Thank you for sharing this dessert!! I made it for my mom’s birthday last week. She asked me to make her something with coconut in it, and I just knew I couldn’t go wrong with your recipe. Of course, everyone loved it, but on my sister in law’s very first bite she blurted out, “This is my new favorite food in the whole wide world!!!!!!!”

  8. Laura Reilly says:

    Hi Mel! The recipe sounds magnificent. I’d like to make this gem for Mother’s Day/my Dad’s birthday, but I’m short on time. Would it be safe to cheat and buy a store-bought angel food cake? Thank you so much! ~ Laura

    • Mel says:

      Laura – I am sorry I didn’t get back to you before Mother’s Day. Did you end up trying the Angel Food Cake? I wasn’t sure how it would fare, but I hope it turned out well for you.

      • Laura says:

        It turned out good with the angel food cake, Mel! I just wished I would have had more time for it to set. Thank you for getting back to me!

  9. Vanessa says:

    I had already made my dessert list for Easter when I received your Easter email and decided to make this in place of a traditional coconut cake. Ohhhhh-emmmmm-geeeeee!

    This was so good! Delicious and amazing! I made 15 desserts for Easter (I am the baker of the family) and this one was the first one gone. I put it in a trifle dish that had a ring around it and put fresh strawberries and cantaloupe on the bottom to serve with it. I will def. be making this again and again. Thank you for such an awesome recipe!! 🙂

  10. Julie says:

    If you make it today, there won’t be any left by Sunday. But also, I’m afraid it would be soggy in two days.

  11. Kim says:

    Hi Mel,

    I plan on making this for Easter Sunday. Would it be ok to make it on Friday night for Sunday afternoon or should I wait until Saturday?


    • Mel says:

      Hi Kim – I’d suggest waiting until Saturday if you can. You could make all the components on Friday (like the cake, etc.) and then wait to assemble on Saturday if that would save you some time.

  12. Lynda Mckinlay says:

    I just made this. It did take me quite a while, but I was also making your bread rolls at the same time. It’s in the fridge for tomorrow, Valentines day with my husband and son and his girlfriend. It looks AMAZING! I
    I’ve had my eye on this dessert for a while now. The cake tasted like a coconut angel food cake, very light and all the components tasted great. I can’t wait to try it tomorrow. I know I am going to have a job on my hands keeping my husband away from it when he gets home later.
    I need to buy a deeper trifle dish as mine was poking above the dish I have it in.
    I’m feeling very clever and pleased with myself.
    Thanks for the recipe Mel. Much appreciated.

  13. Bridget says:

    This was fantastic! I also layered in raspberries. Thanks for the great recipe.

  14. Mary C. says:

    I made your coconut tres leches cake recipe (subbing with a store cake mix)and it was absolutely delicious! I noticed this recipe uses coconut milk instead of coconut cream. Would there be a big difference if I made a trifle with the ingredients of the other recipe and just added coconut extract to the cake mix? Or would that not work well? Thanks.

  15. Kristen says:

    Made this for our family Christmas party yesterday… it was absolutely delicious! A huge hit! Coconut flavor was light, not overpowering. Cake was moist but not soggy. Really perfect! It’s a winner recipe and got rave reviews from my family… and they’re not shy about giving their opinions, LOL! Thank you!

  16. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for your help Mel. I ended up making this to the T and just adding raspberries in between the layers. Everyone LOVED it. It was a major hit and it came out looking beautiful. This will definitely be a recipe I’ll be doing for special occasions. Heaven in a bowl is easily the best way to describe it.

    I even made two mini trifle dishes to taste and they were awesome too. Thanks for the recipe, a real winner!

  17. Stephanie says:

    Hi Mel! I have been scouring the internet looking for a Tres Leches cake I can take into my jobs Christmas party. This looks like something I’d love to take in! My mouth is watering. There will be around 35 people there though, so not sure how I could make this spread out more!

    I was wondering if omitting the coconut extract would make a huge difference, as I can’t find any.

    Also, what are your thoughts on adding fruit to this? Like say strawberry? Or do you have any other addition that would make it more Christmas-y?

    • Mel says:

      Stephanie – leaving out the coconut extract will make the coconut flavor less intense – it might end up being more like a vanilla pudding cake but either way, I think it will be delicious. What about adding raspberries to the pudding layer and then garnishing with fresh mint?

  18. Sharon says:

    Oh my, I am such a coconut freak. This is making me salivate just looking at this. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe.

  19. Heidi says:

    Do you only use canned coconut milk? You specified this for the coconut pastry cream what about the cake and tres leches mixture? I am wondering if I can use the coconut milk that is used as an alternative to cow’s milk.

  20. Debbie says:

    Have converted some of the ingredients to what us Aussie call some things…..Every BBQ I go to now I am asked to bring this Dessert….yes lots of dishes but love cooking challenges…. Love this Trifle…

  21. Nevine says:

    Wow. Just wow. I need to make this!

  22. Julie says:

    I made this for my sister’s birthday last night — she is not a chocolate fan so I had my eyes open for something special. I made this without a trifle dish, using 2 big pie plates. I served one for her birthday last night and the other will be for company tomorrow. It’s beautiful — and so delicious that I was embarrassed at the sounds the guests made last night. Thanks for this recipe!

  23. Jen says:

    I made Willow Bird’s version for Easter dessert this year. It was a huge hit. Even my MIL, who believes only traditional English Trifle, can be called a trifle, loved it. It was worth the effort.

  24. grace says:

    this is a pretty simple dessert, and by that i mean it’s not something you’re gonna find on a sophisticated restaurant’s dessert menu. that said, i’d absolutely prefer this over pretty much everything else in the world–magnificent!

  25. Jennifer H says:

    I made this over the weekend and, while it took a long time to make (I made it all in one evening) and used lots of dishes, it was AMAZING! It was a “knock it out of the park” winner with my husband. That coconut pastry cream completes my life. Thanks for sharing a great recipe!

  26. Kumar's Kitchen says:

    this is a trifle lover’s heaven full of bliss in every bite :-)how we love tres leches and coconut and making something like this delicious will sure taste out of the world,amazing food clicks 🙂

  27. bluebaker says:

    This looks amazing. I will save this for something special like a holiday or birthday.
    I think it would be so perfect for Easter ( but I might not be able to wait that long!)

  28. Andrea says:

    Hi, Mel. Sounds yummy. FYI, it looks like you repeated the assembly insructions starting on number 8.

  29. This looks so light and delicious! I love coconut, and Tres Leches cake is one of my favorites! This is a definite must try!

  30. Brittany C says:

    Heaven help me! I saw this first thing this morning and text it my best friend about before I even got out of bed! Haha that’s how excited I am to try this! I’m going to the store first thing in the morning to pick up more coconut milk to have this baby ready for Sunday night. I. Cannot. Wait! Thanks, Mel!

  31. Emily says:

    This looks amazing! My husband loves coconut anything…me too really. Ive been looking for a good trifle bowl but all the ones I find seem rather small. Do you have any recommentations on a good place to get one or what size they should be? I’m wondering if looks are deceiving and those small bowls really hold a lot…? Thanks!

  32. Addietot says:

    This looks so delectable! I’m going to have to get a trifle bowl just to make it. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful recipes.

  33. Lien4424 says:

    This looks amazing! I’m making this weekend! And barb, try evaporated milk instead.

  34. Mel, this is evil. I have been DREAMING of a tres leches (seriously) for, like, weeks. I need this trifle so badly you don’t even know… I’m about to have a tantrum on the floor and everything!

  35. Totally making this! I want to dive right into it! 🙂

  36. Barb says:

    Don’t yell at me! What if I don’t like coconut? What can I use in place of coconut milk?

    • Mel says:

      Barb – you could use evaporated milk (like Lien suggested) but if you don’t like coconut, this may not be the dessert for you because the coconut flavor takes center stage. 🙂

  37. I don’t think I need a reason for this. Other than maybe, I want it. Like, now.

  38. Natalie says:

    I saw this recipe (or one just like it) on Pinterest and made it a while back. Seriously life changing. Can’t wait to follow YOUR directions and make it again.

  39. Tara says:

    Oh my goodness. This looks insanely delicious, I will definitely be trying this one! I love your website, we must have really similar flavor profiles, because I pretty much want to try every recipe you post. All the ones I have tried have been fantastic!

  40. Charlotte Moore says:

    in the directions number 3 and 4 seem to be the same just worded a little different????

    • Mel says:

      Sorry about the directions! Looks like an old draft was published instead of the final draft. It’s all fixed up and ready to go so you can run into the kitchen to make it.

  41. You had me at the word coconut. I love coconut in dessert. This looks awesome. I haven’t made a trifle in a while. I’ll have to give it a try soon!

  42. Kim in MD says:

    I have a confession to make- I don’t like tres Leches cake! I have tried it at Mexican restaurants and it’s always a soggy wet mess. Perhaps I haven’t had a good version, because your trifle looks amazing! I’m going to make this recipe for my next Mexican/Tex-Mex theme party!

  43. Oh man, I can only imagine how good this is. Delicious!

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