We Tried Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake: How Does It Compare To The Real Thing?

Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake
Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

When it comes to Latin American desserts, one of the most popular options is definitely the tres leches cake. A sweet, spongy confection that's so moist it melts in your mouth, this cake goes great with coffee, and makes the perfect ending to any feast. There's just one problem with it: If you want to make this cake yourself, you're going to need a minute. Correction — you'll need a few hours.

So, if you don't have the time but still want to end your meal with this luscious dessert, we've got good news. Trader Joe's has its own pre-made frozen version of tres leches cake that can be thawed and ready to eat in about half the time that it takes to make one.

Since I've had my fair share of tres leches cakes in all variety of flavors and sizes, and because I'll try any dessert when asked, I was more than happy to take on the tough task of tasting this elusive Trader Joe's cake. Will this Trader Joe's confection measure up to some of the grocery chain's other frozen treats, and is this store-bought tres leches cake as good as the real thing? Read on to find out if you should rush out and buy this for your next soirée, or leave it in the freezer section where you found it.

Read more: 23 Whole Foods Baked Goods, Ranked

What Is Tres Leches Cake?

slice of tres leches cake
slice of tres leches cake - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

Often served for special occasions and celebrations, tres leches cake gets its name from the "three milks" used to create this sweet confection. The dairy trio consists of whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk, but only the whole milk is mixed into the sponge cake batter. That deliciously moist quality in the finished dessert is actually achieved long after the cake comes out of the oven, with the help of a humble wooden skewer — the tool recommended for ultra moist tres leches cake.

See, the skewer is used to poke tiny holes deep into the finished cake, and then the sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are mixed together and drizzled over the top to soak into the light and fluffy sponge. The cake absorbs all that milk with a vengeance, creating a delicious treat that leaves a puddle of sweet liquid on every plate it touches.

While there's no doubt that this dessert is Latin American, the origins of tres leches cake are complicated. Some swear that it's a Mexican specialty, while others believe it's absolutely Nicaraguan. Regardless, its popularity is all thanks to Nestlé, which printed recipes on its labels for canned milk that was distributed in Mexico. One of those recipes? Tres leches.

Where Can You Find Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake?

Trader Joe's storefront
Trader Joe's storefront - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

There's a wide variety of Trader Joe's frozen desserts and other sweet treats. (Dark chocolate peanut butter cups, anyone?) So, it's no surprise that the grocery store brought this popular dessert back to the frozen food aisle after its debut in 2022. But it took a little digging to find this confection. Unlike some of Trader Joe's other frozen cakes, which are brightly colored and hard to miss, the tres leches cake is housed in a small dark box, and it was tucked in among the ice cream sandwiches and popsicles.

Even though I sniffed it out, you'd better hurry if you want to taste this delight for yourself. On the specialty store's website, the detailed description of Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake is accompanied by a big "limited" label. While I couldn't find an availability end date listed, the fact that this dessert disappeared after only a short time of being in stock back in 2022 and 2023, it's likely that this treat won't be around for very long.

Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake Is A Bargain

Trader Joe's tres leches slice
Trader Joe's tres leches slice - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

When it comes to the prices of Trader Joe's frozen desserts, the cost of this tres leches cake is on the higher end, coming in at $7.99. However, that's the same price as other cakes the store offers that serve four or more. Since Trader Joe's is known for its cheaper prices, that may seem expensive — but when you consider that tres leches cakes at professional bakeries usually cost well over $20, this Trader Joe's option is definitely a deal.

Sure, you could make your own tres leches cake, but buying the three types of milk alone will likely cost you at least $8. Then there's the sugar, flour, and eggs, not to mention the heavy whipping cream and vanilla, and that's just if you're making the classic vanilla-flavored tres leches. The minute you decide to turn it into a chocolate, strawberry, or coffee tres leches, each different flavoring involves extra costs.

Then there's the time it takes to make this treat. Forget about the 30 minutes of cooking time — to truly get that moist spongy quality the cake is known for, you need to let it sit for at least 4 hours. (I've even seen some recipes recommend leaving it in the refrigerator overnight.) So, between the ingredients required for tres leches cake, and the time it takes to make your own, there's no doubt that when the craving hits, the Trader Joe's version is money well spent.

Taste Test: Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake

slice of cake and fork
slice of cake and fork - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

I've tasted many a tres leches cake in my day, ranging from some made by professional bakers to ones I've made on my own. So, I couldn't wait to taste this store-bought version. When I first pulled the cake out of the box, the strong vanilla scent wafted up to my nostrils and got me excited to dig in. That excitement grew as I removed the cake from its packaging and noticed that it stuck to its cardboard border, proving that this sponge cake had definitely absorbed those three milks for which the cake is named.

Upon my first bite, there was no doubt this cake was moist. The milks were sweet and combined beautifully, coating my tongue with their deliciousness. One of the biggest concerns with tres leches is that the milks will make the cake soggy, which is why it needs to set in the refrigerator. That was not the case here. The cake was moist and melted in my mouth like a classic tres leches should.

The vanilla-flavored cake melded perfectly with the sweetened condensed and evaporated milks, just as I expected. As a matter of fact, if I have anything negative to say about this scrumptious confection, it's that it's almost too rich. Thankfully, the layer of whipped cream on top cuts the decadence, creating one Trader Joe's dessert I can't wait to eat again.

TJ's Tres Leches Cake Vs. Homemade

sliced TJ's tres leches cake
sliced TJ's tres leches cake - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

Now that we've covered taste and cost, let's compare the store-bought tres leches cake to the homemade version. It's pretty darn close. While it's true that making the cake yourself means you get to create any version you want, whether it be the classic or some alternative flavor, let's be honest — we don't always have the time to create a confectionery masterpiece at home. So, considering how delicious and moist the Trader Joe's version is, it's a great alternative when you crave that luscious Latin American dessert.

What I really like about the Trader Joe's version is the size. Normally a homemade tres leches cake is proportioned to serve a larger crowd. This Trader Joe's cake, on the other hand, is on the smaller side and only serves four people, making it a perfect way to end a nice family dinner.

In short, the version you choose all depends on what you're looking for. If you have the time, go with the homemade version. But if you're simply feeding a small family or want a nice dessert for a dinner date at home, the Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake is an ideal choice. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top, and no one will know the difference.

Is The Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake Worth It?

plated TJ's tres leches cake
plated TJ's tres leches cake - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

After doing a thorough assessment of Trader Joe's Tres Leches Cake, I can confidently say that this is not only a delicious treat, it's absolutely a great substitute when you don't have the time (or desire) to make your own version. Between the flavor and its size, there's no doubt that Trader Joe's has hit it out of the park with this confection. From the melt-in-your-mouth moistness of the cake to the decadent milks and whipped cream that coat your tongue, this is a dessert that I'll happily grab when I need an extra-special way to end a meal.

Combine all that decadence with the cheaper cost that Trader Joe's is known for, and this dessert is definitely worth checking out, especially if you've never tasted tres leches cake and have been curious. The Trader Joe's version is not just a great introduction to a classic Latin American dessert, it's one that will not disappoint.

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