Tres Leches Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream Frosting

Originally from Ecuador, I grew up eating tres leches for every special and not so special occasion throughout my childhood.  It truly is one of the best inventions in the culinary world and I have yet to try something as decadent and perfectly [overly] sweet as this traditional Latin American dessert. (In fact, stay tuned for my Tres Leches family recipe!)

In my desperate search to make a smaller, slightly less caloric version of this sultry treat, I pulled together a few different recipes to create what I call: the perfect tres leches bite! I made a few slight tweaks along the way, so instead of heavy cream for the three milks, I used coconut milk – but feel free to use heavy cream if you’re more of a purist.

Every mouthful of this baby is a burst of flavor all perfectly contained in a vanilla cake batter and topped off with a creamy dulce de leche frosting. It’s a taste of goodness wrapped in a beautiful cupcake shell.

Vanilla Cupcakes:

(courtesy of the and

~ 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter (at room temperature)

~ 2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated white sugar

~ 3 large eggs (at room temperature)

~ 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

~ Zest of 1 large lemon (outer yellow skin)

~ 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purpose flour

~ 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

~ 1/4 teaspoon salt

~ 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk

~ 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

~ 1/2 cup coconut milk

~ 1 cup lightly toasted flaked coconut or shredded dark chocolate, for garnishing

Dulce de Leche Buttercream Frosting:

(courtesy of

~ 1 stick unsalted butter (at room temperature)

~ 2 cups sifted powdered sugar

~ half of a 1 13.4 ounce can Dulce de Leche (or more depending on your preference)

~ 1 tsp vanilla extract

~ 2 tablespoons heavy or light cream

~ dash of sea salt

Vanilla Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl whisk together the lemon zest, flour, baking powder, and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 17 -20 minutesor just until set and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. (Always check a few minutes before the stated baking time. Do not over bake or the cupcakes will be dry.) Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool slightly.

(Here comes my tres leches twist)

Meanwhile,  stir together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and the coconut milk. While the cupcakes are still warm, use a meat injector needle to inject cupcakes all over with about 1/2 to 3/4-ounce of the mixture. Alternately, poke several holes in the top of cupcakes with a fork and then pour the milk mixture over each cupcake filling each hole (I use this technique for the actual cake only, not the cupcakes, though it is an option if you prefer your cupcakes to me more moist. The meat injector is a lot neater and give the cupcakes just the right burst of flavor without overpowering or over soaking them.) Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight before frosting.

Dulce de Leche Buttercream Frosting:

Cream 1 stick of butter. Slowly add 1 cup of the sifted powdered sugar. Add vanilla and half of the cream/milk. Mix until well incorporated then add half of the Dulce De Leche. Mix until blended well. Add the remaining milk/cream and the remaining Dulce De Leche. Blend well and add salt.  Continue with the remaining 1 cup of sugar until you reach your desired consistency. The more sugar you add, the thicker your frosting.  If you’re looking for a smoother, creamier consistency, add less of the sugar. Keep your eye on the frosting as it mixes and do NOT over mix or it may turn out grainy, which is no good.

You can either frost the cupcakes with a spatula or use a decorating tip like I’ve done in the pictures below.  Once you’ve frosted all the cupcakes, sprinkle with either toasted coconut or shredded dark chocolate (a great substitute for those with nut allergies) and ENJOY!

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