Tres Leches Paletas are a frozen treat with the flavors of the popular Latin American tres leches cake. This recipe is made with three kinds of milk, just like the original dessert, and flavored with almond extract. Your Cinco de Mayo party isn’t complete without them.
*This recipe was published in May 2017. The article is updated with helpful tips, and the images are brand-spankin’ new.
What are Paletas?
Paletas are Mexican popsicles (or ice pops). The difference between paletas and popsicles is that paletas are often made with all-natural ingredients, whereas popsicles tend to have artificial ingredients.
What does Paletas mean, and where do they come from?
Paletas come from Mexico, where they were created. Ignacio Alcázar- whose nickname was probably Nacho- brought the concept of popsicles to his town of Tocumbo, in Michoacan, Mexico, after a trip to the US in the early 40s. Adding fresh fruits and using all-natural ingredients, he inserted little sticks, or paletas, into the molds, and the classic Mexican paleta was born.
Where does Tres Leches come from?
Tres leches cake is a classic Latin American dessert. Because many Spanish-speaking countries have their version of the cake, no one country can claim it as theirs.
Tres leches means “three milks” in Spanish. Those three kinds of milk are often whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk. In the traditional recipe, the three are combined to make a milk bath which is poured over a yellow sponge cake until it’s soaked through. There are many different ways to make a tres leches cake, like this Chocolate Tres Leches.
What do I need to make Tres Leches Paletas?
To make these tres leches paletas, you need heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, almond extract, kosher salt, and sprinkles (if you’re feeling fancy). Make sure the milks and cream are all cold before starting. Just scrape the sweetened condensed milk into a bowl and slide it into the fridge for 30 minutes to chill it. This prevents ice crystals from forming in your paletas, which makes them crunchy.
I use an immersion blender to whip the cream for this recipe. You can also use an electric hand mixer or an old-fashioned whip for that step. Two popsicle molds is helpful, but you can make these in batches. Oh, popsicle sticks are a must, as well.
What does whipping the cream do?
First, you have to whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks.
Set a metal mixing bowl in a shallow dish of ice water to make this go faster. Add the cream to the mixing bowl and use an immersion blender to whip it at medium-high speed for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the cream holds stiff peaks when you lift the whip from its surface.
Whipping the cream for the tres leches paletas gives them a creamier mouthfeel once they’re frozen. You don’t have to do this, but the paletas will be harder and not as soft or creamy if you skip it.
Can I make these Paletas dairy-free?
You can make these dairy-free tres leches paletas by replacing the heavy cream with coconut whipping cream. Replace the sweetened condensed milk with sweetened condensed coconut milk and the whole milk with coconut milk or soy milk, as well.
Use the immersion whip to stir together the sweetened condensed milk and the salt in a separate mixing bowl. Use a rubber spatula to fold the cream into the condensed milk mixture.
Next, stir in the whole milk and almond extract until the mixture is smooth and no clumps of whipped cream are visible.
What popsicle molds work best for making Paletas?
Pour the mixture into your popsicle molds. Metal molds are the best for making paletas because they chill quickly (in about 3 hours) and are easier to unmold. You can use something like this silicone mold, which is also less expensive, but I find I have to wrestle with them more than I do with the metal forms.
Fill the cavities of the mold until only 1/8-inch of space remains. You can top off the tres leches paletas with a pinch of rainbow sprinkles or nonpareils if you want to be extra-fancy, or leave them plain. Cover the molds and insert wooden popsicle sticks into each cavity until only a 1/2-inch of the stick is visible.
Freeze the paletas for at least 3 hours if you’re using metal molds. If you’re using any other type of mold, it’s best to freeze them overnight.
Why aren’t my Tres Leches Paletas coming out?
Unmold the paletas once they have a chance to freeze completely.
Dipping the paletas in a bowl of warm water helps loosen them from the molds. The water doesn’t have to be super hot, just warm. Dip the mold in and out of the water and wiggle the paleta out. If you’re using a silicone mold, you need to flip it upside down and run warm water over the bottom of the mold. They are harder to unmold, but running the water over the bottoms makes it easier for me.
Wrap each paleta in a square of wax or parchment paper and set it on a small sheet pan.
How can I customize them?
To customize your tres leches paletas, dip them in:
- Sprinkles or nonpareils
- Toasted coconut flakes
- Chocolate coating made with 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips melted together with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and stirred until smooth.
I like to add sprinkles to mine or just leave them plain. You can also switch up the extract you use in the milk mixture. Skip the almond extract and use vanilla, orange, or coffee extract instead.
What’s the best way to store my Tres Leches Paletas?
After wrapping the paletas in the protective paper, place them on a sheetpan. I like to put the paletas back in the freezer after unmolding them to firm them up again. This makes them less messy to package for storage. Freeze the paletas for 20 minutes to firm them back up, then transfer them to a freezer storage bag.
This keeps them tasting fresh for as long as possible. Wrapping paletas in paper wrapping also keeps the paletas from sticking together or growing ice crystals in the freezer.
How long will they keep in the freezer?
You can freeze paletas for 2 months in a freezer storage bag. But that depends on how you treat them after freezing. When you swipe one from the bag, press out any air from the bag. Also, storing the bag in the middle of the freezer keeps the temperature from fluctuating, which creates ice crystals.
What other kinds of Paletas can I make?
I have tons of Paletas recipes that I’m updating, so check the site in the coming weeks for those. Get in the kitchen and make these Tres Leches Paletas while you wait. They’re a great option to serve at your Cinco de Mayo party this year. Let’s face it, they’re a great option to serve at any time of the year.
Share this recipe with your crew, and be sure to pin it to your ice cream boards, too!
Tres Leches Paletasat Sense & Edibility
- immersion blender or electric hand mixer
- popsicle molds (2 needed)
- popsicle sticks
- 1 1/2 cups (375 milliliters) heavy cream
- 14 ounce can (396 grams) sweetened condensed milk
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt optional
- 1 1/2 cups (375 milliliters) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) almond extract
- rainbow sprinkles
Whip the Heavy Cream
- Set a metal mixing bowl in a shallow dish of ice water. Add the heavy cream to the metal mixing bowl and use an immersion blender to whip the cream at medium-high speed for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the cream holds stiff peaks when you lift the whip from its surface.
Combine the Tres Leches Mixture
- In a separate mixing bowl, use the whip from your immersion blender (or a rubber spatula) to stir together the sweetened condensed milk and the salt until the salt is mostly dissolved. Use a rubber spatula to fold the cream into the condensed milk mixture until they are combined.
- Next, stir in the whole milk and almond extract until the mixture is smooth and no clumps of whipped cream are visible.
Fill the Popsicle Molds and Freeze the Paletas
- Put the popsicle molds on a sheetpan to make transferring them to the freezer after filling them easier.Pour the tres leches mixture into the cavities of the popsicle molds until only 1/8-inch of space remains.
- Sprinkle the surface with a pinch of rainbow sprinkles or nonpareils or leave them plain. Cover the molds and insert the wooden popsicle sticks into each cavity until only a 1/2-inch of the stick is visible.
- Freeze the paletas for at least 3 hours if you're using metal molds. If you're using any other type of mold, it's best to freeze them overnight.
Unmold and Wrap
- Once the paletas are completely frozen, dip the bottoms of the molds in a bowl of warm water to loosen them. Dip the mold in and out of the water quickly and wiggle the paleta out. If you're using a silicone mold, you need to flip it upside down and run warm water over the bottom of the mold.
- After removing each paleta from its mold, wrap it in a square of wax or parchment paper and set it on a small sheet pan. Once they're all unmolded and wrapped, put the pan of paletas back in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm them up again.
- Once firm enough to handle, transfer the tres leches paletas to a freezer storage bag and freeze for 2 months.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Make these dairy-free by replacing the heavy cream with coconut whipping cream, the sweetened condensed milk with sweetened condensed coconut milk, and the whole milk with coconut milk or soy milk.
- Swap the almond extract for vanilla, orange, or coffee extract instead.
Customization Ideas:After molding, garnish your paletas with:
- Sprinkles or nonpareils
- Toasted coconut flakes
- Dipped in chocolate coating: made with 1 cup (170 grams) of semi-sweet chocolate chips melted together with 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of coconut oil and stirred together until smooth.
Tips and Techniques:
- You don't have to whip the cream, but the paletas will be harder and not as soft or creamy if you don't.
- If you don't have two popsicle molds, fill and freeze the first batch and store the remaining milk mixture in a covered container in the fridge.
- The water for loosening the paletas from the molds doesn't have to be super hot, just warm.
- Wrapping paletas in paper wrapping keeps the paletas from sticking together or growing ice crystals in the freezer.