Cornbread Tres Leches Cake

Durham, North Carolina pitmaster Jake Wood shares the inspiration behind his new nineties-themed taqueria—plus a Southern spin on a classic Latin American dessert

Photo: Ashlynn Avery

The newly opened Leroy’s Tacos and Beer in Durham, North Carolina, has a cheesy, beefy, and wildly popular dish to thank for its inception—a smoked brisket quesabirria, created by chef and pitmaster Jake Wood. The demand for the taco overwhelmed the staff at Wood’s other spot in town, Lawrence BBQ. “It got so out of control we had to stop making them,” Wood admits. As luck would have it, a location two doors down became available, and Wood jumped at the opportunity to expand. 

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photo: Anna Barzin
Inside Leroy’s.

At the end of March, Wood and his team officially welcomed customers to the vibey taqueria, filled with Instagram-worthy nineties nostalgia—Ninja Turtle action figures, a Barbie collection, Nickelodeon throwbacks on the television, all harking back to Wood’s own childhood. “We loved making fun specials when we first opened Lawrence BBQ, and this particular special turned into a new concept,” Wood says. “I wanted the space to be welcoming to all ages with the colors and fun action figures.” 

photo: Anna Barzin
Jake Wood.

Drawing from the popularity of the signature birria, the menu features other Mexican-American-inspired dishes, such as pulled pork carnitas, carne asada, crispy fish tacos, stewed hominy, poblano cheese dip, and plenty of salsas. Besides their savory offerings, Wood and one of his chefs, Darrus Clay Evans, created a recipe for a Southern twist on a classic tres leches cake featuring a cornbread-style sponge cake. “It started at first as just our cornbread soaked and topped off, and then it continued to transform into something way more airy and delightful,” Wood says. 

Below is Wood’s recipe, which is drizzled with a decadent dulce de leche sauce and topped with whipped cream and macerated strawberries.


  • Cornbread Tres Leches with Dulce de Leche

  • For the cornbread

    • 1 cup cornmeal

    • 1 cup white sugar (divided into thirds)

    • ½ tsp. baking powder

    • ¼ tsp. salt

    • 6 eggs, whites and yolks separated

    • ½ cup vegetable oil

    • 2 tbsp. water

    • 2 tsp. honey

    • ½ tsp. vanilla extract

  • For the dulce de leche

    • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk

  • For the tres leches sauce

    • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk

    • 1 can evaporated milk

    • 1 cup whole milk

  • For the strawberry topping

    • 1 small carton fresh strawberries

    • ⅓ cup sugar

    • Cool Whip or whipped cream


  1. Make the dulce de leche: Place an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk into a pot. Cover the can with water and boil for 3 hours. Be sure to keep the can submerged throughout the entire process.

  2. Make the macerated strawberries: Mix the strawberries with sugar in a bowl and set aside. 

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 6-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. 

  4. Make the cornbread: Using a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks, salt, vanilla, honey, water, and ⅓ of the sugar together until pale yellow and fluffy. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites and ⅓ of the sugar until stiff peaks form (peaks should slightly fall when the whisk is lifted). Combine ½ the egg whites with the egg yolk mixture and gently fold, being careful not to deflate. 

  5. Sift in the cornmeal and baking powder and fold gently. Add the vegetable oil and the remaining half of the egg whites and gently fold together. Pour into the cake pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes.

  6. Make the tres leches sauce: Mix 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, the evaporated milk, and the whole milk in a bowl. 

  7. Assemble the cake: Open the can of boiled sweetened condensed milk (dulce de leche). In a shallow pan, place the first layer of cake and soak with ⅓ of the tres leches sauce. Next, use a spatula to cover the first layer with dulce de leche. Stack the next layer and soak with the second ⅓ of the tres leches sauce. Cover the top layer with Cool Whip or whipped cream and top with the macerated strawberries. Use the last ⅓ of the tres leches sauce for plating.