If you live in L.A. and have even a modest sweet tooth, chances are you've tried a tres leches cake. And if you've tried a good one, you know it's one of the dreamiest cakes on earth. Drenched in three milks — sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream — this delicate sponge cake manages to soak up tons of liquid while remaining solid enough for you to dig into its crumb with a fork. Even Betty Crocker can't do that.
You can thank Latin America for giving us this gem. Though its precise country of origin is disputed, the cake grew in popularity throughout Central and South America and also Mexico during the 1960s, after the recipe appeared on the back of Nestle's La Lechera cans, the sweetened condensed milk marketed to the Latin American demographic.
The best tres leches cakes are served in a pool of their own milk. Sadly, many around L.A. come slapped on a plate without any of the requisite soaking liquid oozing out, which is a real shame. While these may be better than a dry chiffon cake, they certainly don't live up to the tres leches expectation.
In Latin America, you will find these cakes topped with whipped cream or meringue, but here in L.A. the majority are smothered with whipped cream frosting. While you can find iterations that include cajeta (carmelized goat's milk), dulce de leche, strawberry jam and even chocolate, we've limited our picks to the classic white cake and three milks, which is arguably the best. All of these can be pre-ordered in various sizes if you want a whole cake.
6. Vallarta Supermarket
This extremely decadent and super-juicy cake packs a serious sugar punch, but if you're a person who loves sweet desserts, you'll dig this cake. It's got a lot of whipped frosting and overflows with the requisite milks, so much that it all just melts together in your mouth in one mushy bite, and, at $1.95 a slice, that's a pretty good deal. There's really nothing farm-fresh about this cake, but, given processed milk plays a starring role in the tres leches recipe, this is pretty much standard. While your palette might pick up a slightly artificial aftertaste, it's all part of the fun — and pretty much worth it. And, given the ubiquity of Vallarta supermarkets throughout Los Angeles, this cake shouldn't be more than a 20-minute drive from your humble abode. East L.A.: 3425 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 980-4400. Van Nuys: 16107 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys; (818) 781-9007.
5. La Favorita
La Favorita is a Los Angeles fixture as far as panaderias go — the Boyle Heights bakery draws visitors from all over the city for their hyper-fresh pan dulces and other Mexican pastries. Of all the tres leches cakes on this list, theirs is the simplest and the least sugary. This single-layer feather-light cake stands soaked in an equally light milk mixture that's so delicate you can easily eat the whole slice without feeling comatose or buzzed. A nice perk. $2.50 a pop. East L.A.: 2305 E 4th St, Los Angeles; (323) 265-4445.
4. Cuscatleca Bakery
This fairly new cafe and bakery on Sunset in Echo Park is great spot to order a coffee and relax with a Mexican pastry while you stare into your device of choice. Their two-layered tres leches is submerged halfway in the three milks and has nice layer of whipped cream sandwiched between the sponge cake. Uber fresh and succulent, this cake has a mild rum flavoring that gives it a sort of eggy noggy essence - great if you love egg nog. The ratio of cake to whip to milk is well-balanced, and it's not hard on the eyes either. $3 buys you a slice; $55 buys you a half-sheet. 2501 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 483-0432.
3. Coppelia Bakery
This Cuban bakery in West L.A. is famous for offering some fine empanadas, rotisserie chicken and all sorts of cakes. While a bit heavy on the exterior coating of whipped cream frosting, the interior of their tres leches cake is nicely drenched, and the three layers of cake are accompanied by an equal proportion of whipped cream filling. A 9" round will cost you $30, but if you wait until after 12 noon you can pick up a single slice for $4. And if dulce de leche is your jam, order the quatro leches. 10825 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles; (310) 838-0375.
2. Porto's Bakery
Porto's tres leches cake is widely regarded as one of the best in town by foodies, gringos, Latin Americans and everyone else in between. You can't beat the price — a miniature cake costs $1.95 and a 10" round goes for a shocking $14.00. The only downside to this killer pricing is the mob you are likely to battle when entering the bakery, but alas, it's probably worth it if you want a really great tres leches cake. This is one of the few cakes in town topped with meringue, and it has a sturdy but fine crumb that's extremely tender and quite luxurious. Soaked in heavy helping of milk, this cake is decadent but not overly-sweet. Not surprisingly, it's a big hit at birthday parties around town — according to instagram anyway. Burbank Location: 3614 West Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; (818) 846-9100. Glendale Location: 315 North Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 956-5996.
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It's very fitting that the best tres leches cakes in town is at Milk, and, truth be told, this one does serve it in the most milk — almost three-quarters of it comes drowned in the vanilla bean-infused liquid. The cake itself is moist and flavorful, and a velvety pastry cream sits between two of these light layers. With a modest piping of whipped frosting on top it isn't as sweet or rich as some of the other offerings on this list. Truly scrumptious, but somewhat pricey, a slice of this cake will cost you $6. If you're in the market for a whole cake $50 buys you an 11" rectangle, which is the only size available. Be sure to call before you show up if you want an individual slice — these fly out the door fast. 7290 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles; (323) 939-6455.