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.
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.