Harriet Brasserie's tres leches cake: 50 Favorite Dishes, no. 4

Tres leches for miles at a local competition

Tres leches for miles at a local competition

I once heard someone, who was obviously not a fan of this traditional Latin American dessert, describe tres leches as "cake soaked in a bunch of canned milk." That definition, though unjust, is not technically incorrect. Tres leches, or three milk cake, is one of those dishes that makes you wonder about its origins. Who was the first person to go to the trouble of whipping up egg whites until foamy, carefully folding them into the batter, patiently waiting for the cake to bake and cool, before finally turning out that oddly flexible sponge, only to go crazy on it with a fork and poke a hundred little holes in it? Probably someone as strange and wonderful as this cake itself.

As simple and conceptually sound as tres leches is, there are a lot of ways to mess it up. Too much liquid will destroy the lovely aerated texture of the cake. The wrong ratio of condensed milk to the others can make for an overly sweet dessert. Harriet Brasserie's version not only avoids these pitfalls, but improves the classic dish with a few subtle tweaks that make all the difference.

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The impossibly light sponge is infused with the right amount of the creamy soaking liquid, but the really noticeable difference here is that Harriet Brasserie uses coconut milk as one of its tres leches, giving it a bit of nuttiness, complexity, and slighter higher viscosity than the standard version. The dollop of whipped cream on top and sprinkle of golden toasted coconut bring an already heavenly dessert to an even more divine level.

50 Favorite Dishes

No. 50: Somos Peru's crema volteada
No. 49: Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub's waffle battered chicken sandwich

No. 48: Namaste Cafe's bison mamacha
No. 47: MidNord's Argentinian empanadas
No. 46: Krungthep's Thai sausage
No. 45: Eat Shop's shrimp salad
No. 44: Icehouse's savory eclair
No. 43: Cajun 2 Geaux's beignets
No. 42: A Cupcake Social's dulce de leche cupcake
No. 41: French Hen's Creole biscuits and gravy
No. 40: The Gray House's cabbage and cava salad
No. 39: Foxy Falafel's curry falafel
No. 38: Republic's ricotta fritters
No. 37: Meritage's matzo ball soup
No. 36: Butcher & the Boar's lobster grilled cheese
No. 35: Sushi Fix's tuna poke
No. 34: George & the Dragon's Asian hangover
No. 33: AZ Canteen's Cabrito burger
No. 32: Nightingale's scallops with almond gazpacho
No. 31: Cafe Racer's pork plate
No. 30: World Street Kitchen's soft serve
No. 29: The Lynn on Bryant's baba rhum
No. 28: Fika's pork belly and poached egg
No. 27: The Kenwood's pancakes with black walnut butter
No. 26: Blackbird's spicy peanut noodles
No. 25: Sonora's shrimp caramelo
No. 24: Mona's marrow on toast
No. 23: Smack Shack's lobster guacamole
No. 22: No. 21: Neato's Burgers duck fat French fries
No. 20: Birdhouse's sweet pea pate
No. 19: Mojo Monkey's cake doughnut
No. 18: Parka's ham & pickle tots
No. 17: Blue Door Longfellow's baked and loaded blucy
No. 16: Ipotle's spicy dosa 
No. 15: Grand Szechuan's Chengdu Dumpling
No. 14: Birchwood Cafe's key lime pie
No. 13: Dandelion Kitchen's braised beef sandwich
No. 12: The Left-Handed Cook's 21-Spice Fried Chicken
No. 11: Mike Phillips's Three Sons Meats charcuterie
No. 10: Union's Duck with Whole Grains
No. 9: Borough's champagne potato soup
No. 8: Lucia's chicken pot pie
No. 7: Strip Club's tenderloin schiacciatta
No. 6: Rincon 38's Pulpo
No. 5: Burch's steak