I was in Houston a couple of weeks ago, visiting my dad’s Tío for his 90th birthday. So naturally, we made an obligatory stop at a Mexican bakery, or panadería, for pastries. Unfortunately, I missed out on a couple of my favorites, but we’re fortunate to have a diversity of unique Latino bakeries here in Salt Lake City. So, of course, I had to make a quick visit this week.
Here are a few things you should know when you walk into a Panadería
The first time I visited a Mexican-style bakery, I was a little lost and didn’t know the routine. A kind abuela took pity on me and helped me out. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Most panaderías are self-serve. You will get a cafeteria-style tray or round metal platter, tissue paper to cover the tray, and tongs or tissue paper to serve yourself. The implication is that the pastries are so good you’ll want a solid dozen. And believe me; you will.
- I found that, by and large, most Mexican pastries are less sweet than their American counterparts. Most of them fall into the Pan Dulce or Sweet Bread category. Which means there isn’t much sugar in the dough. The pastry base is more often a brioche or a laminated dough. They might have a simple sugar dusting, craquelin on top, a simple pastry cream, or jam. Keep in mind that these pastries are often eaten for breakfast with coffee. Think of them as morning buns.
- Keep your eyes peeled for tamales. If you’re lucky, there will be a couple of flavors of hot tamales in a steamer or rice cooker. These are typically not self-service, so look for them by the cashier.
- If the panadería is part of a larger grocery store, there might be a separate cashier just for the bakery. That means you pay for your pastries before heading out into the rest of the store. Think of it as a little mini store within a store.
- Don’t forget other treats like rice pudding, flan, tres leches cake, and some pretty incredible jello molds (after all, we ARE the jello capital of the world). These might be in a refrigerated case and are great for parties.
Here are a few of my favorites (all pictured here):
Conchas – meaning “shells” in English. They are buttery brioche-style buns with a craquelin top cut to resemble a seashell. Craquelin is a streusel-y dough made of butter, sugar, flour, and bright food coloring. The craquelin dough is placed on top of the pastry before baking and melts to the top of the bun. Most of the toppings are vanilla-flavored and colored bright pink or yellow. But there are chocolate-topped ones as well. These were my absolute favorites when I was growing up. Now I love them with a little cafecito.
Orejas – translating literally to ears. They start as a puff pastry dough that is rolled flat, spread with cinnamon and sugar, cut into thin rounds, and stretched to resemble ears. Next, they are baked until they are crispy and may get a dusting of sugar, a dunk in melted chocolate, or a sprinkle of chopped almonds.
Empanadas Dulces or Empanaditas – savory empanadas are pretty well known, but the sweet or “dulce” ones . These little purses resemble hand pies and are often filled with a jam – usually strawberry or a chunky pineapple. My favorites are filled with vanilla pastry cream.
Besos – or “kisses” are a pan dulce roll, cut in half and rolled with pink sugar or a fine dusting of pink coconut on the outside. The center is a red jam or jelly – usually strawberry. The two sides are kissed back together into one round ball. Every seven-year-old and seven-year-old-at-heart will love these.
Dona – a lovely combo of American-style yeasted and fried donuts with Mexican-style toppings. Look for dulce de leche and Mexican cinnamon sugar donas.
Panaderías in Salt Lake City
Rancho Markets – of which there are 8 in Utah, have in-house bakeries. They are usually near the front of the store or just past the produce section. Keep in mind that they DO have a separate cashier from the rest of the grocery store.
Panaderia Flores – with two locations. In addition to all the fantastic pan dulces, they have an extensive cake selection and do beautiful bundt-style jello “cakes” that look embedded with jewels. You can also find Mexican bread if you want to make a torta; they even make wedding cakes.
Alicia’s – also with two locations. They make the best chocolate flan I’ve found in Salt Lake City. They also make customized cakes and a wide selection of pastries that vary daily.
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