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Nov 24, 2007 10:42 AM

what's wrong with mexico's desserts? / mazatlan

Hi Hounds. I am new here, but wanted to see if anyone here has any idea why the desserts of Mexico are pretty universally nasty?

We've only been a few times, but find this to be perplexing. Is it a problem with accessible dairy? butter? I only think of that because we've also noticed that there doesn't seem to be any milk or cream around for coffee, just the canned stuff.

Are we missing the gourmand boat here? I've made a list of potential restaurants from what I've found on these boards, and I can't say that our last trip there, made with 10 others in tow, hit the high spots of Mazatlan eateries, so I'm hoping for better this trip.

But the desserts . . . ugh. We passed a marvelous looking bakery in old town. I went back to snag something for the fresh shrimp binge we were planning for supper. I sampled a few of these lovely looking treats only to find that they were as tasteless as what we'd been finding in the restaurants: dry, tasting of fake ingredients.

Anyone have any ideas as to what/s wrong? Are there any good sweets in Mexico?

Thanks for your input . . . BAB

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  1. Uh, nothing's *wrong* with Mexico's desserts, they're just different than what we're used to here NOB. In spite of the mid-19th century influx of the French, the only think that really stuck was the bread. Bolillos and teleras bear a striking resemblance to French bread.

    Pigs and chickens are the animal (i.e. protein) of choice in Mexico, not the cow, although cattle are common in Northern Mexico. Cream and butter are not, nor have they historically been, a big part of the Mexican diet, hence the desserts are not necessarily going to be butter and cream based.

    For me, most Mexican desserts are too tooth numbingly sweet and bone dry, but I have had good luck with ice creams, sorbets and fruit based desserts. I am not a fan of tres leche cake, and can take or leave flan. Cajeta is widely used and rather like caramel. However, if you aren't into goats milk or goat cheese, cajeta might not be for you. Some places serve dessert tamales and I've had a great chocolate tamal served with a wonderful raspberry coulis in Mexico. Ates are fruit pastes (for lack of a better term) that you can cut and eat or serve with fruit or cheese. I've had fairly good luck with dessert in upscale restaurants, they're more similar to what you'd expect to find NOB.

    7 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      Thanks for replying Gayla. I read the message a while ago and want to defend my home town Mazatlán, but I am not a dessert eater and no expert. BAB probably went to Panamá, the best known and largest bakery in Maz. I love their breakfast pastries, and the "pays" look delicious, especially those made with local fruits. I have not tried them. I do like flan if it is made well, and the ice cream here is wonderful. That famous Mexican bread pudding served at Lent (capirotada) is a mystery to me, but millions like it so what can I say? I see that you don't like Tres Leche cake, but I do, just a dab'll do me, it is so rich. And definitely very Mexican. As for milk and cream in coffee (referring to BAB's post), that is not common for Mexicans, but any restaurant will bring you milk for coffee at an added price unless you want to use the powdered stuff, which usually is provided. Of course, there is cream in the supermarkets but it is heavier, not the half and half you are used to.

      1. re: MazDee

        Rereading the title of my post from yesterday, it strikes me that it is typically American. My apologies for that. "What's wrong" was offensive and doesn't even really get what I was after. Different ~ definitely. And now that I've read your suggestions, which is what I was looking for, I'll have some things to try rather than the bland, dried out versions of cakes and pies and such that we ran into last time.

        The ice cream was wonderful; we had a coffee ice cream with some little semi-sweet crunchy cookies out of a cellophane bag from the drugstore across the street from where we were staying. They were very seedy, rough textured cookies and I loved them with the ice cream, though others of our group did not.

        I love Tres Leche cake but never saw it on the menu at any of the restaurants we hit. I've made a list from the pages here, though, so perhaps we'll encounter something different than the standard hotel fare.

        "great chocolate tamal served with a wonderful raspberry coulis in Mexico" . . . now that's what I'm looking for.

        can't wait to get to mazatlan. love that city. wish i could move to mexico sooner than our 10 year plan . . . thanks for the tips. BAB

        1. re: bigassbelle

          To find the desserts you're after, your best luck will probably be at alta-cocina style restaurants and not the mid-range and more rustic and downscale restaurants. Mexicans do have a pretty big sweet tooth, but that's satisfied in ways other than pie, cake or fancy pastry.

        2. re: MazDee

          Sorry, this doesn't really have to do with the talk thread. Maz, your posts about eateries in Mazatlan are so helpful. My bf and I are considering a move to somewhere in Mexico and will be visiting Mazatlan next month.I noticed you wrote that you've lived there for 6 years? Are you an expat? If so, was the move very difficult red-tape wise? If you feel inclined, please reply to Thanks~

          1. re: jomia32

            Jomia, you might want to have a look at, paying special attention the part of the website devoted to user forums. The forums are specifically designed to answer just the questions you have. It's a subscription website, but you get a week free access to decide whether you want to join up. You'll see some familiar names over there.

            Best wishes in your move!


            1. re: jomia32

              Jomia, I will send you a note. But for wonderful info about moving here, take Cristina's advice and check the archives of mexconnect, and also go to for answers to lots of nitty gritty questions. Both of those helped me a LOT when I prepared to move down here. Maybe we will meet when you are here.

          2. re: DiningDiva

            Gayla, I find a lot to differ with in your first post. First of all, the Mexican baguet (yes, called a baguet) is much more like the French baguette than is either the bolillo or telera. The old style bolillo resembles (in taste and texture) a French baguette, but the bolillos found most frequently these days are more like cotton batting than anything else. The Guadalajara-style bolillo salado (salt bolillo) is still very similar to the French baguette. The telera is a flat, three-section, soft, white sandwich bread, nothing whatever like the baguette. But the OP is not talking about bread, the OP is talking about desserts.

            Next, the cow as meat isn't a part of much of anyone's diet, either North or South of the border. Steer, yes. The cuts of beef in Mexico are very different from the cuts you're used to up north, so you may not know which cuts to request to get excellent flavor and texture--but those cuts are available. The OP isn't talking about meat, either. The OP mentioned a scarcity of milk, cream, and butter, which I find astonishing. Mexico has gallons, barrels, and tons of all of the above. Fresh milk, authentic crema, and delicious salted or unsalted butter are everywhere and are used extensively in certain styles of cooking. In restaurants, however, it's difficult to find coffee cream or half and half. It's most common, even in high-end restaurants, to be served artificial creamer with coffee. However, any diner can request a small pitcher of milk, either whole fresh milk or evaporated milk.

            Cajeta is sometimes made of goat's milk but is more frequently made of cow's milk. If the label says "leche de vaca", it's all cow. Very few commercially made cajetas are currently made of goat's milk. Cajeta comes in a variety of flavors, including burned milk, nut, and wine.

            Yesterday I was offered a dessert tray in Guadalajara. The offerings were the restaurant's standards: flan, jericalla, and mil hojas. Flan is caramel custard; jericalla is plain baked custard; mil hojas is identical to French mille feuilles ( and is made using puff paste (hojaldre) and creme patissiere. In other restaurants I have often been offered chocolate cake, carrot cake, tres leches cake, cheesecake (with or without a variety of fresh fruit toppings), incredible chocolate mousses, natillas, charlottes, mocha cakes, exotic flavors of ice creams, and a broad variety of other desserts.

            If the OP was hunting for desserts in a panadería, the OP was barking up the wrong genre. Baked goods from a panadería are, for the most part, served AS breakfast or supper and hence aren't supposed to be desserts. Even most cookies found in panaderías are eaten either first thing or last thing in any day.

            Desserts are found in a repostería (dessert shop) or in a pastelería (cake shop) and can and do include everything under the sun--and they're not usually "tooth numbingly sweet and bone dry".

            Last week I ate half a polvorón (a flat, round, semi-sweet cookie) that was flavored with lots of crushed anise seed. Half wasn't nearly enough--I'm craving another one, or two, or ten.


          3. I tend to agree with you but there are many exceptions. I just got back from Mexico and was surprised to find so many french-style pastries both in the airport in DF and in Oaxaca. Admittedly these were not in restaurants, but the French influence lives in little shops as a parallel to the dulces which you can get in panaderias. The pan dulces don't do much for me, but I'm beginning to like them.

            One specific exception that I was just fantasizing about. Nieves. These are like Italian granitas--no milk--and are often sold on the street (as well as other iced refreshments which they should not be confused with.) The specific one I am thinking of may have been my best course in the whole trip and it was served at the Restaurante Cathedral in Oaxaca after an otherwise dismal meal.

            It was a nieve de rosas with almonds. I believe that the roses in question are a particular desert rose or plant which yields its petals for this iced confection. With the ground-up almonds and nothing else, this desert was spectacular. It really highlighted the debt the Mexican cuisine owes to the Spanish/Arab idea of desert.

            I've had other nieves (of tuna, a type of cactus fruit) and other tropical flavors which always send me off into another dimension. I would always stay clear of chocolatey or creamy deserts in Mexico. I just don't think they fit .

            5 Replies
            1. re: Jkarela

              No it's the rosa de Castilla.

              Yes, Mexico has the best ice cream in this hemisphere. Possibly the greatest of them all is the ancient Los Dos Polos in Coatepec (more on this when I finish my post on Xalapa, Xico, Coscomatepec, Cordoba etc). I still can't get their extraordinary guanabana off my mind.

              Yes, Mexico has a long and great tradition of sweets. These may not exactly conform to our idea of what "dessert"should be like (candied biznaga anyone? love this stuff. Or try angel-hair-like candied chilacayote)-but yeah, it's there-and it's stupendous.

              Walk down 6 Oriente (the century-old sweets street) in Puebla to start. Then consider heading to Dona Josefina in Naolinco for marvellous things like the ate de peron. Or their manjar. That's just a start.

              1. re: RST

                My two cents.... the U.S. does desserts (of all levels) uncommonly well. This goes from home cooks to big name pastry chefs. Americans really, really care about their sweets. OTOH... we can say that universally (outside of fancy restaurants which make up <1% of the dining experiences)... savory cooking & sophisticated sauces is not exactly a strenght here... but there really is no reason to get into petty mudslinging.

                I think Mexico has its good desserts... they may not be the most creative or dazzling in the world... and the norm may be pretty mediocre... I certainly appreciate...

                > Hot Chocolate
                > Capirotada (without the pink sprinkles & raisins)
                > Tres Leches cakes made with quality ingredients
                > Many of the Milk & Fruit fudges
                > Jericallas & Flan

                As with just about anything in Mexico... with some exceptions, the further south... the better.... but in general I think desserts will always be more subtle in Mexico than NOB...

              2. re: Jkarela

                Why steer clear of chocolate? The Spainards found chocolate in the New World, they didn't bring it with them. The success of the chocolate dessert is more than likely due to the skill level of the pastry chef or desert person in the kitchen. One of the best desserts I had in Mexico was a chocolate bread pudding (made with Mexican chocoalate and pan de yema) with a prickly pear cactus sauce, raspberry sauce and a little crema.

                I'm not so fond of pan dulces either, but after years of eating them they due tend to grow on you.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  Even if sweets are a bit samey their venues are often wonderful. There's a sweet shop right out of Paris on Cinco de Mayo and Morelia has a market dedicated only to sweets!. As has been mentioned too, Mexican chocolate (especially in Puebla and Oaxaca) is superb, there is a cafe which serves hot chocolate in the main Plaza in Puebla and it was the best I've ever had (including France and Switzerland)

                  1. re: bronwen

                    Well, some cultures are pastry oriented - which we define as dessert - and others are not, which does not mean that they do not have an array of elegant and refined sweetmeats, but it usually does mean that we do not''get' or understand them. The Dulceria de Celaya on the Cinco de Mayo in Mexico City is an Art Nouveau jewel box, and a high temple of convent sweets ... and has been for over 150 years. "Sweet Street" in Puebla, and its counterpart in Morelia, will leave you hyperactive just from the smell. Tackle the limones cristalizadas con cocada, and then we'll talk about Mexican desserts. And it is true that Mexico's ice creams, nieves, and sorbetes are absolutely stunning. Eat a nieve de rosas y almendras or zapote negro, or nieve de limon from a street vendor on a bicycle in Misanthla, Veracruz, or helado de cajeta from Helados Bing in Zacatecas, and you'll begin to get the idea. It's amazing what's out there when the yellow-cheese blinders come off.


              3. you just haven't found the beauty of Mexican desserts..they are there, you just can't look for them at a bakery! Some of my favorites: natilla, chongos zamoranos, guanabana mousse.

                For a taste of "sweet mexico," go to the Liverpool in whatever city you are visiting (Liverpool is a department store with about 80 stores throughout the country). Each Liverpool has a massive, and unbelievable, candy department. You'll find all the "traditional mexican candy" (dairy, nut, and fruit bases) as well as the new stuff (think chili-covered mangoes). My favorite line of products there is made by "Dulces Tita." You'll find them sold in bulk in the big bowls on display, and usually are not branded- just ask a sales person to point you in the right direction. They have unbelievably delicious "suspiros"-- little balls delightfully made of hazelnut, pine nut, almond, or pecan. They also have "jamoncillo"-- the original "dulce de leche" which is almost white in color and as close to perfection for this type of candy as you will get anywhere in the world, and a variety of other products made with dates, prunes, chocolate, etc. Another great product there is the candied fruits-- I particularly love the pumpkin and the figs. BTW, the pumpkin is scrumptious served in a bowl with cold milk and eaten with a spoon!