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Jun 8, 2008 04:49 PM

Mexican Pasteleria Basics?

A newish Mexican Pasteleria opened recently in the Italian Market in South Philly. We wandered in there yesterday and were confronted by two huge walls of cakes, breads, pastries, desserts, etc. and we realized that our knowledge of Mexican baked goods was next to nil.

We naturally tried two items semi at random. The first was a muffin size, filled with some pastry cream and two small slices of peaches, and the cake itself was a very mildly sweet corn muffin. The second was a dome shape, covered with cinnamon sugar, and with a small filled center of chocolate paste (fairly hard, not melted) -- the overall flavor was that of Mexican chocolate (cinnamon/cocoa/almond/sugar).

What are some more top 5 or 10 different items we should try and what are their names, to get a nice cross-section of the things available. Otherwise next time we'll just be grabbing another few items at random (which isn't a bad thing either, but we'd like some light guidance).

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  1. Depends on if it is a good pasteleria or a bad one.

    Some things that are always good even in a bad Pasteleria ...

    - Tres Leches cake ... even the ones with the aerosol whipped cream ... but that is just me. I even like Safeway's chemical-laden tres leches cake. However, a good tres leches cake is something

    - Bollos - The rolls used for tortas ... and always cheaper and better than any supermarket roll you can buy.

    - Cheesecake - more dry like a Polish cheesecake which may be while I like it

    - Empanadas - Turnovers to gringos. The pumpkin and custard are usually the best. The fruit filled are rarely good ... often gluey jelly.

    I asked a while back about pan dulce. This link might be somewhat of a help

    Identify this pan dulce, por favor

    Always look for freshness since most Mexican bakeries don't use preservatives. A day old pan dulce is like a day old donut ... worthless ... some have a different opinion about conches ... which are good dipped in hot chocolate when stale.

    Unless they make them to order, skip the churros ... see advice about day old donuts

    Check around the holidays for special baked goods ... pan de muertos around Halloween ... Three Kinds bread in January. Might be others but I'm not that familiar with all Mexican baked goods.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rworange

      The bread roll you mentioned is spelled "bolillo". It is also a slang term for "white person".

    2. I have no idea what these are called but I love them and buy them on our vacations in Zihuatanejo. They are a flat, twirled (like two circles put together) pastry that looks like it has cinnamon and sugar on it. They are very sweet and crispy and go great with the morning cafe! I like any of the empanadas also which sound a bit like the one you had with chocolate in it. I have had them with pineapple, custard and tuna! Not all in the same one! If you like sandwiches, make sure you buy some of the fresh torta rolls (football shaped). When they are fresh, they are the best! I don't allow myself these pastries usually when we are in the states, but one I am back in Mexico, all bets are off and one of my first stops it the Pasteleria! Enjoy you new find!

      5 Replies
      1. re: jodymaryk

        Sounds like you're describing 'orejas' (ears). Sometimes the local markets here have a whole wheat looking empanada filled with pumpkin or something similar. These are usually the only Mexican pastries I like; most have questionable fillings or are some fairly boring flour+sugar calorie bomb.

        Like most of Mexican cuisine, I suspect that we don't get a decent sampling of what's available SOTB. There's Got to be something better filled with real fruit or some of the good (locally made?) candied fruit that is now available.

        1. re: DiveFan

          Thanks for the name! And your right about some of them being "fairly boring flour+sugar bombs". I have bought some down there that look like they may be filled with something but are just starch/sugar. Of course that doesn't stop me from eating them in the morning.....

          1. re: DiveFan

            Very true... even in Mexico there is wide variability in quality of ingredients etc., The basic story is that in the 1960's flavor of the PRI... a combination of Right Wing policies with Left Wing populist flourishes resulted in Price Ceilings on Baked Goods, Tortillas, Milk etc.,... and bakers had to learn to re-engineer cost OUT of the Pan Dulce.... now that Price Controls have been lifted its been interesting to see the Panaderias that have returned to Pre-1960s recipes (like La Ideal in Mexico City).... even in the early '90s a family could buy an entire bag of Bolillos & basic Pastries for about a buck... now its not scandalous for a single pastry to fetch a buck even in the no frills, neighborhood panaderias. Yet its still going to take several decades for Mexican pastries to return to their pre Price Controls state.

            As you mention the candied fruit... that are some of the can't miss.... particularly Figs, Limes, Oranges, Pitahayas, Tamarind etc.,

            I also like:

            Novias (buns with laces made from Egg, Butter, Sugar)
            Pumpkin Empanadas
            Stuffed Horns with Vanilla Custard or Blackberry Preserves
            Polvorones (short bread cookies) are usually a good bet.. I like the Almond ones... as well as the Anise flavored ones with Blackberry Preserves


            There are many regional differences in baked goods & nomenclatures... its tough to advise without knowing more about the baker... but if their priced too low ($0.50 for a Croissant)... well then don't expect much. The best panaderias I've tried in the U.S. all have prices that are much higher than the average ridiculously low panaderia prices (for example a good Concha should be $1 or so... not $0.33)

            1. re: DiveFan

              Orejas are basically the same as the French palmier - puff pastry rolled up in a double scroll and cut into slices. When fresh and made with good butter they are one of my favorites. Made a more stable shortening (high melt point margarine) they leave a unpleasant taste on the roof of the mouth.

            2. re: jodymaryk

              Jody - In Zihua, you get them from the Pink bakery I bet!

            3. FYI... this site has Names & Pictures for about 50 different Mexican breads:


              1 Reply
              1. About the artisanal breads...In a mexican market which includes a bakery in livermore, ca I found some deep brown, crusty, slightly shiny bolillos called "bolillos grandes". These were larger than regular bolillos, but also looked a lot different, crusty instead of soft. Because they were $1 each I only bought 4. These were good sourdough bread, chewy and crusty at the same time. I wish I had bought more though, as I haven't seen them since. These seem like they would be made from an old recipe, because they tasted like they had been given time to rise, without sugar or god knows what else to speed it else.

                3 Replies
                1. re: kirinraj

                  FWIW... sometimes the nomenclature gets screwed up NOB... but a Bolillo should always be crusty... its the Teleras that are soft, flat & yeasty.. Birotes are really dense & sourdoughy and Cemitas are slightly sweet & have sesame seeds.

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    Yeah, but these ones were much different from even the regular golden brown bolillos, because they were deep brown. Your mentioned that birotes are dense and sourdoughy, this might be what they were, just mislabled

                    1. re: kirinraj

                      No... Birotes are actually quite white / light.. specially because they usually have quite a bit of powder on them.

                      If they are deep brown then the leading candidate would be Cemita bread:

                      With that said... nothing surprises me about Mexican cuisine... you might have even found a regional style of bolillo that hasn't been written up / discovered: Cream Puffs in remote Chiapas villages, Apple Pie in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, Macadamia Nut Crusted Trout in Uruapan, Ahi Tuna Flautas in Zihuatanejo... nothing surprises me about Mexican cuisine.