They go by many names, postres, pan dulces and galletas among others. They are not my favorites. Mexican baked goods. Walk in to any panaderia and the aromas will slyly seduce you into buying way more than you can possible eat. Their appearance holds untold allure. The problem for me has always been the betrayal in anticipation and flavor once I actually eat them. More often than not they are a lot like eating unsweetened sandpaper.
Recently I took a road trip not to Mexico, but to Escondido in San Diego's north county. The primary objective was Fiesta Oaxaqueño at the Escondido swap meet, which may be the only Oaxacan restaurant in San Diego at the moment........or at least until March 3rd. A frequent poster on Chowhound.com had found this little gem and recommended interested folks meet up. I'm glad we did. The food at Fiesta Oaxaqueño was well done and delicious and included many Oaxacan specialties, Tlayudas and Chapulines (grasshoppers) among them. While these were good and definitely worth a visit, it was the trip to Panaderia Ortiz after the swap meet meal that captured my attention.
We arrived on a Sunday in the early afternoon well after most people would have made their purchases. There was still an ample selection from which to choose. Instead of the usual round metal pizza tray and tongs one finds in Mexico, Panaderia Ortiz supplies plastic cafeteria trays and tongs for making selections. A dangerous practice if ever there was one since a cafeteria tray is larger than a pizza tray and easier to over fill. After picking choosing and deselecting because I knew I could never eat that much, here's what I ended up with --
They look like huaraches, but don't taste like 'em! These crispy treats were more like sugar sprinkled flaky pie crust. They weren't quite as flaky as good pie crust, but they certainly had that melt in you mouth quality.
Two out of 3 of these were real winners. The square in the back was simply puff pastry baked with some shredded coconut and heavily dusted with powdered sugar. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, It was just bland, boring and disappointing.
The twist was the biggest surprise on the plate. Imagine what it might happen if a rich, light and flaky (no NOT Paris Hilton) croissant married a raised donut. That's what the twist was like. There was just enough lightness and tenderness in the dough. The sugar added the crowning touch. Originally, I figured at best this would be a too dry donut. I figured wrong, 2 days after I purchased it, it was still sweet and fresh. This twist would be perfect with coffee.
The winner on the plate above was definitely the 3 round pastries that looked suspiciously like misshapen cream puffs. Not even close. Believe it or not, those balls were made out of 2 cookies sandwiched together with something vaguely resembling traditional pastry cream, but a bit stiffer and perhaps a bit sweeter. Both cookies and cream had been flavored with a mystery flavor that evoked lemon.......and something else I've yet to put my finger on. Could have been cheap imitation lemon flavoring, or it could have been something else. This calls for more field trials in order to determine just exactly what.
I scored a solid success with 3 out of 4 of these items. The looser was the cookie down front. I'm a sucker for coconut, so I had to try it. The usual problem, dry and bland. Even the coconut couldn't save this cookie. Luckily, the large cookie was very good. Since it was big I was only going to eat half of it, but I found myself wandering back to the kitchen for the other half a few minutes after I finished the first half.
The empanada on the other hand was wonderful. The pastry crust was not flaky - nor is it supposed to be - but it was tender and surprisingly flavorful. It was filled with a rather gelatinous pastry cream which could have been a commercial product or homemade, I couldn't tell. I also couldn't readily identify the flavor of the pastry cream. It wasn't quite vanilla, it wasn't quite cream cheese, but it was quite good and worked perfectly with the empanada dough. Drizzle it with some warm cajeta, add a scoop of chocolate or cinnamon ice cream and a few berries and it would be a great dessert.
More puff pastry was filled with berry filling and this was much better than the square coconut puff pastry. The berry twist is also a good match for coffee, or a good idea for a light cena along with some fruit and cheese.
Panaderia Ortiz can be found on Juniper St. in Escondido in the block immediately south of Grand Ave. They also sell little bags of Mole Rojo paste that is can be easily reconstituted. There were tamales de mole wrapped in banana leaves in an insulated cooler in the center of the store and an old soup pot doing double duty dispensing champurrado. According to the flyer we picked up there on Sunday, they are opening a second location in Vista no March 3rd, this one complete with restaurant serving Oaxacan specialties.
Oaxacan cooking is delightfully different and until now it's been available mainly in Los Angeles. It is well worth seeking out because the flavors are big, bold and unexpected. Tamal de Iguana anyone? It's nice to see Oaxacan food options popping up in San Diego. Fiesta Oaxaqueño and Panaderia Ortiz don't even begin to scratch the surface of the Oaxacan kitchen, but they will provide an approachable and tasty introduction.
And if ever you needed a reason to visit a swap meet this just about sums things up