Mexican pastries, by way of France

May 5, 2010



Pastries from Pastel (from left: choc pecan tart, mango-strawberry mousse, cajeta-ringed flan)

Cruising down South Pulaski, in the Archer Heights neighborhood recently, I had goat on the brain. Specifically, the wonderfully tender birria from Zaragoza. I was on my way down to do one of my Tuesday "Something You Should Eat" reports. I parked the car about a block North of the restaurant, in front of the most charming little bakery, Pastel Cakes and More. The simple brown awning out front belies the incredibly meticulous pastries inside. Maria Muniz is a graduate of the prestigious French Pastry School downtown and like many of her former classmates, she has now bestowed her culinary skills on the neighborhood she was raised in.

Muniz's flan is as good as anywhere, but when she surrounds it with a ring of luscious cajeta (goat's milk caramel), it's given another layer of sweetness that only enhances the creamy flan. Same goes with a chocolate tart, which has a base of pecans embedded into a thin layer of cajeta, topped by dark chocolate. An assortment of Mexican cookies is tempting, and the cinnamon coffeecake rivals anything found at high-end North Side bakeries. But Muniz will probably be known - from this day forward - as the queen of mousses. Her ethereal strawberry-mango versions are sweet without being cloying, rich without feeling like you're swallowing a mouthful of heavy cream and utterly delicious. Throw in a small macaroon and a cup of coffee, then plop down into the comfy couch in the spare front room and kill some time while you decide what you're going to take home with you. If you want to see Maria make some of these items, watch the video here after 11:30 a.m. today.

Any other neighborhood bakery gems I missed? Something so good, so modern and so refined but hidden away?