Bread as Art

dining_elrosalFrom the ceiling of the little market and bakery hang piñatas of all shapes and sizes, but the bakery cases were practically empty at nine in the morning. We were quickly greeted by co-owner Jorge Hernandez who sent us into the kitchen where we selected eight just-baked pastries ($10.60) from the six-foot tall racks of colorful, sweet and savory breads in multitudinous shapes and sizes.

Although El Rosal has a huge selection, Hernandez said his bakery makes far fewer than the 500 or more varieties in Mexico’s repertoire.

The Spaniards first brought wheat to the New World, and for a short time in the 1860s the French brought expert pâtissiers. Hernandez says that each of the Mayan tribes in the south and the Aztecs farther north added their own touch to these foreign influences, creating the wonderful diversity.

Pan dulce represents a vast array of sweet breads. Soft airy dough, its interiors studded with large air bubbles, are often frosted with chocolate or pastel frosting. On mine, thick shredded coconut clung to sweet pink frosting.

The ojo de buey resembled a pumpkin pie. Within a ring of sugared, flaky crust was poured lemony cupcake batter, and, when baked, its perfectly smooth dome turned a tantalizing tan color.

The pretty veladora, or candle, was a large fluted cupcake covered in strawberry glaze and fine coconut topped with a dollop of Bavarian cream. A rolled flute of flaky crust was seasoned with citrus peel and also stuffed with cream.

Called a palmier in France, sugared, multilayered pastry is folded over itself to look like a heart, or apparently an ear, or oreja.

The football-shaped French rolls, bolillo, were plump and airy. I chose a version with a pocket stuffed with cream cheese and jalapeños, which found itself wrapped around grilled steak with lettuce and the last garden tomato.

El Rosal Bakery, 21513 E Cliff Dr, Santa Cruz, 462-1308.

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