The 5 Pastries You Meet in Argentina
Argentine facturas: they’re flakey, buttery, sometimes gooey, and always delicious. They’re the culprit of the extra kilos I felt just a month or two after arriving in Buenos Aires. But besides muffin top building blocks, what exactly are these sweet treats? As a devout merienda participator and Sunday morning newspaper-and-pastry kind of girl, I figured it was time I did a service to my local panadería and learn the names of my favorites (and avoid any further awkward exchanges of “abajo, a la izquierda, a la derecha, si, si, esooooo!” that pass between myself and the baker each time I order).
Remember when JFK said Ich bin ein Berliner and all of Germany giggled because the most powerful man in the world had just declared himself a jelly donut? Of course you don’t, you young thing, you. Well, the president had unintentionally paid homage to our beloved bola de fraile, a German-born pastry originally called Berliner Pfannkuchen.
Although created in Germany, this doughnut-ish pastry has found its way onto bakery shelves across the world. In Canada, berliners are known as bismarks; Portugal calls them bolas de Berlim; in Chile they’re Berlínes; and in Nova Scotia they’re known as Burlington buns. Although the name differs across borders, the treat is standardized worldwide: a hole-less doughnut filled with a sweet substance (sometimes jam, sometimes marmalade, but always dulce de leche in Argentina) and topped with powdered sugar.
Cake meets pie meets your packed-lunch sandwich –and it’s amazing. To understand this merienda favorite, it’s important to understand its ingredients. Shortcrust pastry forms the bottom layer of pastafrola. Quince cheese, dulce de batata, or dulce de leche is smeared on top to form the second layer. Then woven, crisscrossed strips of pastry dough (or simply “lattice” for you gourmands out there) delicately top the sweet filling, allowing the quince cheese (or other sweet of choice) to peek through and seduce hungry eyes.
I’ve never met a cañoncito I didn’t like and, trust me, I’ve met a lot of cañoncitos. Aesthetically speaking, cañoncitos have the shape of a cannoli but taste-wise the two have nothing in common – other than the fact that they’re both sweet. Cañoncitos, as the name implies, is shaped like a cannon: pastry dough is rolled into a long, hollowed-out cylinder then stuffed with dulce de leche or crema pastelera that explodes out of the pastry’s opening.
Nothing says 25 de Mayo quite like locro and pastelitos. And if you’re a food item popular enough to be synonymous with the establishment of BA’s first local government, you must be pretty important. Pastelitos are little enigmas of joy (how does the membrillo get in there? how many tiny layers of puff pastry are there? why can I not stop eating this?). To make one, begin by placing a dot of either dulce de membrillo or dulce de batata in the center of multiple thin puff pastry square. Stack your squares, fry them, and sprinkle excessively with decorative or powdered sugar. Buen provecho!
Medialunas: Argentina’s sexy crescent moons. How could I not mention these little guys? Although medialunas are ubiquitous in Argentina, it surprises me how many foreigners don’t realize there are actually two different types of this flakey pastry. Oh you think a medialuna is a medialuna is a medialuna? Allow me to correct you –you’ll thank me next time it’s do or die at the bakery counter.
Like I said, there are two types of Argentine crescent rolls: the sweet medialunas de manteca and the more savory medialunas de grasa. The medialuna de manteca is a plump fellow, made with Paula Deen-size portions of butter and brushed with a sugar glaze (that’s absolutely impossible to wipe off your fingers with the inadequate napkins Argentine establishments provide). His cousin, the medialuna de grasa, is a skinnier, drier croissant made with lard rather than butter. Both delicious but very different.
Panaderías are stocked with many more pastries than just the ones I’ve mentioned above. However by the time I finished writing this article, I couldn’t find any pants that still fit me to go out and try the rest. I’m leaving that task up to you, dear reader. Happy munching!
And if you’re still hungry after that, check out Argentina’s Top 10 Candies.