Whoever thinks croissants and other pastries are a French affair has never been to Mexico. I don't consider myself especially patriotic when it comes to baking: I'm a big fan of German bread, love British scones and Irish soda bread, remember some perfect cinnamon rolls in Sweden, and keep even sweeter memories of the bread I would have every morning of that Summer I spent in Benin, freshly baked at the communal oven… Still, I was certainly not expecting to find such a variety of delicious baked items in Mexico.
From the widely known cuernos (croissants), chocolatins (chocolate croissants) and roles de canela (cinnamon rolls) to more local and less familiar conchas (brioche buns with a swirled vanilla or chocolate sugar coating), roles de anis (anis seeds rolls) and panes de nuez (pecan-filled buns) - fresh pastries are omnipresent in Mexico, from street vendors to popular pastelerias (cake shops) and fancy restaurants.
Out of all the places we sampled the confections from along our journey, it is with no doubt at top-notch El Cardenal in Mexico City that we were served the best ones. El Cardenal is an institution in the Mexican capital and I could not wait to give it a try. Luckily we were staying just a minute away from the original location (the establishment has expanded into a few other branches which appear not to quite live up to the reputation of this first branch) and it quickly occurred to me upon our first visit that going to El Cardenal for breakfast is a little like going to Ladurée in Paris for tea and macarons - a tradition for the locals and a not to be missed highlight for any visitor in town. We tried a few of their pastries over our two visits and without much surprise but for our greatest delight, every single one proved remarkably fresh and fluffy. I fell for the concha de vanilla and the rol de anis above all, not to mention the frothy hot chocolate stirred and poured from the jug right at your table - another specialty of the house, on the richer side but a definite must!
Here lies the irony: although El Cardenal instantly became our favourite at first bite and sip, we suspected the personnel of thinking that we did not appreciate the food as we noted their astonishment every time we asked for the check.. The truth is: while we were perfectly satiated and ready to start strolling around the city after such a wholesome breakfast, Mexican people appear to be much hungrier in the morning as we noticed later that these delicious pastries are just what keeps them waiting for the real thing - generally a full cooked breakfast including eggs, black beans and tortillas at the very minimum!
Palma 23 (between 5 de Mayo and Francisco l. Madero)
Centro Histórico, Mexico City