pan dulce

This one’s from last August…

Sorting out English inversion of sweetbreads and sweetmeats probably took me longer than most, because my Spanish dialect calls nearly all pastries pan dulce,* and I was never asked to eat variety meats. (Until his doctor told him to go easy on the cholesterol, anyone who poached from my grandfather’s plate of scrambled eggs might get a mouthful of cow brains–sesos. But it was a risk, not a requirement.) Nor was I helped by the fact that Spanish uses similar words–molletes and mollejas–for dinner rolls and sweetbreads.

Actually, pan dulce is such a blanket term that, despite the menagerie of sugary shapes found in the typical panadería, I only learned three other, more specific terms: churros, empanadas, and pan con chocolate. Unlike the other pastries, churros are fried, empanadas are filled, and I first met pan con chocolate in Spain.

My ignorance earned me scorn at Panadería La Mejor in San Francisco. After my third request for “uno de chocolate,” pointing at the desired pan dulce, the clerk rolled her eyes and said, “Son conchas.” I didn’t have the time that day to ask for a lesson in the specifics of Mexican pastries, but I went back a few weeks later for just that purpose. I was relieved to see a different clerk, but mortified that there were other customers seated at the tables. There would be an audience.

I explained my problem to the clerk, and she was happy to help–once she and her other customers stopped giggling. “Todos son pan dulce, pues tienen sus propios nombres. This one is coloche, that’s a long name, huh? Esta es una empananda de crema, this one’s apple, piña–pineapple, y esta es de calabaza. Esta is called kisses–besos–because it’s two pieces together. Esta es como gingerbread, it’s called puerquito…”** I was delighted, and she sent me off with my pastries, a pat on the shoulder, and a “God bless you.”

* Literally, “sweet bread.”

** “Well, they’re all sweet bread, but they have their own names. This one is coloche, that’s a long name, huh? This one is a cream turnover, this one’s apple, pineapple, and that one’s pumpkin. This is called kisses, because it’s two pieces together. This is like gingerbread, it’s called a little pig…”


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