Pan dulce, or sweet bread, is the poster child for Mexican sweet treats. It's cheap, sweet, and easy to find in the Valley. Pan dulce is to Hispanics as biscotti is to Italians, and something many have come to enjoy because of the vast amount of panaderias throughout the Valley. The hard part is weeding out the inferior sweets.
We pitted La Purisima Pasteleria in Glendale and La Reyna Bakery in Phoenix against each other to find out who has the better selection and better quality of the two panaderias.
In This Corner: La Purisima Pasteleria
The Setting: It's impossible to miss the huge blue building that houses all the pan dulce La Purisima puts out. Inside the bakers hard at work constantly refilling the four counter cases and the two cases behind the counter with fresh pan dulce. The colors of the conchas (the most recognizable pan dulce) and cookies brighten up the cases and all the sugar coatings reflect the light.
The Good: Many people are timid when it comes to going into panaderias or Mexican meat markets because they don't know Spanish. Don't let that hold you back from walking into La Purisima. The workersa are bilingual and will answer any questions you may have about the pastries. The bakery is clean and well-lit with friendly customer service.
We chose one concha, a yo-yo (made up of two half sphears of pink cake held together with white frosting and coated with shaved coconut), and one cuernitos (little horn) covered with sugar. Our total was $2.36. (Important note: La Purisima is cash only.) There is no seating inside the bakery, so we couldn't wait to get home to dive into our bag of fresh pan.
Conchas come with sugar patterns on top in white, pink or brown, giving it a sweet finish. The pink sugar on top of ours gave off a hint of sweetness. The yo-yo was moist and the coconut was fresh. Sometimes at other bakeries the coconut is old, letting you know not to bother with that place anymore. The cuernito is sort of like a croissant, but sweet since it's covered in sugar. The sweetness was spot-on, and our favorite out of the three.
The Bad: Our concha was too dry inside. The inside of a concha is already light, and it's unappetizing biting into stale bread with only a little bit of sweetness to go with it. The cuernito was much the same: dry and a little rough when taking bites.
In The Other Corner: La Reyna Bakery
The Setting: On the corner of 35th Avenue and McDowell is an unnamed shopping center with a barber, bakery and a couple other window fronts that are difficult to make out because of all the window messages, tagging and run-down signs filling up the space. We've driven by La Reyna Bakery plenty of times, but were never sure if it was open or just a vacant building. When we decided to venture in, the small parking lot was filled with cars. We still weren't sure if the bakery was even open, but as we approached the building we noticed the "OPEN" sign was lit but fading.
The Good: Once you step foot in the bakery it's easy to forget where you are as you soak in the strong scent of fresh baked bread wafting through the air. The bakery is smaller than La Purisima, but the smell is overcoming. La Reyna had four cases of pan dulce to choose from, but they weren't completely full.
They didn't have the yo-yo, so we ordered a concha, a cuernito and a chocolate chip cookie. Our baker told us to choose two more for a total of five items for $2. We chose a green, white and pink sugar cookie, and another cookie that had frosting sandwiched between two pieces.
Again, we had to enjoy them at home. The first bite into the concha was satisfying. It was sweet, not dry and not as light on the inside. The cuernito was different as we're used to sugar instead of frosting, but it was a nice change. Colored sugar cookies are also a recognizable type of pan dulce, and La Reyna's was everything we expected it to be: a little crunchy with a subtle sweet flavor.
The Bad: We could've lived without the chocolate chip cookie. It was bland and there was nothing that made it stand out amongst the other sweets we had to choose from.
The Winner: Taste wins over appearance anytime, and for that La Reyna Bakery wins this battle of pan dulce. Sure, it might be located in a run-down building, but the quality of the baked goods is high. La Purisima has a lot to offer but the turning point was the taste and texture of their conchas. Congrats, La Reyna! See you again soon.