Chow Bella

An Essential South-of-the-Border Sweet from an Old-School Mexican Bakery

Marranitos from La Purisima Bakery
Marranitos from La Purisima Bakery Chris Malloy
Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.

22: Marranitos at La Purisima Bakery

Both the Glendale and Phoenix locations of La Purisima Bakery, a Mexican bakery that sells sweets ranging from flan to guava empanadas, have a cookie called marranitos. For 34 years, the Arellano family has run the bakery. Irma Arellano says marranitos have long been the shop's best-selling cookie.

Marranitos are pig-shaped cookies. The cookie is a gingersnap without the ginger and without the snap. The similarity to the classic fall cookie stems from the Arellano family's use of molasses, brown sugar, and whole wheat flour, imbuing the cookie with a trace of caramel flavor and light brown color.

There is no snap to the cookie. Its texture, rather, is about as cake-like as a cookie can be while still called a cookie. That's not to say the cookie is cake-like. It's not. But it has something of the buoyancy, comforting airiness, and playful spirit of sheet cake.

click to enlarge The exterior of La Purisima - CHRIS MALLOY
The exterior of La Purisima
Chris Malloy
To be honest, I had no idea marranitos were a thing. But a few minutes of cursory research reveals that they are a big deal in Mexico, and recipes for them plaster the Internet.

"I really don't know why it's so famous among our culture," Arellano says. "But ever since I remember, there's been piggy cookies at bakeries."

Arellano says the cookies can be eaten any time of day. In Mexico, they may be eaten as a merienda, a snack in the afternoon, perhaps with some milk or coffee.

These marranitos grow on you in the course of eating one. The texture is yielding, yes, but brings a nice chew. The bite is spot on, the Platonic ideal of how a soft cookie should be. The flavor is plain. That's the beauty.

There's a little sweetness, a little depth, a little of the robustness of whole wheat. The sugar is quiet enough that you can eat these any time of day and feel like you aren't secreting dessert at a non-dessert hour. The cookies are bigger and thicker than they look. The intervals between your chewy bites shrink as you go, until you've got nada but fragrant crumbs in your paper bag.

A geometric circus of pastries awaits behind the display case at La Purisima. In shades of brown and sugared, there are crescents, rolls, triangles with crimped edges, long loaves, standard cookies, looping pretzel-twisted creations, churros, and a lot more, including a whole tray of cookies molded like pigs.

The pig cookies are far from the sexiest of the lot – they don't catch the eye like pink-sugared pan dulce, and they don't catch your nose like the warm green chile for burritos – but you should try one anyway.

click to enlarge Hard choices await you - CHRIS MALLOY
Hard choices await you
Chris Malloy
La Purisima Bakery 2. 2318 East Indian School Road (plus another location); 602-957-2771.
Tuesday to Saturday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Monday.

The Essentials so far:
50: Soul food platter at Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
49: The Bear at Short Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Doughnuts
48: Grilled squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer
47: I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10
46: Coffee made from ROC2 beans
45: The Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese 'n Stuff
44: Zookz at Zookz
43: Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
42: Tasting menu at Quiessence at The Farm
41: Single-origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak's Chocolate
40: Green chile at Casa Reynoso
39: Brûlée burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
38: Hand-pulled noodles from China Magic Noodle House
37: Carne adovada sliders at Dick's Hideaway
36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro cocktails from Crudo
35: Chile-laced specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
34: Martinis at AZ88
33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter
32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow's Cafe
31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
30: Orange Blossom from Huss Brewing Company
29: Rye bread from Yasha From Russia
28: Scotch Beef and Mashed Potatoes from Tarbell's
27: Griddled Corn Cakes and Ramona Farms Super Food Salad at Phoenix City Grille
26: Soup from Reathrey Sekong
25: Lamb tongue sandwich at Haji Baba
24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company
23: Red chile at Elmer's Tacos
22: Marranitos at La Purisima Bakery
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy