We want to like Mexican bakeries more than we usually do. Their tall cakes, glistening buns, and colorful cookies look spectacular. All too often, the products are dry enough to need a glass of milk alongside. So, when we found out about the elegant French-looking baked goods at Panaderia AC Gourmet, we zipped across Tijuana in hopes that they might bring us around.
The bakery is is relatively new (every shop in Tijuana boasts about how long it has been open). Its repertoire is relatively small, including artisan bread loaves, classic Mexican cookies, and even muffins. Still, it is ambitious for a small neighborhood bakery. There are said to be nearly a thousand different types of sweet bread in Mexico. At any rate, there is enough here to keep your bag bursting with bread.
Being a Mexican bakery, the protocol is to take a steel sheet pan and pick out a selection of appealing baked goods using tongs. However, at AC Gourmet many of the baked goods are nestled into baskets rather than lined up on large trays. It’s an indication of smaller batch baking and a nod to the French patisserie.
The test of any panaderia is orejas (ears) which are sugary, flaky heart-shaped discs of puff pastry baked until crisp, also known as elephant ears. They are essentially the same thing as French palmiers, but most Mexican versions tend to be drier. These are not. They are shattery on the edges and buttery in the middle.
Another classic done well are brocas (drills) which are soft tubes of a short crust filled with strawberry jam. They are just sweet enough. We ordered a smaller version with cream cheese, dubbed a dedito de queso (little cheese finger). The finger is still warm from the oven, and it crumbled when bit into. It has the enriched dough and yellow tint of classic Mexican sweet bread. A sugar-glazed tostada, which in this case was basically a sweet crostini is surprisingly light.
The favorite breads of ours are the filled ones: a soft sweet empanada stuffed with pineapple jelly and the cafe de cono a flaky pastry cone filled with the sticky bun (or coffee cake) flavors of walnut and dulce de leche.
We got some muffins more out of curiosity than out of hunger, but they were so good that we kept tearing into them. The panque de arzamora (blackberry muffins) have swirls of real berries, while the choco-banana are nearly as sweet as candy. A dark chocolate drizzle on top helps balance the dense sweet sponge. Also recommended are cream puffs and cookies.
Prices are on the high side relative to other Mexican bakeries, but they are a steal for the quality of the baking. Even people with the utmost restraint likely will leave with a heaping bag of treats.