The earthy aroma of fresh-baked bread is one deeply imprinted in the human DNA. Several millennia after hunting and gathering and cooking over open fires, the scent still awakens something primordial, so entering one of the Coachella Valley’s panaderías (aka Mexican bakeries) teases the beast within.
Besides the scent, a panadería experience offers a visual thrill: bakers racks, one after the other, stacked with cookies, cake slices, and baked goods as wildly colorful as any fiesta. It takes a minute to acclimate. You take a deep breath, commit to a measure of self-control, and then survey the sweet variety and selection.
The names of many creations might be familiar, but they’re not their usual selves. In panadería speak, empanadas burst with fruit. A quesadilla is a form of coffee cake. And a tostado is sugar glazed.
The panadería is a tradition that dates back to the mid-19th century. The French, defeated in Mexico in the Battle of the Puebla on May 5, 1862 (Cinco de Mayo), left behind their baking techniques, and the Mexicans deftly made them their own. The primary use of wheat as an ingredient remained; the Spanish introduced it to the culture during the time of the Conquest. After that, it was whatever was on hand — or perhaps whatever a few tequila shots could inspire. They quickly employed corn masa and native fruits (guava, pineapple) and spices (cinnamon, vanilla). The French preference for sweet bread was elevated when bakers threw in another local staple, piloncillo (raw sugar).
¡Olé! A movement was born, and the modern panadería became a beloved part of the nation’s culture. Then, it exploded. Bakers stretched beyond the basics and began to make bread in misshapen, unexpected ways.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with traditional Mexican pan dulces.
Most popular (and memorable) are conchas, shaped like large conch shells; puerquitos, piglet shaped; pan de muerto, “bread of the dead” for this month’s Day of the Dead; and the crown-shaped rosca de reyes, baked to celebrate Christmas.
Those traditions are alive and well in the Coachella Valley, where generations of families have passed down recipes and techniques. Here’s a sampling of panaderías carrying on the delicious legacy.
A row of perfectly weathered glass cabinets houses all the goods here. Stock up on the golden glazed sugar tostadas, which when smeared with jam could serve as south-of-the-border morning toast, as well as the brightly frosted conchas, a festive take on the panadería staple. For something whimsical, pick up yoyos, which look like their namesake: two small split spheres of raised sweet bread filled with and rolled in strawberry jelly, then rolled again in coconut. The Mexican mash-up of the cupcake and doughnut is perfect for kids’ birthday parties. When it comes to empanadas, head straight for the cream cheese-filled variety. And try the house specialty: the Jalapeño cheese roll, a hot and spicy Mexican interpretation of French loaf bread.
45228 Oasis St., Indio, 760-347-8341
Mi Tierra Panadería
The revolving door of repeat customers, says manager Nayely Lopez, is because of the softness of their breads, such as the pastel de elote, a soft, toasty golden pie, pudding-moist and studded with corn. You’ll also find puerquitos, which are dense and warmly spiced and retain a tender crumb. Fun, elephant ear-shaped, turnover-style orejas are sugar crusted and hold their own against coffee or milk. For traditionalists, the bolillo, a Mexican version of the baguette, hits the spot, as does the budin de pan, banana raisin bread pudding that’s more cake than pudding and served in large loaf slices. Along with conchas and traditional breads, the cemitas de trigo (disc-shaped wheat bread) come in three varieties: flour dusted or topped with either sesame seeds or caramelized sugar. They’re light as a feather with a delicately pliable crust.
51687 Cesar Chavez St., Coachella,
La Abuelita Bakery
The conchas take center stage at this Desert Hot Springs panadería — not only for form and freshness, but also for the cinnamon variety. For those who want a whole cake with wow factor, this is the place. The true star here, however, is the Salvadoran quesadilla. Jorge the baker uses 10 different cheeses in his recipe to create an über-dense cake that melts on the tongue and goes down sweet and smooth.
13112 Palm Drive, Desert Hot Springs,
The 50-year-old Las Tres Conchitas in Coachella offers an open view to the kitchen.
Las Tres Conchitas
A fixture for more than 50 years in Coachella’s historic Pueblo Viejo neighborhood, this panadería offers an unimpeded view to the kitchen where bakers work between industrial mixers and stainless steel counters and hearth ovens. The goodies are presented on stacked bakers rack trays. “You’ll want to come here for breads from different Mexican pueblos,” Las Tres Conchitas manager Rosa Ceja says. The essentials include trenzas de queso, a braided cheese bread; borrachos, a delectable white frosted bread; and the cuerno, a pink bread that’s sweetly intoxicating. Do not pass up the golden, moist pineapple cake; the pumpkin and pineapple empanadas; or the nicely browned jam thumbprint cookies. And you’d be remiss if you didn’t jack your coffee routine one morning with a nutty vanilla muffin, subtle yet generously flavored and just this side of dreamy.
1540 Sixth St., Coachella, 760-398-6594
For Your Shopping List
ABRAZO: turnover-style bread, square-shaped with folded corners and often filled with jam
CONCHAS: shaped and named after the seashell in many varieties (frosted, sugar dusted, etc.)
CUERNOS: Mexican take on the Danish pastry, often filled with custard or cream
OREJAS: shaped like an extra-large ear and usually coated with sugar
PUERQUITOS: resembles a piglet; usually spiced with ginger, cinnamon, and sometimes molasses
PAN DE MUERTA: scored sweet bread in the shape of a decorative cross for Day of the Dead
ROSCA DE REYES: crown shaped with a baby figure baked inside to represent Jesus