This post was last updated on August 30, 2018.
The bakeries of Buenos Aires
By Ruth Schechter
I never really knew I had a sweet tooth until I started spending time walking around the streets of Buenos Aires.
The bustling, sophisticated capital of Argentina has a reputation for great food, especially the tender beef from the country’s central pampas. Cuisine in general tends to be simple — great ingredients prepared with a light touch.
All that simplicity goes out the window when it comes to dessert. Pastries are a true Argentine temptation, and the city’s incredible bakeries (confiterias) are literally on every corner. I counted seven different establishments on the 11 blocks I walk every morning between my house and the gym where I work out. Each one merits a long look at the displays of sky-high concoctions loaded with cream, butter, sugar, and the ever-present dulce de leche, a thick caramel sauce made from sweetened condensed milk.
Buenos Aires confiterias range from tiny, family-run establishments to modern, sleek enterprises with cakes displayed like fine works of art. Unlike panaderias, which sell bread, or bombonerias, which offer candies and chocolates, confiterias specialize in pastries, cakes, pies, shortbread cookies (masas secas), and the popular medialunas — dense, buttery croissants that make many of the selections at home taste like day-old crackers.
Most establishments highlight a variation of the country’s most popular treat, the alfahor. Locals eat them for breakfast, as dessert, as a snack, with tea or coffee in the afternoon, or whenever they need a sugar rush. While the basic alfahor consists of a thick smear of dulce de leche sandwiched between two shortbread cookies, most confiterias offer their own variations on the theme. I’ve seen double and triple-decker versions, and alfahores covered with chocolate, shredded coconut, nuts, and powdered sugar. They come bite-sized and as large as McDonald’s hamburgers.
But what stops me almost every time are the masas finas — beautiful little treats like fruit tarts, cream puffs, meringues, or petits fours that you buy by the kilo. These are usually served at teatime, around five or six o’clock, to keep you going until dinner, which doesn’t start until after 10 pm. It’s common to see crowds in restaurants long after one in the morning.
I came upon one of my favorite confiterias by accident, but now walk well out of my way to stock up on their incredible meringues, slices of ricotta cheesecake, masas, and other addictive delights. El Progreso was started 92 years ago by Italian immigrants, and members of the Brignole family still work behind the counters at the original location on a busy block of Avenida Santa Fe.
Another favorite is La Exposición at the corner of Quintana and Libertad. With six ovens below the storefront, the aroma of baking bread can be detected a block away. This place is another institution and has been in business for more than 100 years, and there is another version on a nearby street. This is where I go for sophisticated tarts made with almonds and quince, with fresh berries and custard cream, or with chocolate and dulce de leche.
And then there is my true downfall — a small family establishment that is unfortunately located two doors down from where I stay when in Buenos Aires. The unassuming-looking La Casa de Gretha stocks the most incredible medialunas that are beautifully formed, dense, buttery, and glossy with a sugar glaze. La Casa is also a European-style tea house where you can sit at rustic tables to savor terrific café con leche with your sweets.
These treats have become an addictive habit that I don’t really want to break. At least not until I look at a scale once I get back to the States.
If you go:
La Casa de Gretha – Av. Pueyrredón 2350
El Progreso – Av. Santa Fe 2820
La Exposición – Libertad 1299
La Exposición – Av. Gral. Las Heras 1687
About the author:
Ruth Schechter is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in education, health care, and travel. Her great aversion to cold weather has induced her to spend her winters in Buenos Aires, where she continues an ongoing struggle to master Spanish.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Ruth Schechter.