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.
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Great post! It brought back memories of the year I lived in Buenos Aires during college. I used to stop at bakeries on the way home from clubbing (at 5 am) and buy fresh medialunas. So tasty 🙂
Sounds like you had a great year in Argentina, Leslie! 🙂
Great post. We like to consider ourselves experts in Argentine pastries. At least, we should be, given how many we have eaten on our several trips to BsAs. The pastries – and the helado – are the reason we spend a significant amount of our time jogging around “palermo woods,” trying to stave off significant weight gain. 🙂
I have added those addresses to our list of things to check out when we make it back to the city, which I think is going to be this year.
Your areas of expertise never cease to amaze me! Who knew that you were pastry experts?! Be sure to visit Ruth’s list of confiterias – I know I will.
Helado should probably be another post. I love going to Volta at 2 in the morning and waiting in line behind skinny ladies ordering a half kilo just for themselves.
I spent about 3 months in BA, and I can fully relate. I didn’t really even care for sweets or any form of dessert until I arrived in BA. They are so delicious looking, that I couldn’t resist, and then I developed a craving for pastries everyday…and glorious ice cream and dulce de leche. It’s been probably 1.5 years since I was in BA, thanks for reminding me of the incredible treats!
Desserts are a must anywhere you travel!
Excellent! Thanks for this – looks like we better bring our sweet tooths to Buenos Aires later this year…here I was thinking all we could get is a nice cut of meat 😉 We’ll definitely have to check out the places you mention.
You need to develop a delicate balance of beef and sweets, beef and sweets, tempered by occasional doses of papas fritas. Food here really is terrific: even salads make me happy.
I love trying new desserts in different countries. It’s pretty fun tasting the same dessert in different places and seeing how the differ. Yum- a good ole taste test!
Ummmmmmmmmmm que rico!
Those pictures make me salivate, delicious! Thanks for the tips, especially the addresses!
I don’t even have a sweet tooth and my mouth is watering…
I never knew traveling to Buenos Aires could be so tasty and unhealthy! 🙂
It’s all a matter of balance, Jeremy. Eat desserts, then work out at the gym!
Thanks, everyone for the great comments. So glad that Ruth’s article and photos brought back some very delicious memories for many of you!
I had no idea that such good pastries could be found in Argentina, yum!
Ahh! Bakeries… How I love them! I’ll make sure to try Argentinean sweets when I go there.
Well what an awesome first guest post to have. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE BsAs, and one of the main reasons is because of the food. We spent a month there during our RTW, and we had an apartment in San Telmo, with confiterias everywhere. Our favorites as far sweets were facturas. I dream about those sweet little goodies. Great post, and one I’m glad I didn’t see before we went. I would have gained even more weight while there. 😉
I agree – Ruth’s article and photos are awesome! I’m particularly pleased that you like this since you know and love Argentina! Thanks so much for the comment.
Ruth we totally need to meet up on BsAs, hoping you will be there for the next few months.
By the way I find Argentinean Spanish to be completely overwhelming, it’s the equivalent of listening to intense Scottish accents in English.
I agree about the Spanish. Plus there is so much slang and colloquialisms to keep up with. My Spanish is abysmal at best but most people (except the mozos) are pretty patient with my efforts. When are you coming down? I would love to speak some English with a fellow travel junkie.
Haha, that’s funny. When we were in S. America we were in Peru and Bolivia for the first 2 months, and we thought our Spanish was coming along very nicely. Then we crossed the border into Argentina, and it was like a completely different language.
What a life! 🙂 I would be so overweight though. lol
I go to the gym every morning for classes in power aerobics and pilates. Then I come home and stuff my face some more. Happily, I seem to be breaking even.
You made me hungry!
Que suerte tienes Ruth! Come algunos para mi!
Thank you for this sweet taste of Buenos Aires. So well written. Do you know whether there are any gluten-free bakeries there?
I did find a health-food bakery with lots of good-looking gluten-free products. It’s at the corner of Vincente Lopez and Rodriques Pena in the old mercado in Recoleta. They have beautiful whole-wheat and rye breads that seem to be very rare down here.
Love the food pictures! Definitely want to get to Buenos Aires next year! This year is already kinda booked up!
This post has induced an immediate sugar craving. I like the sounds of tarts with almonds and quince – great combination!
Interesting post! I would never have imagined that Buenos Aires was known for its desserts and pastries – it’s something I never associate with warmer climates. I was recently in Laos and because of their history of French colonization, they’ve also got a surprising gift for sweets and wonderful baking.
I love the photos and the piece. They all look very tempting. I don’t know how you could stand to see 11 places to have dessert in one walk. Yum!
Hi Cathy and Ruth, I now have two reasons for wanting to go to BsAs: Tango and sweets! Thank you.
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I’m hungry just looking at those photos. And even more so because I have a sweet tooth.
On my trip to Argentina I remember delicious morning pastries but I never had dessert because by the time that course rolled around I was too full. Argentina was a total culinary delight.
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