South-of-the-border sweets

Traditional Mexican bakeries offer their alternatives to cookies, doughnuts

Celestino Contreras Padilla and his wife Marcelina Lopez de Contreras run Pilos Mexican Bakery in Corvallis. It’s hard work, but they love serving their customers.

Courtesy photo
Celestino Contreras Padilla and his wife Marcelina Lopez de Contreras run Pilos Mexican Bakery in Corvallis. It’s hard work, but they love serving their customers.

The Contreras family owns a small bakery but bakes traditional Mexican goodies with a big heart.

“We love what we do,” says Maria Contreras, who runs Pilos Mexican Bakery in Corvallis with her parents, Celestino Contreras Padilla and Marcelina Lopez de Contreras, and brother Alberto Contreras.

“We try to make our customers happy, and we love when they say, ‘It’s good and fresh,’” Contreras adds. “My father is basically the mastermind behind owning a bakery.”

The Contreras family moved to Oregon 14 years ago, and after tiring of working at a landscape company, Celestino decided to open the business.

Of note

Others from Woodburn to Eugene offering Mexican baked goods include:

La Espiga in Jefferson

Laura & Daisy’s Mexican Bakery in Salem and several other locations

Panaderia Mexicana El Buen in Albany

La Bonita Mexican Bakery, Salvador’s Bakery, Maravilla’s Bakery and Azteca Bakery in Salem

Cache Tamales and Bakery in West Salem

Miranda’s Bakery in Woodburn

Tienda y Panaderia Santiago in Eugene

Ovenbird Bakery in Independence

Daisy’s Mexican Bakery in Springfield

Mexican treats are also found in many specialty grocery stores in the area as well as at several Mexican restaurants. Even 7-Eleven recently added three traditional sweet breads — Panquecitos, Roles de Canela, and Panque con Nuez — to its private label line.

“He is a baker for decades and so is my mother,” Contreras says. “We have been working hard since 2007 to keep the business going. We are from Oaxaca, Mexico, and our bakery’s name came from the place we are from, a little town in Oaxaca called Santiago Apostol. This is where my parents learned their traditional recipes.”

Family recipes are the mainstay of the Pilos baked goods. The bakery sells such items as breads, custom cakes and Mexican treats. Spices and other Mexican goods are also sold in the ethnic grocery and specialty grocery sections.

“Our best-selling days are mostly holidays, especially Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead),” Contreras says. “Christmas is another, and Jan. 6, which in Mexico they celebrate the wisdom kings (wisemen).”

Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a slightly sweet bread, often used as an offering on altars as well as eaten by the living. Most of these breads have some kind of round shape with a criss-cross of dough on top to indicate bones.

In Oaxaca, breads for this day are often decorated with small painted heads made from flower and water, according to Wikipedia.

Mexican breads and other baked goods are the result of centuries of experimentation and the blending of influence from various European baking traditions. The French influence in Mexican bread is the strongest, Wikipedia cites.

Other holiday traditions such as Cinco de Mayo and 15-year-old girls celebrating their Quinceañera are a mainstay for small bakeries like Pilos.

“We try to keep all the pastries mostly traditional,” Contreras says. “We designed our own recipes. And our customers love shopping on weekends, which are the days we have many varieties to choose from. Also, there is a little store inside where people can find basic products for their daily needs.”

Customers rave about the small bakery: “The knowledge that conchas can be both this good and this inexpensive is truly dangerous knowledge,” “Best pastel de tres leches,” and “Best Mexican bread in town.” On Facebook, the bakery rates five stars out of five.

Whether baked breads or such tasty treats as polvorón, pan de nuez, cachuacillo, moño, concha rosa and empandadas, these bakeries can offer “gringos” a new taste experience while satisfying the taste buds for those with ties to Mexico. n

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