The Long and Short of Pastry Shops
Some people like to pass their time window-shopping for expensive shoes, coats, or jewelry. (If you’re in Madrid, by the way, the place to do so is Calle Serrano, which is like our 5th Avenue.) I’ve never been one to stand in front of a window display and gawk at Coach purses or Armani shoes. (Does Armani even make shoes? I may have just given away my ignorance about designer merchandise.) Anyway, designer products are often ugly, and I know from the beginning that I’m not going to buy anything, so I just don’t see the point. However, if window-shopping at pastry shops were an Olympic sport, I’d have a pair of gold medals by now. It’s so satisfying to evaluate the pastries in the window, deciding which one you want most, all while the wonderful smells of puff pastry, cream and sugar waft out to greet you. And if you cave and decide to buy something, it doesn’t break the bank, just your waistline. I’m okay with that.
In Madrid, the most famous pastelería is La Mallorquina, serving Puerta del Sol since 1894:
They have a five-window display of small cakes, pastries, cookies, and candy. I must say that it’s not my personal favorite; I don’t think it’s an especially thoughtfully designed display.
La Mallorquina is also very touristy since it’s in the middle of Puerta del Sol, and their pastries aren’t really good enough to be worth the extra stress. Depending on the time of day, it can be very overwhelming to order something here, since there are a large number of pushy staff members to accommodate the crowds. They yell, “¡Siguiente! ¡Siguiente!” (“Next!”) until you order something, and you often have to push your way past a lingering tourist to reach the counter. Their display is certainly worth a look if you’re passing through Sol, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to walk there.
Less than one block up Calle Mayor is El Riojano, which has a much better atmosphere. First of all, the building is gorgeous; the interior is all brass railings and dark wood paneling, and when paired with the always-immaculate displays, El Riojano is enough to put any pastry window-shopper in seventh heaven. Looking beyond the ambiance, the pastries themselves are just plain better than at La Mallorquina. Most items are a little pricier here, but I think it’s worth it. If you’re going to splurge anyway, I’d pay a few cents more to get a truly wonderful pastry.
You can tell just by looking at their displays that the pastries are treated with more care than at La Mallorquina, and I, for one, appreciate the extra time that goes into the presentation. It certainly makes peeking into the window a lot more interesting.
Whole cakes are universally expensive, so I may never buy one… but I could look at them all day (those are hazelnuts topped by a candied fig, in case you were wondering):
A little closer to home, we have a wonderful panadería/pastelería (bread & pastry shop) named Valpan that is always full of people from the neighborhood buying their daily bread. They offer a mean multigrain baguette with a deep and nutty flavor. (I suspect the presence of sesame seeds.) If you buy your bread near closing time, they give you a 50% discount. And their pastries are pretty good, too, though their main focus is on bread.
It’s also worth noting that there are a couple of new novelty bakeries called Happy Day (http://www.happydaybakery.es/) that feature decadent, purely American products: muffins, cupcakes, bagels, Hershey’s syrup, Betty Crocker cake mixes, even marshmallow fluff! I can survive just fine without their products, but I love them for their whimsical-to-the-extreme interior design. They’re just too cute to pass up.
At the end of the day, there is no shortage of pastry shops in Madrid. If you start at one pastelería and walk in any direction for three blocks, you’ll probably find another one. There are a couple of chains that appear fairly frequently throughout the city (such as Animari: http://www.animari.com/) and their quality is generally pretty reliable. When it comes to pastries, my general advice is to go ahead and judge the book by its cover, as I have yet to find a beautiful window display that doesn’t follow through. When in Madrid, take a stroll and check out the pastry displays. ¡Igual me verás a mí! ( “I’m sure I’ll see you there!”)