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Not just another pastelería

October 25, 2010

My errands this morning brought me to several places around Madrid, namely this unexpectedly wonderful pastelería in the southern part of the city, far away from my usual haunts.

It doesn’t look like much, I know, but bear with me.  Its doors were opened in 1926 by the royal confectioner of Alfonso XIII.  At the height of its popularity, there were five locations, but only this one has withstood the test of time.  When asked why the pastry shop bears the name “La China,” the baker told me that Alfonso XIII used to have a certain interest in Chinese women.  When the Manzanares River was still navigable, he would invite his favorite Chinese female companions on boat trips and disembark near this bakery to picnic or pass the day.  Okay, I may have invented the part about the picnics, but you get the idea.

La China is one of the very few buildings on the block that survived the war, and today it produces a fairly small number of sweets–one variety of cake, one variety of truffle, a large variety of tea biscuits and maybe a dozen kinds of pastries–but it smells like heaven inside.  The pastry pictured above was flaky, sprinkled with large chunks of sugar, and filled with barely-spiced apples.  It was more than enough to sustain me on my never-ending errands this morning.  Actually, it was enough to subdue my frustration at having bought two unexpectedly expensive bus tickets to Valencia.  (Those of you who know me can fully appreciate the power of the pastry, given my rageful tendencies.)

Later, since my anger was threatening to relapse, I had to share this caracola (“snail”) with my roommate.  (Prevention is the key, no?)  The caracola was surprisingly decadent: bread-like instead of flaky, filled with candied fruit and topped with a standard confectioner’s sugar icing.  It was reminiscent of a cinnamon bun and so delicious that it spurred a conversation about what we would be willing to do to earn ourselves a lifetime supply.  For the saftey of those involved, all names with be withheld, but suffice it to say that some fairly heinous crimes made the list.

Take a good look at that caracola and tell me you wouldn’t travel pretty far to get one.  That’s why, despite the distance, I’m already thinking about the next time I can make the trip.

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