French training influences Mexican sweets

May 5, 2010 (CHICAGO) The bakery offers a taste of Mexico as seen through the prism of French pastry training.

The French Pastry School in the Loop has single-handedly made Chicago a much sweeter place. Nearly every year, one of their graduates sets up shop in some random part of the city and then begins to gain a following for their unique creations. It's been happening in Archer Heights for more than a year - under the radar of most foodies - in a bakery called simply, Pastel.

The Archer Heights neighborhood on the Southwest Side certainly has its share of taquerias and Mexican bakeries, but there is nothing quite like Pastel Cakes and More on South Pulaski. The reason is because few bakers in this neighborhood are graduates of the French Pastry School.

"I'm Mexican so I wanted to bring that, you know, to my customers. But at the same time using either the techniques or flavors from the French pastry," said Maria Muniz, owner of Pastel Cakes & More.

A simple tart dough becomes the base for an intense chocolate-pecan tart: first a layer of cajeta - or goat's milk caramel - then some pecans, followed by another layer of dark chocolate, a few more pecans scattered on top, and a final thin drizzle of chocolate. Cakes can be either simple or elaborate - Muniz can do them both ways; same goes for cupcakes. Her cajeta flan is certainly worth trying: it's ringed with that caramel cajeta and topped with whipped cream.

Another original, her light-as-air mousses rotate flavors. On the day the Hungry Hound was in, it happened to be fluffy mango with strawberry.

"I wanted something fresh, light, with the strawberry and mango, so that's how I came up with it - mango mousse, said Muniz.

There are opera layer cakes, as well as crazy-good cinnamon pound cake. For every slice of vanilla cheesecake, consider one of her homemade cookies, such as the simultaneously crisp-and-chewy macaroons.

"Every cookie has its own recipe. It's not like we make one recipe and flavor, they're different. What I think people will like, I make it," said Muniz.

Pastel also has a small sitting area up front, where you can enjoy your pastries before heading out. They also create custom cakes for special occasions.

Pastel Cakes & More
4814 S. Pulaski Rd.

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