A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 24, 2008
Pan Dulce (Mexican Sweet Bread)

Pan dulce (pahn DOOL-say) is Mexican sweet bread, and there are many different varieties. Texas got its “pan dulce” from Mexico, and even non-Mexican bakeries in Texas serve some pan dulce. Some scholars claim that Mexico got “pan dulce” from French, but others say that it came from Spain.

Various items of pan dulce include:

Besos (kisses)
Campechanas
Conchas (shells)
Cuernos (horns)
Emapandas (turnovers)
Marranitos/Cochinitos/Puerquitos (little pigs)
Molletes (cheeks)
Orejas (ears)
Pan de Huevo (egg bread)
Piedras (rocks or stones)
Polvorones (wedding cookies)
Roscas (rings)
Semitas
Yoyos (Yo-Yos)


Borderlands - El Paso Community College
Tempting Sweet Breads : Pan de Dulce
By Lynn Cordova, Inez Caldwell, Victor Canchola and Florence Brame comps.
(...)
Special holiday pan de dulce includes buñuelos usually made to celebrate the Christmas and New Year season. John O. West, local folklorist and author, describes the buñuelos as being plate-sized sweet flour tortillas, deep-fried and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Julia Olmos, a retired El Paso cook, says her grandmother identified the buñuelo as the type of bread eaten by Joseph and Mary on their journey to Bethlehem. Instead of sugar, their bread was topped with salt, since sugar was such a luxury in biblical times.

Cuernos (horns) a sweet crescent-shaped bread flavored with cinnamon, is a traditional bread for All Saints Day, November 1. The crispy cooked ends represent the horns of a bull, which symbolically prod the sinner. The custom associated with it requires the blessing of a smaller version of the bread by the priest to atone for venial sin. The recipient then carries the little rolls in a pocket or purse for good luck or a special blessing.

On Maundy Thursday, commemorating Jesus’ Last Supper, a braided bread ring, the rosca, is taken to the church to be blessed by the priest. The bread is then kept at home in the belief that the family will never lack food in the coming year.

Special cookies are baked for weddings, anniversaries and Christmas. Biscochos are rich, bite-sized flour and shortening cookies mixed with port wine and topped with cinnamon and anise. The best ones melt in your mouth.

Empanadas are small piecrust pockets containing apple or pineapple pie filling. A variation is a spiced bread dough crust with pumpkin inside. Also available is a white sugar-dusted piecrust filled with vanilla pudding.

Another filled sweet bread is elote (corn). This bread is made of soft anise-flavored dough and filled with strawberry jelly. At the Bowie Bakery, cuernos are also filled with crema (vanilla pudding) or pineapple pie filling.

Marranitos (little pigs) are thick pig-shaped ginger cookies. Another type of cookie is a large pink one known as polvoron roja (pink powder). It is sweet and faintly cherry-flavored. Galleta de nuez is a vanilla-flavored bar cookie, laced with chopped pecans.

Pan de huevo (egg bread) refers to a number of different round flat breads with colored powdered sugar toppings and various flavorings. They are usually not very sweet except for the topping and taste great dunked in coffee. The powdered sugars form spiral and diamond shapes on the top of the bread, which is available in vanilla and chocolate.

A variation of pan de huevo is arracadas (earrings). They have a center, which looks like the regular pan de huevo, but another sweeter dough is wrapped around the outside and designed with ridges. Cabeza de Negro is shaped like other pan de huevo with little pinches of dough in a pattern similar to short braided hair. It is made from dough sweetened with cinnamon and anise and covered with granulated sugar.

There are three different types of “plain” bread. Semitas are similar in shape to pan de huevo but have no topping. They are honey-flavored and often have anise added. It is believed to be a traditional bread for the Semites, hence the name. Protestantes are oval, golden-brown with breads, for some reason associated with Protestants. Pan de suelo (floor bread) is round and not very sweet.

Other breads include magdalenas, which are round, flattened and sweetened with coconut and raisins. Calvos (baldies) are also known as novias (brides). They are the same shape as the magdalenas, but are ringed with coconut and iced with white confectioners’ frosting. They resemble a bald man’s head with a fringe of hair.

Two types of bread made with multi-layer pastry are almohadas (pillows) and campechanas. Campechanas (jovial persons) are flaky, round and golden-brown with a shiny sugar glaze. They are sometimes made in different shapes and filled with jelly or pie filling.

Some American bread are also available but have local names. Cinnamon rolls are Simones (slang for “yeah, man"). Jellyrolls are niños envueltos (children wrapped up). Round, pudding-filled doughnuts frosted with chocolate are sapos (frogs). The closest bread to Danish is called a casuela (casserole dish). It is doughnut-shaped and has fillings of pudding and cherry jelly. Tarts are little baskets, or canastillas, filled with pineapple.

Two very sweet creations are yoyos and marianas. Yoyos look just like their namesake. They are two soft cookies joined with thin glue of confectioners’ icing. Then they are rolled in raspberry jelly and finally in coconut. Marianas look similar to the yoyos with the raspberry and coconut coating but are shaped like the small sponge cake Americans use for strawberry shortcake. They have confectioners’ sugar icing piped around the top of the cake which contains cherry or pineapple filling. They are extremely rich!

These are not all of the different types of pan de dulce made in our border area. There are close to 300 different types of bread made in Mexico that have been documented, not to mention the local variations. However, this is a good start on the most common ones, so that the next time you are feeling adventurous or want to surprise the people who work at a Mexican bakery, you can go in and ask for your sweet bread by name.

Chili Verde Press
PAN DULCE (POEMS)
Jacinto Jesús Cardona
Cover Alex Rubio
Cover Photo by Kathy Varegas
CHILI VERDE PRESS 1998
ISBN: 0-9640612-0-1
40pp
PAN DULCE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JACINTO JESUS CARDONA was born in Palacios, Texas,
but grew up in Alice, the Hub of South Texas. He teaches English at John F. Kennedy High School in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to publishing his poems in literary journals, he has read his poetry on National Public Radio and PBS Television.

NAMES OF PAN DULCE
Abanico/fan
Abrazo/embrace
Alamar/fabric frog
Almohada/pillow
Arete/earring
Beso/kiss
Bunuelo/fritter
Campechana/cheerful one
Cocol/rhombus
Concha/shell
Copetona/haughty woman
Corazon/heart
Corbata/tie
Cuerno/horn
Chamuco/devil
Chismosa/gossip
Chorreada/dirty face
Chula/pretty one
Churro/doughnut-like stick
Dia y noche/day and night
Dona/doughnut
Empanada/turnover
Hueso azucarado/sugared bone
Ilusíon/illusion
Labios/lips
Lechuza/screech owl
Libro/book
Maleta/suitcase
Marranito/little pig
Media noche/midnight
Monja/nun
Muela/tooth
Novia/bride
Nudo/knot
Oreja/ear
Pan de muerto/Day of the Dead bread
Pan de polvo/wedding day cookies
Peineta/comb
Piedra/rock
Polvorón/powdery cookie
Portamoneda/coin purse
Presumida/conceited girl
Quequecito/little cake
Regañada/a scolding
Rehilete/pinwheel
Rueda/wheel
Sol y sombra/sun and shade
Suspiro/sigh
Trenza/braid
Tljeras/scissors
Tornillo/screw
Volcan/volcano

Austin (TX) Chronicle (June 3, 2005)
Pan Dulce
In Mexico, eating sweet pastries for breakfast or late supper – known as merienda – is a tradition that dates back to the 16th century. Pastry-making became popular in Mexico with the arrival of the French during their brief attempt at occupation that ended with the battle of Cinco de Mayo. The French influence in Mexico peaked in the early 1900s during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, whose idea of modernizing and refining Mexico included a disdain for traditional Mexican cuisine in exchange for anything and everything French. Thus, bakeries appeared all over the cities, and Mexican bakers went to work, adopting French techniques and doughs such as puff pastry and meringue.

We Mexicans have a tendency to Mexicanize everything, and pan dulce, also known as bizcochos, were not the exception. Mexican ingredients such as corn flour, piloncillo (raw sugar), chocolate, and native fruits such as pineapple, sweet potato, and guava found their way into the bakeries in a classic example of culinary mestizaje, or mixing of cultures. New pastries were created in whimsical shapes and in a variety of doughs and textures, bearing colorful names often relating to their shape. For instance, in a Mexican bakery one can find marranitos (little pigs), conchas (seashells), moños (bows), or bigotes (moustaches). Even traditional French pastries such as palmiers adopted a Mexican name: orejas (ears).

In Austin, the best examples of pan dulce with exotic names and shapes are at El Fenix Bakery (6616 S. Congress, 445-5995). One step inside this tiny bakery, and you will buy everything you see just from the smell alone. Here one can find truly traditional, interior Mexican bizcochos – no pastel-colored pastries here – with names like biznaga (barrel cactus), elote (ear of corn), jaiba (crab), borracho (drunkard), and mano (hand), among many other delicious freshly baked treats

Google Books
(Dictionary of American Regional English)
pan dulce n [AmSpan] SW
Any var sweet breads or pastries.
1922 Bogan 27 esAZ, Booths for the sale of soda waters, pan dulce, pies and coffee appear as if by magic.
1932 Bentley Spanish Terms 176, ..Sweet bread; sweet meats. The prhase is only occasionally used by English-speaking people when referring to the particular Mexican confections to be found in border towns.
1967 DARE (Qu.H18,..Special kinds of bread) Inf TX3, Pan dulces; (Qu. H32,..Fancy rolls and pastries) Inf TX28, Pan dulce.
1996 NADS Letters TX (as of 1960s), What I remember most about pan dulce is that it did not seem sweet...I was impressed with the colors and the variety of shapes and textures...Some varieties look like kaiser rolls, others look more like something made with strudel dough.
1997 NADS Letters TX, I am a native of El Paso, TX, which is the only place I have ever seen “pan dulce” or “Mexican sweetbread.” it is an airy, yellowish, mildly sweet circular thin flat bread...What makes it really sweet is the “icing” on the top.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
pan dulce, n.
[< Spanish pan dulce (1646 or earlier) < pan bread (1090; < classical Latin pnis: see PAIN n.2) + Spanish dulce sweet (c950; < classical Latin dulcis: see DULCE adj. and adv.).]
Originally and chiefly in Mexico, or among Hispanic Americans: (a piece or portion of) any of various sugared breads or buns; such breads or buns collectively.
[1852 A. B. CLARKE Trav. Mexico & Calif. 34 Pan-dulce is sweet bread.]
1882 Forest & Stream 12 Jan. 465/1, I sipped the drink and ate my ‘pan dulce’, or sweet bread.
1932 N.Y. Times Mag. 24 Apr. 18/4 We rose for breakfast of chocolate.., and pan dulce, the sweet, oddly-shaped rolls of the country.

Google Books
The Olio, Or. Museum of Entertainment
vol. I
London: Joseph Shackell
1831
Page 164
While all these gaieties were going forward, two or three men constantly occupied themselves in picking their way through the crowd, and bawling lustily “sweetmeats and cakes for sale,” and on old fellow particularly pleased me, by his energetic yet conciliating appeals to the gallantry of the gentlemen present, to purchase a kind of “ Pan dulce” which was squeezed into the semblance of pigs—” What! Caballeros! does DO one buy my pigs for the ladies?”

Google Books
Explorations and Adventures in Honduras
by William V. Wells
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
1857
Pg. 38:
With characteristic hospitality we were invited to alight, hammocks and beds were prepared for our party, a boy sent out to meet our lagging arieros with the baggage-mules, and in another half hour a supper of hot coffee, eggs, and pan dulce was prepared for us by the hands of the senora herself, whom our host informed us he had lately married from one of the first families of the department.

Google Books
A Peep at Mexico:
Narrative of a Journey Across the Republic From the Pacific to the Gulf in December 1873 and January 1874.
by John Lewis Geiger
London: Trubner & Co.
1874
Pg. 38:
Besides the butcher’s assortment of fresh and dried meats, and the baker’s stock of small flat rolls and multifarious pan dulce (sweet biscuits or small cakes),...

Google Books
South by West
Or Winter in the Rocky Mountains and Spring in Mexico
by Charles Kingsley
London: W. Isbister & Co.
1874
Pg. 188:
In Mexico the day begins early with a light meal about 6 A.M., called ”Desayuno,” when you take a cup of chocolate and ”pan dulce.

25 January 1938, El Paso (TX) Herald-Post, “Mexico’s Bread Has Personality; How About a Prussian for Tea?” by Betty Luther, pg. 9, cols. 6-8:
“How about a Prussian for tea?”

Sounds cannibalistic. But it’s Mexico’s custom of giving names and personality to things. Like bread, for instance.

Mexico’s bread has personality. And El Paso’s Little Mexico is just Mexico with the Rio Grande running through it. South Side bakeries prove it.

Mexican bread is in three classification: sweet, with sugar, egg and lard in the ingredients; semi-sweet, with lard and molasses; plain, with yeast, salt and grease.

The sweet bread, “pan de dulce,” is the inevitable complement of a well planned breakfast or supper in most Mexican homes.

14 May 1944, Brownsville (TX) Herald, pg. 9, cols. 1-6:
Another Border Blessing—Pan De Dulce!
War Hasn’t Curtailed This Delicious Mexican Dish; Herald Reporter Tells Where It Came From
By CLARENCE LaROCHE
ONE of the major—but unnoticed—blessings of life on this border Southwest country is Mexican “pan de dulce.”

For many months, new pan de dulce has intrigued me. Where did it come from. How has it arrived at its present state of lusciousness? Did the French introduce it to Mexico or did the Spanish?

To the uninitiated non-Texans and non-Southwesterners, a word of explanation, first, on Mexican pan de dulce.

Just Try One!
Brother, you just ain’t lived if you haven’t devoured a rosca, or a semita, or a dozen or so moyetes, polvorones or chirimoyas. Nothing, pardner, absolutely nothing can touch a heap of oven-hot Mexican pan de dulce and a pot of steaming coffee. 
(...)
VIRTUALLY interested in the origin of pan de dulce, I queries two friends and former profs of mine—J. Frank Dobie and Dr. Carlos Castaneda of the University of Texas.

Here’s what Dobie—probably the greatest living authority on the Southwest answered:

“I don’t know a thing on earth as to where the Mexicans got pan dulce.

“I can, however, close my eyes and go back to boyhood and hear the panadero coming down the street in Alice a little before sundown crying in long, drawn-out quavering and penentrating tones, “p-a-a-cal-i-ente, p-a-n dulc-e-e.”
(...)
No one, to my thinking, ever described the old-time panadero better than Pancho Dobie, and how very many of us remember when pilon (lagniappe) was given by local bakers as a bonus for larger purchases.

DR. Castaneda—A Brownsville boy who has become a ranking authority on the Southwest in Spanish-American history—has this to say:

“You are mistaken in thinking it was a French invention or innovation. As a matter of fact, pan de dulce was well known in Spain in the XVI Century before there was any French influence in Spain, and when the French courtiers studied Spanish in case Francis the First should become a subject of Charles V.

“You will, however, find a detailed reference to the first licensed bakery in San Antonio in 1808 in the fifth volume of ‘Our Catholic Heritage in Texas.’ Pan de dulce is mentioned in connection with the bakery.”

He Wrote The Book
Dr. Castaneda, incidentally, is the author of the monumental work he mentioned. He knows whereof he speaks.

The original Spaniards who settled in Brownsville—as represented by Don Adrian Ortiz—now 84 and who came here from Santander, Spain, in 1887—will tell you that pan dulce is known in Spain.

“It isn’t at all like the pan de dulce we have here,” Don Adrian explained.

“In fact, the current type of pan de dulce isn’t as savory as the bread they baked here in the old days,” Don Adrian continued. “Mr. Thielen, perhaps, was the best baker Brownsville ever had—his pan de dulce was a work of art.”

FROM THE RESEARCH I have been able to accumulate to date, the following opinion has been formulated. It must stand until further work is done on the appetizing subject.

1. The Spaniards—undoubtedly—introduced the first authentic pan de dulce into the Western Hemisphere.
2. The French—in their invasion of Mexico, probably—introduced their country’s elaborate pastries.
3. The Mexican—with their fine flair for simplifying and making a subject better than the original—took both the Spanish type and the French type and evolved the current pan de dulce.
(...)
MOHIETES…
SEMITAS AND ROSCAS…
ROSCITAS, HUESOS…
CHIRIMOYAS AND PENECKES…
TOSTADOS…
CAMPECHNANS…
ESPINANZOS AND EMPANADAS…
(...)
Pan de dulce, in Texas, ceases to exist north of San Antonio. It is popular both among Anglo- and Latin-Americans on the entire border country of Texas and Mexico. To our way of thinking, pan de dulce, if promoted, would prove to be the best implement in the cultural arsenal of the Good Neighbor Policy.

18 June 1972, San Antonio (TX) Express and News, “Mexican-Style Food Reflects S.A. Heritage” by Jane Terry, pg. 2H, col. 3:
Sweets range from the thin, crisp bunuelos sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon (and kept fresh by the addition of a drop of green tomato skin!), to fruits such as pineapple, to the delightful pan dulce (sweet breads) made from many different kinds of dough dictated by the shape of the pastry.

It’s fun to pick out varieties such as El Caracol, the snail, snail shape filled with jelly; La Pina, the pineapple, yellow-colored sugar paste with octagonal design; La Concha, the shell, egg bread with fan-shape design; Las Perlas, the pearls, topped with shiny loose sugar paste; Los Nudos, the knots, filled with a buttery paste and tied in knots; Los Cuernos, the horns, cinnamon flavor, sugar covered; Chilindrinas, the bright ones, round bread covered with shining sugar, and Semita de Anis, anise seed bun. 

7 July 1977, San Antonio (TX) Light, “Pan Dulce: S.A. Has the Best” by Ed Castillo, pg. 2B, col. 3:
Mi Tierra alone baked more than 30 varieties of the sweet bread which is so eagerly sought by local residents from all quadrants of the city.

Some of the more popular pieces of pan dulce are the “pan de huevo” (egg bread); “polvoron” (comes from the word “polvo,” or dust, which is the fine sugar sprinkled over it); “empanada” (Pg. 3B, col. 3—ed.) (turnover, usually filled with sweet potato, apple or pineapple); “Ricardos” (named after the head baker, bread topped with glazed sugar and nuts).

Others: “Florecita” (little flower); “piedra” (rock); “cuerno” (horn); “caracol” (snail); “concha” (shell); “perla” (pearl); “chilindrinas” (the bright ones), and “semita de anis” (anise bun). There are many others. 

BNET
Discover the sweet secrets of south Texas
Southern Living, Apr 2002 by Jones, Scott

We’ve uncovered a hidden treasure: the irresistible handmade breads of the Rio Grande Valley.

Texans are proud of their strong food traditions, and for good reason. This culturally diverse state has everything from fresh Gulf seafood to a brisket barbecue that’s nothing short of a beef lover’s paradise. And let’s not forget the almost inexhaustible supply of heavenly Tex-Mex cooking. Still, one of the tastiest foods unique to the Lone Star State has managed to go relatively unnoticed, and that’s the alluring pan dulce, or sweet bread, of the Rio Grande Valley.
(...)
PAN DULCE PRIMER (pahn DOOL-say)

Google Books
Cooking with Texas Highways
by Nola McKey
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
2005
Pg. 5 (Name That Pan Dulce!):
Thanks to the state’s strong Hispanic heritage, many towns in Texas, especially South Texas, have Mexican bakeries, or panaderias. They provide Mexican-Americans and other aficionados of Mexican baked goods with pan semita and bolillos, and on special holidays, pan de muerto and rosca de reyes. In addition, there are more than 400 types of pan dulce, or sweet bread, many of which look more like cookies than breads.
(...)
pan dulce ("Sweet bread"): Includes most items in a panaderia.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Thursday, January 24, 2008 • Permalink