Editor’s note: It’s Sweets Week here at Culinary Backstreets, and to get things started, our Mexico City correspondent introduces us to one of the city’s legendary sweets shops, where every single candy and cookie is made in-house.
Mexican sweets might not be as world-famous as those from the U.S., France or Switzerland, but judging by the enormous variety of pastry, candy and chocolate made and consumed domestically, Mexicans have an insatiable sweet tooth. And chocolate, of course, is one of Mexico’s gifts to the world.
The Mexican love for spicy food goes all the way to candy. At almost every corner in Mexico City one can find booths that sell all types of sweets, but the selection of spicy candy dominates most of the displays. There are mango-flavored lollipops covered with a thick layer of chili powder, tamarind bars and pastes mixed with sugar and peppers, and even fresh fruit sprinkled with salt, lime juice and chili powder.
As large as this segment of Mexican candy is, we wanted to explore the traditional side of sweets in Mexico. And the best place to do this was La Dulcería de Celaya, a candy store that opened its doors in 1874. Dulcería de Celaya’s interior – the French mirrors covering the walls, handmade wooden displays, green floor tiles and even the sign – hasn’t changed for more than 100 years.
What has changed over the years is where the candy comes from. La Dulcería de Celaya was founded by the Guizar family with the idea of selling candy from all over Mexico under one roof. Over time, however, the family began producing their own candy in the basement of the store. Today, every single candy, cookie and cake on display is produced in the company’s own factory. Production has outgrown the basement workshop, but we were assured that all the sweets are still made in the same artisanal way, following recipes that have been used for more than 100 years.
Of the many candies sold by Dulcería de Celaya, we think the aleluyas are the best. Aleluyas are small, round candies made from either pecans, dates, pine nuts, almonds or milk. Pine nut is our favorite. Other traditional candies are mazapanes, made with peanut paste; alegrías, bars made from amaranth seeds held together with honey; cocadas, made with coconut flakes; bollitos, rolls of candied fruit such as guava or strawberry; camotes, traditional sweet potato candy from the state of Puebla; and cajeta candies, made with caramelized goat’s milk from Celaya in the state of Guanajuato. And, of course, there’s also tamarind candy, offered here in two versions, sweet and spicy. To make traditional candied fruit, the fruit is boiled with piloncillo, unrefined cane sugar, and then dried. Chocolate, probably the most traditional of all sweets in Mexico, is sold here in the form of truffles and enjambres (balls of chocolate and pecans), covering marshmallows and in tarts, cakes and cookies. Fruit tarts, butter and lard cookies, flans and tres leches cakes also line the displays of this magnificent sweets paradise, a place where history is as essential an ingredient as sugar.