My favorite part of the day is when the sun has just come up and the day is full of promises. My typically morning starts with a run followed by my favorite meal of the day… Oh how I live for breakfast.
If cheesy hot chocolate, fresh yucca rolls, and cinnamon pastries are your thing, then a trip inside Panaderia y Pasteleria de San Juan is just what the doctor ordered to start your day. If they are not, still keep reading because Ecuadorian breakfast is about to be.
About the time I normally hit the road, eight women are hard at work from 6 a.m. until the sun sets Monday through Saturday in the basement kitchen of this iconic Quito café. My family spent one morning in their delightful company trying our hand at making the bakery’s flagship product, “The Queen.” The women produce a daily average of 1,200 of this sweet breakfast quesadillas, but that number can double on the weekends.
Not only are they sold on the store above the kitchen, but you can find these treats throughout Quito in little corner shops, markets, and even sold on the street corners to people passing by.
Stand back cheesy Tex-Mex tortillas, we’re not talking about you. This authentic pastry-like indulgence has kept the bakery in business since 1935 with its few, simple ingredients.
The tortilla is a combination of flour, eggs and salt. Using a generous amount of extra flour it is rolled out into very thin, small circles. Watching the women make the tortilla looked simple as pie. We got the rolling down, but the shape not so much….
The quesadilla filing is what makes the recipe so exceptional. Again, simple ingredients. It contains egg yolk, sugar, canna achira starch (from the root of a flower) and the secret ingredient is a rich and soft cheese called queso pura crema. It’s similar to American cream cheese.
A large scoop of the filling is placed in the center of the tortilla and then five edges of the dough are folded to create a pentagon shape. The Queen is then placed in the bakery’s oven which is entirely built from stone bricks. Other than a good cleaning it has required no maintenance for over forty years. It reminded me of microwave my parents got as a wedding present 30 years ago… still going strong as their relationship and has not had a single repair. Things just aren’t made like they used to be.
After breaking a sweat in the kitchen, kind of, but not really, we got to indulge in our creation over a cup of coffee. Or in my sister and Dad’s case, along with cheesy hot chocolate. The hot coco was the standard chocolate with milk I’m used to, but it was served with a side of queso blanco. The idea is to break up the cheese and put it in your hot chocolate. It will partially melt, and you can eat the remaining with a spoon. If you want to try it at home the queso blanco is similar to mozzarella.
The bakery keeps the ingredient amounts for The Queen recipe secret, but I tried my luck at recreating the process. Give it a try yourself. It’s a great treat to bring to a party, share with co-workers or nibble on Sunday morning.
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- ¾ cup arrowroot starch flour (in place of the canna achira starch. You can also use all-purpose flour)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1-2 tablespoons water (if the pastry dough becomes too thick)
- Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and mix until the dough forms a sticky ball.
- Once you can no longer mix with a fork, knead dough on a well-floured surface until smooth and elastic. About 8–10 minutes, then let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- Generously dust the counter with more flour and roll the dough into a long snake-like rope that is ½ inch thick. Cut into 1 inch long pieces. You should end up with approximately 8-10 pieces of dough.
- Roll out each ball of dough into a circle that is 1/8 inch thick. Set aside until you have made the filling.
- Wisk together the cream cheese and egg yolk. Add the sugar, flour and salt until thoroughly combined.
- Place a large scoop of filling in the center of the tortilla.
- Spread the filling out to the edges of the tortilla, but keep a majority of the filling in the center.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.