She was all ruby lips, high cheekbones and flowing dark hair. There was a pair of 5-inch heels on her feet and a peacock blue satin sheath on her curvaceous canela-colored body. It looked like she was dressed for a fiesta, but I got the feeling those lovely legs of hers had never seen the insides of a pair of jeans. I could smell her Maja perfume, she was standing so close.
She smiled with a kind of defiant confidence as if to say, ándale [go ahead], stare at me all you want, see if I care. All the while, her large eyes examined mine.
“Buenas tardes, Señora Clementina, that is your name, isn’t it? There is something I would like to show you.”
Dangling in front of my face was a piece of paper. In large flowery writing was the recipe no panadero in town was willing to part with—pan dulce. A sort of sly conspiratorial grin came over her face.
“I would like you to have it, gratis.”
I smiled back, but my middle-aged bones knew this muchacha’s motives were far from altruistic.
“¿Quién eres?--Who are you?” I asked.
“So you won't tell me your name. Well, a-mi-ga, why are you doing this? Are you in some trouble?”
Almost immediately, her face darkened and the haughty smiling María Felix mask fell off, revealing a shiny-eyed almost tearful wistfulness. But it lasted just for a moment. By a powerful but subtle force of will, the confident cool veneer came back to her face.
“I have my reasons. You can't expect me to tell you everything, que no? There are secrets every woman should keep to herself.”
“Ay, si. I know what you mean." I smiled. "We all have our secrets, but I know yours—it’s a man. Hasta lo puedo oler—I can even smell him.”
“Look,” I said as gently as I could. “No me andes con misterios—don’t get all mysterious on me, okay? You want me to put this recipe on my blog, right?”
“Sí, quiero que lo mire todo el mundo—I want the whole world to see it.”
“Including el panadero you stole it from?”
“Especially el panadero I stole it from. I want to see him suffer when he sees that his precious secret recipe isn’t so secret anymore.”
“Oooooo, qué castigadora—you’re a tough little torta, Señorita.” I laughed. Only a panadero of all people would consider this the ultimate act of betrayal.
“Tell you what. Go back and make up with that panadero of yours—ó mándalo a la porra—or tell him to get lost. Forget you even knew him. It’s just not worth it.”
“I see." Her ruby lips dropped a couple of inches. "Pues ya me voy—I’m leaving now.” Then she stopped and looked at me with the furious eyes of a tigresa [tigress]. “You know, Doña Clemen, I thought you were different. I thought you of all people would understand me, but I see you are just like every other vieja celosa—jealous old hag.”
And with that she stalked off, her 5-inch heels making tacón-tacón-tacón sounds as she headed to the curb.
“Espera—wait!” I cried after her, but it was too late. I ran up just in time to see her shiny black ’59 Chevy Impala roaring past me. Its back lights grew ever smaller as I stood silently watching them before they disappeared onto Whittier Boulevard.
And that was the last I saw of her.
Who was that mujer misteriosa who walked out of the shadows that evening? I cannot say. All I know was that she was beautiful, her voice was as sultry as a hot city street after sunst—and she was out for the sweetest recipe of them all—revenge. Whoever that hombre is, whatever he did to wrong the heart of a woman like that, I have only one thing to say to you, Señor Panadero. You had it coming.
(As much as I wish there was a mystery woman standing by my gate with a secret recipe, this story is pure fiction.)
“Conchas” de Pan Dulce
4 cups bread flour (or, all-purpose flour if you prefer a denser pan dulce)
2 ½ teaspoons dry active yeast
½ cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/3 cup butter, melted
½ - 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For Chocolate and Vanilla-Cinnamon Toppings:
2/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered cocoa
In a medium bowl, stir together yeast and warm water. Add milk, ½ cup sugar, 1/3 cup melted butter, salt and eggs and mix well.
Pour the flour and cinnamon onto a large flat surface. Make a large “hole” in the middle of the flour.
Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the flour and stir together using a large fork until the dough starts to come together.
Knead the dough for 7 or 8 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. The dough should be moist and “bouncy”. Do not add too much extra flour.
Place the dough in a large greased bowl. Turn the dough to coat, then cover with a loose towel. Place the dough in a warm place (the top of a warm oven or dryer is ideal) and wait until it rises and doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Make the chocolate and vanilla-cinnamon topping: In a medium bowl, beat 2/3 cup sugar, cinnamon and ½ cup butter until fluffy. Stir in the flour and mix until it resembles a thick paste. Take half of it and set it aside. Take the other half and mix it with the powdered cocoa until well blended. Wrap the toppings in plastic and put them in the refrigerator to firm up.
Remove dough from the oven. Cut and shape the dough into 12 - 24 balls, depending on the size you want. Line a cookie sheet with lightly greased parchment paper. Place balls on the cookie sheet and gently flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Space balls 2 ½ - 3 inches apart.
Roll out the chocolate and vanilla toppings under plastic wrap as shown.
Take a bowl or a glass that is wider than the balls of dough to cut the topping into circles.
Use a steel spatula to gently lift each circle . . .
Preheat oven to 370° F. Let the balls rise for another 30 to 40 minutes. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. When they have cooled off, you can give them a light dusting of granulated sugar (optional).