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Panellet cookies stacked atop each other on a cake stand. Gerard Moral

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A Visual Guide to the Bakery Shelves of Barcelona

Get to know the essential sweet and savory Catalan baked goods and the best places to find them

Forget what you’ve heard about Mediterranean diets being exclusively full of fresh vegetables, omega-3 rich olive oils, and tiny good-for-you fish. In Barcelona, breads and sweets are just as much a part of the local way of eating as the tapas and vermouth bars that hog most of the hype. From the crusty, rustic traditional breads to flaky, sometimes porky, sweets, Barcelona’s forns de pa, fleques, and patisseries are crammed with delicious and, almost as important, very reasonably priced baked goods. Frequented by locals of all ages, the corner bakery is the place to grab something sugary to eat alongside your morning cafe amb llet, buy a made-to-order sandwich for a quick lunch, or pick up a loaf of pa de pagès to go with dinner. And given that there are nearly as many bakeries as bars around town — more than a thousand of them certified as artisanal by the bakers union — you’ll want to block out some time to pay them a visit.

The abundance of traditional bakeries makes a lot of sense. At more than 650 years old, Barcelona’s Gremi de Flequers, or artisanal bakers union, is one of the oldest social institutions in Catalunya and all of Spain. So wherever you’re wandering in the city, look out for a plaque, usually beside the main entrance, that says the bakery belongs to the Gremi de Flequers, or words like pa artesà (artisanal bread) and elaboració propia (made in-house). Or, you can use the union’s handy bakery finder to see what’s close to you, avoiding chains like Granier and 365 that offer less exciting but edible (albeit fairly popular) industrially produced baked goods.

As in most other cities, for the best stuff, head to bakeries first thing (in a late-start city like Barcelona, any time before 9 a.m. is fine) when everything’s fresh out of the ovens. In the early afternoons (in Barcelona that’s around 4 to 5 p.m.) some establishments break out a second round to sell to workers and schoolchildren stopping in for their daily berenar. And while it would be easy to fill up on croissants, Catalunya has its own specialties you won’t want to miss.

Here are eight quintessential Catalan baked goods — plus where to find them in Barcelona.


Illustrated coca with toppings in the middle.

Coca

Sold in bakeries around the city in savory and sweet versions of varying shapes and sizes, coques are a popular Catalan flatbread that almost disappeared after falling out of favor in the 19th century. But fortunately for locals and visitors, they were one of many specialties brought back as part of a conscious effort to recover local cuisine that began in the mid-20th century and continues today. (Catalan cuisine has been protected as a part of the community’s identity by law since 1993.) Typically oblong with rounded edges, in varying degrees of thickness, texturally, these breads most closely resemble a brioche crossed with a focaccia.

The most traditional coca is probably the plain pa de coca, which is thought to have come about as a way to make use of dough that didn’t rise correctly. For a quick and filling meal on the go, look for coques salades. These pizza-like slices of coca bread are topped with ingredients like artichokes with ham or tomato with goat cheese. The most popular version, coca de recapte, comes topped with escalivada, a Catalan specialty of roasted red pepper, eggplant, and onion, and anchovies or sardines.

Find it in Barcelona at:
Forn Cruixent Carrer de Pujades 173, Barcelona, 08005
Forn de Pa Vilamala Calle dels Agullers 14, Barcelona, 08003; no website


Illustration of a pile of puff pastries in a decorated bowl.

Brunyols de l’empordà

Especially typical around Lent and Easter, these tasty fritters hailing from the Empordà region in the Catalan province of Girona are also sometimes called bunyols. Similar in some ways to French beignets, brunyols have a strong anise and lemon flavor, and often a hint of pork, as lots of local forns use lard in their recipes. Available at neighborhood bakeries on Wednesdays and Fridays, when it was customary to eat these to break up the long weeks of fasting during Lent, brunyols are supposed to be a sort of flattened sphere shape without a hole in the middle. But the form, like the list of ingredients, can vary from bakery to bakery. While the origin of this specialty is unknown, food historian Nuria Baguena says that brunyol sellers, usually women, have been around since at least the 14th century in Barcelona, if not earlier.

Find it in Barcelona at:
Forn L’Eixample Carrer del Consell de Cent 287, Barcelona, 08011


Illustrated dome-shaped pastry on a plate.

Pa de pagès

This crusty sourdough round, literally translated as “farmer’s bread,” has protected designation of origin status because of its long history and strong link with another local specialty — pa amb tomàquet, bread (usually toasted, sometimes not) smeared with tomato and drizzled with olive oil. Inside its hearty crust, pa de pagès has a reasonably dense crumb that stays soft and moist. Skip pre-sliced loaves (which are quicker to go stale) in favor of intact 500-gram and one-kilo loaves. But do ask the baker to slice it before you go — only reasonably good kitchen knives (best left at home when traveling) will stand up to pagès crust.

Pa de crostons, a bun-sized version of this bread consisting of a loaf surrounded by a trio of dough knots, is tricky to find in Barcelona bakeries, but can still be spotted (though not in edible form) at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, where the artist decorated the facade with replicas of the rounded triangular shapes.

Find it in Barcelona at:
Forn Mistral Ronda de San Antoni 96, Barcelona, 08001 (multiple locations)


Illustration of a round pastry with many layers.

Ensaïmada

This particular specialty hails from the Balearic Islands — specifically Mallorca — but Barcelonans have adopted ensaïmada as their own, and they’re a standby at pretty much every bakery in the city. The spiral-shaped delights are made from a sweet fermented dough of bread flour, water, sugar, eggs, and, most notably, pork lard, and shaped into a large, flat circle. There are two standard varieties in Barcelona — sense farcir (unstuffed) and farcida, typically filled with cabell d’àngel (squash candied in threads) or crema, a thick pastry cream.

Baker and anthropologist Tomeu Arbona thinks this particular pastry may have originally been a version of challah (obviously made without lard) prepared by Mallorca’s Jewish population. His theory is that after the forced conversion of Jews in 1492 and Muslims in 1501, the recipe evolved as converts to Catholicism made a point of eating the pork products prohibited by their former faiths in public settings. Post-Inquisition and post-dictatorship, it has become widely popular, typically consumed as a morning or afternoon snack, although there are also platter-sized versions sold for gatherings.

Where to find it in Barcelona:
Forn L’Avinguda Avinguda de Mistral 60, Barcelona, 08015; no website
Pastisseria Badia Roca Carrer de Pàdua 91, Barcelona, 08006


Illustration of a cut-open loaf of bread with a colorful, swirled inside.

Pa de Sant Jordi

Pa de Sant Jordi is a relatively new bread that feels like it’s been around forever. Baker Eduard Crespo created the squarish, red-and-yellow-striped loaf at Fleca Balmes in 1988 for the festival of Sant Jordi (Saint George), the patron saint of Catalunya. To create the Catalan flag’s stripes, three separate batches of dough — one made with Emmental cheese (for yellow) one with Mallorcan sobrasada (for red), and a slightly sweet walnut dough for the bread’s exterior — are mixed, left to rise, then rolled out and combined. The loaves go on sale around April 23 for the holiday celebrating Sant Jordi, but it’s also sold in bakeries around September 11, or the Diada, which commemorates Barcelona’s fall to the Spanish crown and the loss of Catalunya’s autonomous institutions.

Where to find it in Barcelona:
Fleca Balmes Carrer de Balmes 156, Barcelona, 08008


Illustration of two empanadas facing away from each other on a circular plate.

Panadó

Oblong panadons are a sort of empanadilla stuffed with vegetables. They originated in the Catalan cities Lleida and Franja de Ponent, where they were a traditional choice for the week before Easter when practicing Catholics abstained from eating meat. Today you can find this handy portable snack stuffed with all kinds of seasonal vegetables, meat, cheese, and occasionally sweet fillings like apple or chocolate.

Where to find it in Barcelona:
Turris Carrer d’Aribau 158, Barcelona, 08036 (multiple locations)


Illustration of three croissant-shaped pastries with one cut open, lying on a checked cloth.

Xuixo

A newer pastry, the xuixo has already been recognized as a Producte de la Terra by the Catalan government. This over-the-top concoction is made with a fine, elastic dough, filled with pastry cream, left to rise, deep-fried, and rolled in sugar. Some say the pastry was born in the 1920s in a Girona bakery run by Emili Puig after a French baker showed him how to make choux a la creme, but local mythology tells a more exciting tale. Legend has it that an acrobat fell in love with a baker’s daughter and gave the baker the recipe as a peace offering after he was discovered hiding in a bag of flour post-tryst.

Where to find it in Barcelona:
Pastisseria La Colmena Plaça de l’Àngel 12, Barcelona, 08002
Escribà Rambla de les Flors 83, Barcelona, 08002 (multiple locations)


Illustration of six spheres in a dish.

Panellets

These two-bite spheres of soft marzipan — made with ground almonds, sugar, and boiled potato or sweet potato, rolled in egg yolk, and then plastered with pine nuts — were originally part of religious rituals for All Saints and All Souls celebrations in Catalunya. Historically, they were baked at home and then taken to church to be blessed by the priest and eaten in the place of worship. But since the turn of the 20th century, it’s become increasingly common to buy these marzipan cookies in bakeries for what locals call the Castanyada, a family celebration on October 31 or November 1. While panellets are now available a few weeks before All Saints in a wide variety of flavors (everything from coconut to cherry), the classic pine nut-covered version continues to be the most popular, despite generally being the most expensive option on offer, sometimes costing as much as 5 to 10 euros ($6 to $12) more per kilo.

Where to find them in Barcelona:
Pastisseria La Estrella Carrer Nou de la Rambla 32, Barcelona, 08001

Originally from the Midwest, Chris Ciolli has lived in Barcelona since 2005. A writer and translator, she’s contributed to local and international publications such as BUST magazine, Afar, Miniguide, and Fathom. Hannah-Michelle Bayley is Manchester-based freelance illustrator heavily inspired by ’70’s cookbooks and vintage cartoons.

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