It’s a month today since I arrived home after our annual Catalan adventure and my memories of warm sunny days have been quickly overtaken by bundles of scarves, hats and mittens. But today I am choosing to remember a beautiful little corner of the most north eastern tip of Spain – the stunning rocky coastline sculpted by the wind and sea, covered with a carpet of pines that twist and turn through stunning coves and picturesque seaside villages. A bright sunny morning in Begur town visiting the food market and sipping café con leche; a blustery Tramontana storm swirling around the Cap de Creus or a glass of local Cava enjoyed in the stunning medieval town of Pals with it’s long views over the rice fields.
Just a moment, aren’t I supposed to be talking about cake? Well let me tell you about three delicious places where you can have a great cake experience…. or ‘pastis’, in my little corner of Catalonia.
If you visit the Alt Empordà (Upper Region) of Spanish Catalonia stretching from Torroella de Montgri, the gateway to the Illes Medes, up to Portbou and the French border, you simply must call at Peralada. You can visit a beautifully restored 19th century castle and events venue, taste some magnificent wine from the Peralada vineyards, and of course you must take tea at the Pastisseria El Castell or ‘Salo de Te’. Its curiously located on the cross section of a busy road where you’ll see smart theatre executives in their BMW Coupes waiting at the traffic lights alongside local farmers delivering recently harvested muddy vegetables around the area.
You can sit outside and drink in the sunshine, or enjoy the cool air conditioned salon where you can admire the array of fine pastries and delicate patisserie on display. The catalan style of baking is much more aligned with the French patisserie – tartes, tortes, pastis de queso (cheesecake), and little mousses. Madalenas are a cross between a vanilla cupcake and a breakfast muffin – quite plain but a popular local choice with your coffee.
Sometimes a place doesn’t look much from the outside, but once you’ve ventured in you’ll be treated to an exceptional cake extravaganza.
Secondly, and on the same day, we stumbled into a little bakery and café called Es Fornet in Cadaques, right on the tip of the Cap de Creus and deep in Salvador Dali country. Again, it doesn’t look very glamorous as you approach but I would say it’s quite impossible to bypass the mouth-watering aromas of fresh baking emanating from the doorways – where, incidentally, at peak times you would have to join the queue of hungry customers waiting for their daily artisan loaf or to peruse the many local delicacies on offer.
The assistant wasn’t very keen on me taking photographs but I managed to capture the flavour before she swatted me away! I wonder if Dali ever enjoyed one of their fresh croissants with his morning Espresso – quite a thought.
For my third pastis treat, I must take you to down to the Baix Emporda, a little further south, and onto the Cap de Begur, to Pastisseria Bombó on Carrer sant Pere in Begur. Begur is a chic and stylish small town set on a castellated hill. It’s a gentle town that has preserved all its traditional flavour and enjoys a quiet and prosperous life.
This pretty little cake shop has only been open since June so after staying in Begur for many years I was keen to investigate what was behind the floral bunting. It’s run by a young couple providing bespoke occasions cakes for local venues, and I was served by an older lady who has very nice but didn’t speak a single word of English, which is unusual for this part of Spain.
They bake a full range of fresh bread (pa), pastries (pastissos), cakes (pastis) and even chocolates (xocolata).
On one of my few visits, I caught them stacking up a wedding cake for a beautiful local venue ‘El Convent’. Very different from the cakes you would see in wedding magazines and blogs in the UK, but beautifully created and really reflects the local traditions and culture.
Of all the cakes we sampled on our little holiday, by far the most delicious discovery was the Xuixo, a pastry that wouldn’t draw any attention of it’s own except if someone recommended it to you. And having sampled quite a few during our holiday, I can’t praise it highly enough. I know …. it looks really boring, but wait ….
It’s pronounced ‘suso’ and is a traditional viennoiserie pastry that originated in the city of Girona in the 1920s, about an hour due West from the coast. It’s quite a large, cylindrical pastry filled with crema catalane that is then deep fried and covered with crystallized sugar.
It’s lip smackingly good – and the kind of cake that makes you feel gloriously transcendent and feverishly guilty in equal measure!
Apparently it’s very popular in the region and a favourite of all the different pastries on offer. It’s often eaten for breakfast or with tea and it is honored as a Producte de la Terra (Product of the home country) by the Department of Agriculture, Farming and Fishing of the Government of Catalonia . This delightful cream-filled treat first sold by Emili Puig in his Girona pastry shop is now so popular it can be found as far as Tarragona and Valencia.
If you visit this enchanting part of Spain you will love it. Large parts of the Empordá are undiscovered by mass tourism with the exception of a few of the coastal resorts. You feel as if you’ve arrived in an authentic Catalonia where you can hire a car, mooch around, enjoy fantastic food and wine and create some lifelong memories.
It’s a little like the coastline with its endless succession of secret inlets and unexpected views … if you peel back the layers you’ll find a real treat – and that includes some fantastically delicious cakes.
Love, Judith xx
If you decide to visit Begur, please keep it to yourself – we don’t want the secret to get out ….. www.beguronline.com
The photographs of this blog all belong to ‘Judith Bond Cakes’ and were taken with Nikon D50, Nikon DX AF-5 Nikkor 18-55mm Lens