Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for a good panaderia y pasteleria. But aren’t we all?
When I open the doors of Good Cake Bakery, it does not disappoint.
Fresh pan dulce and tortas stacked rack over rack, decadent cakes dressed up fancy, that sweet confection air.
One whiff, and I’m transported back decades through time and space to a neighborhood panaderia in Cuernavaca, where I’m a college kid wandering the aisles before Spanish class.
That magic smell takes me, and Good Cake’s perfectly baked, pink-sugar sprinkled Concha delivers just the right mix of airy and sweet to completely satisfy my happy memory.
Inside the mom-and-pop bakeshop, the cases are packed with a blend of traditional Mexican breads and pastries, American-style cupcakes and cake pops, and complex specialties, including their top-selling eclairs.
And always, always a few slices of the shop’s show-stopping Tres Leches cake.
“Tres Leches is our most popular,” said co-owner and chief cake baker Jay Burton. “It’s probably what we make the most of. We have people that I wouldn’t expect call and ask for it,” she added, noting that her customers are an evenly mixed cross-section of people from different cultures.
The traditional Mexican cake is made with a combination of milks and lined between layers of fruit fillings or frosting.
Burton and her “partner in all things,” Edgar Contreras, combined their formidable skills and deep baking backgrounds to open the panaderia and pasteleria in 2017, a year after they started dating.
Contreras is a third-generation baker who grew up helping at his grandfather’s panaderia in Michoacan. The family business, which eventually passed to his father and then to his uncle and brother, still bakes French-style bread, tortas and pan dulce in the state’s largest city, Tacámbaro.
Burton spent more than a decade as the cake baker at the now defunct La Montana Market, where she stepped in and taught herself after her predecessor left unexpectedly.
When the cake orders kept coming even after La Montana was shuttered, Burton, who quickly tired of working in her home kitchen, suggested to Contreras they open a shop of their own.
She makes the cakes. He makes the breads. Both contribute specialty deserts to the pastry cases. And everything they sell must pass the family test.
“I enjoy doing what I do. A lot. So, every time I do a cake for someone, I really try to do it like I’m making it for my family.” Burton said. “If it’s not something I would give to my mom or my kid, then I don’t want it out there.”
Her benchmark is an owl cake she made for the couple’s now 3-year-old daughter’s first birthday.
Contreras’ equally high standards made working together an easy fit.
“When he’s making his bread, and something doesn’t come out the way he wants it to, he’s mad at himself. He’s over there arguing with himself, and I find it endearing,” she said. “I’ll hear him go, ‘ugh, my dad would be so mad.’”
Contreras’s father died two years ago, and though he never made it to Tigard to see his son’s bakery, the men were close, and he called regularly to ask about the day’s baking.
Along with Contreras’ breads, he stocks the case with giant shortbread-based Mexican cookies and several slightly denser Salvadorian sweet breads that leave a rich buttery taste in the mouth.
The bakery, which was still only a few years old, was thriving with a regular stream of daily walk-in customers, filling continuous cake orders, and even teaching some Tigard high school interns the art of baking when pandemic closures nearly toppled it in 2020.
Burton was making about 20 elaborate, multi-tiered wedding cakes a year before the shutdown. To date, in 2022, she’s made just eight.
Cheery behind the counter and behind the scenes in the kitchen, she points to a double-door fridge pasted in cake orders as a sign of their growing recovery.
“We did it, and we’re still here,” she says. “Our cake orders are big. This is just the beginning of the week. It’s mostly birthdays, but we’re starting to get family dinners again, the ‘just because’ cakes.”
The bakery also wholesales tortas to a half-dozen local restaurants, including its neighbor, La Real Taqueria.
As the holidays approach – Halloween and Día de Muertos in the fall, then Christmas and Dia de Reyes in early winter – Burton and Contreras are busy making decorated sugar cookies, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls, and preparing to make the Rosca de Reyes.
Even during the two long years when Good Cake was delivery only, the Kings Bread orders kept climbing.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Both years we broke our own record. Last year we did 200.”
Look for the traditional wreath shaped cakes beginning in November.