Do you remember the first time you had a croissant? My first croissant was on a trip to Europe with my mother when I was 18. We were in Nice, France, staying at a not-so-nice hotel in a dive-y part of town (or so I thought at the time – “dive-y” would come to mean something entirely different as I got older). Staying at this hotel, I thought we were going to get bed bugs or some other uninvited creepy crawly thing. We didn’t get any bugs, but we did get a free continental breakfast. It consisted of a few different pastries and croissants. I don’t know if it was the unsalted creamy butter, or the chunky orange marmalade, or the buttery hot flaky croissant, or the combination of everything — but it was the most amazing pastry I had ever eaten in my 18 years.
Then we traveled to Italy. In Rome, the hotel was a bit better than in Nice, and I was thinking that I might be able to get a croissant there with breakfast. The hotel also offered a continental breakfast, and the meal did come with a “croissant”. Actually, it was a cornetto simplice. It wasn’t anything like the croissant I had in Nice. It wasn’t flaky and buttery, but more like a sweet, light bread with a light dusting of powdered sugar. It tasted like a fluffy brioche or sweet bread. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t the French version, but then realized that it was just different and that I should think of it as a cornetto — not a croissant. Oh hell, it was just as good, but in an entirely different way. Dunked in my cappuccino? Absolute heaven. I was also beginning to think that every country had their own adaptation of the croissant.
After doing some research, I found not every country has a crescent-shaped pastry or bread. But quite a few do. They are called by different names, and are filled or covered with a variety of nuts, chocolate, seeds, powders, or nothing at all. They are unique to each country, with the only similarity being the shape. I won’t name all of them here, but I will mention the Mexican cuernos pan dulce.
It is at La Amistad Bakery where you can find the cuernos. When you enter the store on Mill Street, it seems you took a wrong turn: There isn’t a pastry or loaf of bread in sight. Instead, you enter into a small Hispanic market. It took a few minutes to figure out that the pastries are through a lace-covered door in the back.
Once through the door, you have entered into a large room divided by a retail space and the commercial kitchen where the pastries are made. It’s in this room where the cuernos (translated from Spanish means “horns”) are kept. They have a flakey golden brown crust and are very delicate and airy on the inside. They are very similar to the Italian cornetto in taste without the powdered sugar or fillings. Lined up on the cooking sheet they look very similar to croissants. They seem to be very popular, perhaps because they are not as sweet and are lighter than the other pastries (also, the owner told me they were). Here you will also find racks and racks of different pastries and breads. You help yourself to the selections with tongs and a tray. Once you have your pastries, you take them to the front of the store (where you came in) to purchase. It’s a lot of fun seeing all the different types of pastries and picking out your own treats. FYI: This is not the place to venture into if you prefer gluten-free.
La Amistad has been on Mill Street for 16 years and is owned by Francisco Martinez. He started the bakery with his wife and, over the years, it has grown into somewhat of a large industry (by Newburgh standards). It services the area’s markets and restaurants, and their owners will come to the bakery early in the morning to pick out what they want for the day. La Amistad delivers daily to stores and restaurants in Poughkeepsie. It also has a bakery in connection with The Children’s Museum, where kids can decorate their cakes and cookies. At some point, Francisco is looking to expand his store into a full restaurant and also expand the bakery. On the weekends, La Amistad also has a take-out café serving tacos, tamales, carnitas, and other Mexican fare.
I have never been a fan of very sweet pastries, so the cuernos pan dulce is perfect. They can be eaten plain, with butter and jam, or used in other recipes (see below). Hands down, the best way to eat them is dunked in a morning cappuccino. Ah, I can see the Italian Riviera from here. No, wait…that’s the Hudson River.
La Amistad Bakery
74 Mill Street, Newburgh, NY 12550
Banana and Dark Rum Bread Pudding
Adapted from a SAVEUR recipe
FOR THE PUDDING:
1 tbsp. butter, to grease the pan
10-12 Mexican cuernos, day old, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
4 very ripe bananas
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup maple syrup
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ cup dark rum, like Myers
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
2 cups heavy cream
3 cups whole milk
FOR THE SAUCE:
¼ cup dark rum, like Myers
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1. Make the bread pudding: Preheat oven to 400°. Grease a 9″x13″ casserole dish with the butter; fill with the torn cuernos.
2. In a large bowl, mash bananas until smooth with a bit of chunks. Add sugars, maple syrup, eggs, and salt and blend together. Add ¼ cup rum, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, cream, and milk and whisk until incorporated. Pour the mixture over the cuernos and mix together gently. Refrigerate the mixture for 15 minutes. If it starts to look dry, add a little milk to the bread. Bake for 30 minutes or until most of the custard is absorbed—the mixture shouldn’t be too dry.
3. Make the sauce: Heat the rum and the condensed milk in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly and darkens to a golden brown. Pour the sauce over cooked bread pudding in the casserole dish; serve with remaining sauce on the side.
Cuernos French Toast
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit
5 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 cuernos, split horizontally
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Pure maple syrup, warmed
Fruit compote (optional)
Whisk eggs, half-and-half, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl to blend. Add cuernos to egg mixture; turn to coat evenly on both sides.
Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat. Brush with melted butter. Lift cruenos from batter, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Cook cuernos on griddle until browned on both sides and just cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Place 2 halves on each plate. Serve cuernos with warm syrup and fruit compote, if desired.