Tired of baking French pastries on the Hill, Mariela Camacho brings pan dulce to the people

“It’s also about food justice,” Mariela Camacho says. “I want to give this to a community that doesn’t have a lot of food that is healthy and accessible to them.” (Image: Margo Vansynghel for CHS)

The sky is invariably dark, the atmosphere eerily quiet when Mariela Camacho gets to the commissary kitchen at 3 AM. No buzzing of mixers yet. No butter sizzling in pans, radio in the background, or cooks chopping onions, or bakers kneading dough. Usually, it’s just her and her diablitos (smoked paprika croissants), conchas (sweet bread rolls with crunchy toppings) and roles de canela (cinnamon rolls). One by one, Camacho loads them onto trays that go on top of the warm oven for proofing, the final rise before the final bake.

While the pastries rise, Camacho mixes the dough for sweet buns and bread, assembles pink cakes and alfajores, and chops up queso oaxaca for empanadas.

“And that’s just a regular day,” Camacho says. It’s 11 AM, and she’s worn out after a Sunday morning of baking. Her cheeks rosy from the work and oven heat, she’s loading up big boxes with bread, sweet buns and pastries to be whisked off to her wholesalers across the city: La Marzocco Cafe, Elm Coffee Roasters, Resistencia, Little Neon Taco, Addo, Bait Shop and Damn The Weather. Her wholesaler’s list has been growing quickly since she started her on-demand and pop-up bakery Comadre Panadería last spring.

Her pastry pop-ups, at Little Neon Taco, Dorothea Coffee or Broadcast Coffee, are increasingly popular as well. During her next pop-up, planned for Sunday, January 27th at Broadcast Coffee’s Jackson roasting house, Camacho will be selling cardamom orange conchas and a raspberry/beet niño envueltos.

Comadre Panaderia Pop-up

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The event will mean getting to the commissary kitchen even earlier. On days when she’s hosting a pop-up, Camacho says she gets there around 12.30 AM. Those besos cookies and tres leches are not going to bake themselves.

“These pop-ups are exhausting,” she says. “I’m used to be in a kitchen and not talking or socializing, and then I have to do all this work and go out and socialize and talk. But: it’s also my favorite part. I get to hear what’s going on, talk to people, gossip.”

“Many people come up to me to tell me that they’re so grateful because my pastries remind them of the way they grew up, or that they just can’t find anything like it in Seattle. Some say that what I’m representing makes them think more about their white privilege or food justice.”

And that, she says, is why she keeps doing it. That’s why she’s been spreading herself thin since she started the bakery last spring, then still lead pastry chef at the Sara Naftaly-owned bakery/coffee shop Amandine Bakeshop on Capitol Hill. For over two years, Amandine Bakeshop had been the center from which she had been baking and feeling her way through Seattle, the city she’d left Austin for.

“After two and a half years, it got old,” she says. “It started not to mean anything. I realized I did have a connection to French pastries.” Instead, she wanted to bake the pan dulces she grew up eating as the daughter of Mexican Immigrants in San Antonio.

On the countertops of Amandine, Camacho, with the support of Naftaly, worked out her recipes for conchas and empanadas with locally sourced or organic ingredients. “In Mexico pastries are cheap, but they’re using crap ingredients. People were so poor they had to use shitty-ass ingredients,” Camacho says.

Her first pop-up at Amandine’s, to raise funds for the victims of natural disasters in Puerto Rico, Oaxaca and Mexico City was an immediate hit. Half a year later, she quit her job and started her own business, finally making the pastries from home, this time with flour sourced from Washington and Oregon, organic butter, eggs, sugar, dairy, and oils.

It’s a question of food justice, she says.

“We need to be more connected to how our food is grown, how it affects the environment, how it’s transported. It’s also about food justice. I want to give this to a community that doesn’t have a lot of food that is healthy and accessible to them.”

That accessibility remains a point to work on: “People often ask me when my prices will be going down. Many people also want me to be around more, in different neighborhoods in the city.”

Not that she knows yet how to actually be in even more spaces; she’s already working 70, 80 hours a week. “But I don’t want to be out of touch with people that want access to me. Which means I need to work less, work smarter, and do more retail, more pop-ups.” During those, Camacho is planning to introduce tortillas to her menu. “From there, I’ll move on to a breakfast taco. That’s the number one thing I miss from home.”

You can learn more at comadrepanaderia.com.

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