An accomplished pastry chef from our area recently declared, on condition of anonymity, that Carlota was one of the most exciting things to happen in Montreal in the last year. This is the reason you needed to try the rosca de reyes instead of (or in addition to!) the classic galette des Rois this year.
Speaking of kings, the Mexican bakery’s name comes from owner Mariana Martin’s fascination with Charlotte, the Belgian princess who briefly served as Empress of Mexico in the 1860s. was interested in local culture and knowledgeable about regional differences in food. She always served some national dishes at official dinners.
When we start talking with Mariana, we quickly understand that she is also very passionately interested in the origins of the specialties of the country in which she was born. After studying cooking and baking at the International Culinary Center in New York, then a restaurant pastry course in Mexico, she earned a degree in food anthropology. Since then, she can’t help but research everything she eats.
Let’s start with the essential concha. This “sweet bread” (pan dulce) has the same status in Mexico as the croissant can have in France. It is glazed with either cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate or peanuts.
In the refrigerated counter there are a variety of tres leches cakes (the best you will ever eat!) in individual portions. There are some with cinnamon, dulce de leche, chai and passion fruit. Then there are some more recent creations, like this guava and cheese roll, a tribute to the rol de guayaba from Panaderia Rosetta in Mexico City.
Around All Souls Day last fall, you could buy a soft pan de muerte filled with tequila and vanilla cream. In short, there is no shortage of delights in the colorful boutique on rue Saint-Urbain. And that’s without counting the other products that fill the store.
In addition to her cumulative studies, which also include a diploma from the Rhône-Alpes Higher Institute of Agriculture, in France, the young woman has worked in very renowned establishments. During her years in the United States, she worked alongside Dan Barber’s team in the star chef’s two restaurants, Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, north of New York.
When she returned to Mexico, she learned from the great Elena Reygadas at Rosetta. She would have liked to work at the Rosetta bakery, but instead found herself at the big table, a regular on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Ms. Reygadas was also named Best Female Chef in the World in 2023 by the same list. Nothing less !
“I wanted to work with a woman and I was not disappointed. Elena Reygadas is an incredible person and a super humble chef,” Mariana tells us, in her impeccable French, as we leaf through Rosetta’s superb recipe book.
It was to help a Quebec acquaintance open a bakery that the fermentation pro and her husband found themselves in Montreal. The experience ended badly, but Mariana was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a client, who agreed to sponsor her and give her a job in her café in Notre-Dame-de- Grace.
Already, the Mexican baker-pastry chef had her fan club: a large number of nostalgic Latin American expatriates and curious people of all origins, charmed by the exoticism and high quality of the products. Even in Mexico, it is difficult to find artisanal bakeries and pastries of this caliber.
When she finally obtained her permanent residence, Mariana was able to stand on her own two feet, with the blessing of her benefactress. One day, while waiting at the red light at the corner of Saint-Urbain and Villeneuve streets, she saw a “for rent” sign. “It was a sign,” believes the woman who wanted to return to the Mile End district. It took more than a year to properly arrange the empty space.
Her father, who had long remained skeptical about his daughter’s career choice, agreed to invest. Unfortunately, he died before seeing the result, in May 2022.
You should know that Mariana is the black sheep of her family. She comes from a lineage of legal workers.
In such a context, failure is not an option. Fortunately, seeing the lines that lengthen in front of the bakery during festive periods such as Christmas, Easter and All Souls’ Day, we can say that success has already been achieved, seven months after the opening of the store.
Perhaps because she has had a few obstacles put in her way, Mariana likes to support people who are doing things well. For example, she holds products from the fine food import company Origine Mexico, including a delicious agave syrup infused with cardamom (it sweetens yogurt and oatmeal wonderfully), chocolate pastilles flavored with cinnamon to make hot or cold drinks, fleur de sel de Colima, etc. Also available in her boutique are the elegant chocolates and decadent alfajores (dulce de leche between two soft cookies) from the talented Julissa Hernandez.
The Mexican crown of kings has nothing to do with the classic French galette made from puff pastry and frangipane. But it is similar to the Provençal crown, with its candied fruits. It’s an orange-flavored brioche dough.
Its shape evokes the crown of the Three Wise Men, and the candied fruits with which it is decorated are precious jewels. Mariana adds a layer of complexity by creating alternating plain, cinnamon-glazed and almond-glazed strips on her brioches.
In Mexican tradition, one to three (and sometimes more!) baby Jesus figurines are hidden in the brioche. Those who find one in their share don’t win a cardboard crown! Instead, they must cook tamales for the whole family on February 2, Candlemas Day.