LONG BEACH, Calif. — The pleasure of a well-made kouign-amann — a French pastry from the town of Douarnenez, perfected in bakeries across Brittany — lies in that tickle of salted butter layered all the way through the rolled roll, against the sweetness of the yeast dough and the dark caramel that covers it.
At Gusto Bread in Long Beach, the flavor is boosted with sourdough and a dose of nixtamalized corn. The association is enough to completely recalibrate the flavor and texture, to shift the loyalty of the pastry outside of France and to reposition it as a crumb of Mexican bread, a pan dulce. That calls for a new name, right?
The Nixtamal Queen is delicious, both as a pastry that leaves you feeling satisfied and sticky, and as a challenge to the idea of Eurocentric authority in the world of bread and baking.
Arturo Enciso and Ana Belén Salatino run this rare type of bakery, without any convention or nostalgia, but with a respect for Mexican and indigenous traditions. Their xocolatl emphasizes the deliciousness of the cocoa bean in its most basic and oldest form, dark chocolate crushed and whipped in hot water until it dissolves almost completely and melts. only a slight speck remains.
The drink isn’t exactly creamy, but it’s full-bodied and full of head – a chocolate bar you spill. Warm and undiluted, the flavors open up, shifting from floral to fruity to tart in a single sip.
Gusto Bread, which opened in Long Beach in 2020, is one of a constellation of panaderías, including Panadería Rosetta in Mexico City and Barrio Bread in Tucson, Arizona, that have reclaimed the principles of artisan baking – fermentation methods traditional, ancient grains and local, seasonal ingredients – a far cry from European traditions, which never held exclusive rights in the first place.
As with this Nixtamal queen, Mr. Enciso bakes all of his naturally leavened breads and pastries not with yeast, but with sourdough pancake batter fed with bread flour – his masa madre – and works with a wide range of grains, many of them grown in Mexico or California: wheat, corn, amaranth, rye, spelled, buckwheat and rice.
Mr. Enciso, who was raised in California by Mexican parents, learned to cook relatively recently, in 2013, using a book by baker Richard Miscovich and a wood-burning oven in his backyard.
As his hobby grew more serious, in 2017 Mr. Enciso and Ms. Salatino moved into a new home a few blocks away where they opened an artisan bakery in their living room and found an enthusiastic following in the neighborhood.
Holiday breads and daily specials have also made Gusto a must-visit destination. Until the end of October and until Día de los Muertos, the bakery sells sourdough pan de muerto, brushed with syrup when it comes out of the oven and rolled in cinnamon sugar.
And on this last day of the Three Kings, Gusto sold miniature Roscas de Reyes – rosquitas! — the sweet pastry stuffed with guava, cranberries and almonds.
If I’m not completely won over by the wholemeal buckwheat and spelled biscuits, the delicate walnut polvorón and whole grain conch, coated in cocoa butter, are a treat.
Gusto’s Chubby Corn Pan, coarsely textured with corn ground in the kitchen and sweetened with honey, is a wonderful plain. I also like to break it into bowls of beans and greens drizzled with chili oil, tossing a few crumbs into the broth, where they hold tight and soak, and make the food I eat taste even better.
The California bread I recently brought back from Gusto had a dark, thin crust and a nice open crumb, but with a healthy, even structure (not so gaping with holes that it was impossible to spread with butter) . Baked with locally grown Yecora Rojo, a hard red spring wheat, this bread kept me company for an entire week, guiding and informing my meals.
At first I enjoyed its chewiness and simply malty, sweet flavor with butter and salt, alongside a heap of salad. While it was stale, I broiled pieces under the broiler and dipped them in runny egg yolks. I topped it with sautéed garlic leaves, walnuts and a dollop of Gusto’s salsa negra, zesty and fruity with morita peppers and sweetened with candied garlic.
More recently, I tore up and fried the last piece in olive oil, then built a kind of panzanella out of canned pomelos, sweet herbs and smoked trout. At each stage, in each state, the bread had something to give.
I tell you all this because it is not enough to say that the bread was good. Because unlike a restaurant, a really good bakery will fit into your life quite intimately, if you let it. Because you don’t just go to a bakery, you also bring it home.
Gusto Bread, 2710 East Fourth Street, Long Beach, CA; 562-343-1881; gustobread.com