Food & Drink

Something baked can bring the simple things into focus

Does your life ever seem complicated or scheduled to the limit? These days most of us call that normal. As I see the end of December approaching and 2010 slipping into the history books, I decided to take a few moments to remind myself that joy often lives within the simple components of life.

I came face to face with this spirit of simplicity and basic goodness when I had breakfast at Doña Celia, a family-run restaurant in a small town outside of Zihuatanejo, Mexico. To say the least, Restaurant Doña Celia is off the beaten path (way off if you are a tourist). For locals, it is the place for Sunday breakfast or brunch, as that is the only day of the week the restaurant is open.

One day a week, the extended family comes together to cook, mix, serve and share. The matriarch is Doña Celia Solis Nunez, whose hands have been stirring for more years than most. Together she and her children, grandchildren and other miscellaneous family members unite to prepare and deliver food that satisfies on multiple levels. You won’t find fancy foods, but you will find essentials: tortillas, eggs and carefully stewed meats. There is coffee, just-pressed juice and lots of community.

We were the lucky recipients of hot-off-the-press gorditas. Gorditas (little fat ones) might bring to mind a tortilla, but they are closer to scones. The ingredients are basic (flour, butter, a bit of sugar, an egg and milk) and the taste is not unfamiliar, but together they provide profound satisfaction. They were still warm from the oven and perfect with a cup of Mexican coffee (laced with cinnamon and sugar). The gordita can be eaten with butter and jam, peanut butter, cheese or whatever strikes your fancy.

The recipe was given to me in Spanish and I was concerned that when I made them at home, something would be lost in translation. All my ingredients originated in the U.S., which can significantly alter tastes. And did I mention that Restaurant Doña uses wood-fired ovens? I do not have one of those in my kitchen. Additionally, baking is a science that works best with precise measurements. Bread-baking also appreciates a seasoned touch that knows when to add a little more milk or flour to achieve the proper consistency.

In spite of the odds, I got out my mixing bowl and began converting grams to ounces. I was not even sure how the dough was supposed to look, but I did not let that stop me. I scooped out measured balls of dough and placed them on a buttered cookie sheet. Some I flattened out and others I left more round. I cooked them until there was a golden crust on the bottom. The aroma was luscious. I was pleasantly surprised with the results. My gorditas were nicely dense but not too dry with just a touch of sweetness.

It was a pleasure to take these readily available ingredients – flour, butter, sugar and eggs – and turn them into bread. My gorditas reminded me of the friends who showed us the restaurant and reminded me that eating with such dear company makes everything special. I hope you will share your gorditas with those you love. Bring out the coffee or hot chocolate and a little butter and jam. You are just in time to make plans for a spectacular 2011. Happy New Year and Bon Appetit!

Mary Ellen Psaltis lives locally and eats globally. You can reach her at TheRecipe


Just under 8 cups of flour

One-quarter cup vegetable oil

5 ounces butter

1 egg

300 grams (just under a half cup) sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

One half can condensed milk (6 ounces)

Mix flour, oil, softened butter and egg. Add sugar and baking powder. Mix in milk. Integrate ingredients with your hands. Form flattened balls and place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Cook’s note: I halved the recipe but still used a whole egg. That worked fine. You could also put the dough into a pan (like for brownies) and bake it as one big piece and then cut it into pieces. Cooking time would then be a little longer.