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To the Province…and Sweet Bliss

A long time ago, during a taxi adventure not so far away, a flirtatious evangelical pastor named Roque delivered me to La Americana.

Though the corner pizzeria wasn’t exactly the “the queen of empanadas” that Roque promised, I was still impressed with La Americana’s fierce line-up of traditional desserts: bread pudding, flan, dulce de leche crepes, queso y dulce (cheese and quince paste), and, most intriguing of all, torta tipo Balcarce (Balcarce-style cake).

Balcarce,* which takes its name from the small town in the province of Buenos Aires where it originated, is a rich bomb of sponge cake, meringue, dulce de leche, whipped cream, marron glacé (chestnuts), walnuts, and almond paste covered with grated coconut, powdered vanilla, and caramelized powdered sugar.

The dessert is so insanely high maintenance that restaurants in Buenos Aires-proper can only approximate it. They literally serve ‘torta TIPO Balcarce‘ because they’re too cost-conscious or too short on time to make the authentic version.

Case in point: the torta tipo Balcarce that I tasted on a later visit to La Americana left out the almond paste and the chestnuts.

However, even in its adulterated form, the dessert was tasty enough to ignite an obsession. I could only imagine how good a real Balcarce might taste, and I continued to search for it on dessert menus all over Buenos Aires. I never found the real thing.

Lucky for me – and for my Canadian friend who’s attending pastry school in Buenos Aires – the town of Balcarce puts on a festival to honor its famous dessert every August.

Last week, we hopped on the midnight bus to the province, raring to crash the festival. Our mission was clear: to taste the mythical dessert in its territory of origin.

Was the crazy cake worth a 5 hour pilgrimage?

After one bite of the Balcarce from Comoantes bakery, we decided it that was.

In the name of research, we tried several renditions of the cake, sampling the versions on offer at the festival and at bakeries in town. We also asked locals – hotel owners, private car drivers (there are no taxis in Balcarce), shopkeepers, and restaurant workers – where we could find the best torta Balcarce. All of them said Comoantes. And all of them were right.

No Balcarce we found could surpass the masterful creation from Comoantes, which is no surprise. Oscar, who makes the dessert at Comoantes today, is the same pastry chef who invented the cake over fifty years ago.

We could taste the quality of each ingredient in Oscar’s Balcarce – the freshness of the cream, the size and crunchiness of the nuts, the delicacy of the meringue that dissolved as soon as it touched our tongues.

Every bite of this Balcarce, my Canadian friend pointed out, combined different flavors and textures: dulce de leche, almond paste and sponge cake on one forkful. Meringue, whipped cream, and chestnuts on the next. Coconut, walnuts and caramelized sugar to finish things off. Excessive and sublime? Perhaps. So good it made us giggle? Yes.

We ended up buying three Balcarces from Comoantes and dragging them on the bus back to Buenos Aires.

While we try to convince the good bakers in the province to bring their beautiful dessert to the big city, you might think about making a pilgrimage to Balcarce to experience some sweet bliss for yourself.

Festival or no festival, Comoantes is open year-round, and balcarceños would be happy to steer you the bakery that’s the pride of the town – and to the dessert that was born there.

Comoantes – Postres Artesanales
Av. Kelly 732
(7620) Balcarce – Buenos Aires
Tel: +54 (2266) 42-2167

* The Balcarce cake should not be confused with Balcarce, the Mar del Plata-based alfajor/cookie company, which bought the trademark and now sells a variety of sweets under the Balcarce label.

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