Norte 54 Offers Pan Dulce for the Seasons
Brie Mazurek, Foodwise Staff
October 30, 2020
It’s the Thursday before Día de los Muertos, and shoppers are lining up at the Norte 54 booth at Mission Community Market. They wait patiently to purchase treats like calaveras de piloncillo, skull cookies made with Mexican raw sugar, along with pan de muerto, light sugary buns decorated with bone-shaped nobs and scented with orange blossom water.
A Mexican bakery with a modern twist, Norte 54 is a fledgling pastry business created by former Nopa baker Raquel Goldman out of the uncertainty of the pandemic, and coming from a deeply personal place.
On this special holiday, her handcrafted pan dulce will be enjoyed by the living in a tradition of remembrance, and offered to loved ones who have passed. “Once Day of the Dead is over, they’re gone,” says Raquel of the seasonal sweet breads. “They are special for now. I want to honor that idea.”
A Baking Business Made from Scratch
Born in Mexico, Raquel moved to Miami at the age of five, but Mexico remained a formative part of her childhood as she returned every summer to visit her grandmother. After studying art in college and starting a family in the States, she decided to pursue her interest in pastry, and enrolled in San Francisco Cooking School in 2018.
This led to an externship and later a job at the restaurant Nopa, where her culinary horizons expanded. “I would see how often Chef Lawrence [Jossel] would be at the farmers market, and how fresh everything we were making in the pastry department was,” she remembers. “Working there, you become aware of the importance of the proximity of your ingredients. I wanted to take that with me down the road.”
She hoped to hone her craft at Nopa for a couple years, but everything changed in March when the pandemic hit, and most of the kitchen crew were let go. Now unemployed and navigating distance-learning at home with her children, Raquel began to imagine starting on her own baking business.
“Anytime we had a chance to be creative on our own in cooking school, I always went back to my Mexican roots,” she says. “Those were the flavors I was heading back to and what I wanted to explore.”
Pan Dulce by Way of California
Raquel fondly remembered visiting her grandmother in Mexico City as a child and grabbing pastries down the street, called Norte 54.
“I know there are traditional Mexican bakeries in San Francisco, but I hadn’t seen anything that appealed to my senses, being raised here in the States with a strong connection to Mexico,” she says. “I wanted to blend those ideas to represent coming from both places.”
Over the summer, she began studying Mexican baking tutorials on YouTube, learning through trial and error, and tweaking recipes to suit her own tastes. She gravitated to a baker named Sergio Lopez, creator of the YouTube channel Panaderia Paso a Paso. “He’s amazing, and a really humble guy who posts videos showing his process. It’s like having a mentor from afar.”
Harkening back to her experiences at Nopa, she brought a local and seasonal sensibility, sourcing flour from Central Milling in Petaluma, and fruit from farms like K&J Orchards and Frog Hollow Farms.
She began offering her pastry box for delivery on weekends, featuring five or six rotating pastries. To reach new customers, she approached CUESA to have an in-person presence at Mission Community Market.
Representation at the Farmers Market and Beyond
Norte 54’s pan de muerto and calaveras will be off the menu after Día de los Muertos, but you’ll find other offerings, like conchas, glazed seashell-shaped pastries in seasonal flavors like pumpkin or cardamom pear, and novias, pillowy spiral rolls scented with orange and covered in sugar.
Raquel also creates specialties like her Abuelita Chocolate Chip Cookie, which features cinnamony chips made from scratch to taste like Mexican hot chocolate. Her Alegría Granola is an homage to the Mexican candy made with puffed amaranth, pumpkin seeds, and dried fruit.
Looking forward to citrus season, her creative gears are turning with inspiration from the farmers market. “I’m thinking about Buddha’s hand, candying it up, and using it in breads for the holidays, like Rosca de Reyes.”
Having a presence at the farmers market has also brought an unexpected sense of connection to her heritage and community. “I remember an older couple walked up, who said they used to go to a bakery down the street that is now closed. They hadn’t had a chance to buy a concha or pan de muerto,” Raquel recalls. “Seeing something representing their culture was really important to them. I didn’t go into this thinking about that angle, and how much that matters.”
While her business is still very new, as it grows she hopes to embed a mission of raising awareness about and giving back to Latino migrant communities who are so vital to our food system. “I think about like the Mexican community in California, and the undocumented workers who are in the fields still working while people are in quarantine at home. These people are sustaining us, and their lives need to be carried, too.”
Visit Norte 54 at Mission Community Market on Thursdays, November 5 and 12, 3-7 pm. The market’s last day of the 2021 season will be November 12. You can also order online at norte54.com.