Mariela Camacho bakes the pastries of her youth — but with better ingredients and Washington flavors — and finds community through her increasingly popular pop-up bakery Comadre Panadería.
The idea of the “Seattle Freeze” is so pervasive it even has a Wikipedia page. And whether you believe in it or not, maybe the answer for how to combat loneliness — which, isn’t that really what the “freeze” is about? — is pastry. Just ask Mariela Camacho.
Camacho is a baker who moved to Seattle four years ago from Austin, Texas. She grew up in San Antonio, the child of Mexican immigrants, and describes Texas all at once as a “wild state” and a “weird place,” in her mind very different from Seattle.
“It’s really hard there. Seattle was the opposite, and I needed the opposite of Texas,” she says over tea one morning at Broadcast Coffee in the Central District.
Ever since moving here, she says she’s been trying to find herself in the city.
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She put together the opening menu for Hotel Albatross in Ballard; made the bread and pasta for hip Pioneer Square bar Damn the Weather; and up until this past July was working at Amandine Bakeshop, the pocket-sized bakery and coffee shop on Capitol Hill owned by Sara Naftaly.
Camacho had been working at Amandine since the shop opened in May of 2016, but by April of 2017 she realized she was growing tired of making French pastries. Additionally, she still felt lost in the city, isolated and lonely.
“I felt so far away from the culture and the love that I had grown up with,” she says.
She says in San Antonio, she grew up really close to her culture. Every coffee table had a plate of conchas — a sweet bread, or pan dulce, with a distinctive crunchy, sugary shell topping — on it.
“Conchas are the image of Mexican childhood. They are everything.”
It was a spark of an idea. She was friends with Conor Mahoney and Ashley Sirls, the couple behind Dorothea Coffee, and she started talking about what she wanted to do; make the pan dulce of her youth — but with a twist.
The thing about the baked goods sold at many bakeries, she says, “is they’re not good. It’s really bad ingredients, it’s cheap and it’s not made to sustain people. It’s just white sugar, white flour and shortening.”
The conchas that she loved as a kid — all with crunchy tops in neon colors — didn’t taste much of anything besides sugar (though she loved the sweetness). A brown concha didn’t mean it was chocolate; yellow didn’t translate to lemon.
“It always made me really mad growing up,” she says.
Mahoney and Sirls were planning on closing their tiny shop on Jackson Street in the Central District in May of 2017 and asked Camacho if she’d like to do a panadería (bakery) pop-up.
She had a basic brioche dough, and a basic empanada dough. A few tweaks to get them exactly right and she had a rough menu, filled with the pan dulce of her youth but with better ingredients and Washington flavors. Comadre Panadería was born, named for the feminine version of “compadre,” a term of reverence and friendship. (As Camacho says on her website, “Comadre is your homegirl.”)
Sure, the conchas of Comadre aren’t as bright — but they actually taste of things other than sugar. Tear open a chocolate concha and you’ll find bits of melty chocolate sprinkled throughout like glitter. The red berry is colored with (and tastes of) dehydrated strawberries; the coconut actually tastes like coconut.
Her adorable little pig-shaped cookies — called puerquitos — are like fluffy, rich gingerbread; the spices inspired by mole.
There are what she calls diablitos — a spicy hand-rolled version of Mexican croissants (called cuernitos), with a guajillo-pepper butter helping create the croissants’ signature layers; flaky empanadas stuffed with everything from chorizo she spices herself to huckleberry jam; soft little cookies called alfajores filled with a rich goat-milk caramel called cajeta; and sweet canela rolls — a lip-smacking Mexican cinnamon roll — topped with dulce de leche and cream-cheese frosting.
The initial pop-up was a success.
“It’s like, I can’t believe people even care about this,” she says.
It’s not even that people care — people have been coming to Camacho at her subsequent pop-ups telling her they’ve been looking for something exactly like this.
“There was this entire group that was like, ‘thank you. It changed my life.’ I’ve found so many people through doing Comadre; a community. It was extremely unexpected,” she says.
The ensuing months since that first event have been a blur of 14-hour days; pop-ups continued to happen monthly, not only at Amandine but at spots such as South Park’s Resistencia Coffee and Broadcast Coffee, where we’re sitting.
Wholesale accounts have been slowly added, including Elm Coffee Roasters (both locations), Addo and Resistencia. Her addictive mesquite sourdough can be found on sandwiches and more at Damn the Weather and Bait Shop.
She had been renting space at Amandine, but as of early October had finally found a commercial kitchen of her own.
For now, the plan is finding balance; how to do Comadre and still feel connected to this community she’s created without being totally burned out. Her commissary space will allow her to grow the wholesale business and give her time to scout out new locations for pop-ups.
“I want to try to do twice per month and go around to different neighborhoods in Seattle. I want to be accessible to everyone, I want to see what the neighborhoods are like and be a part of that neighborhood for a day.”
She says if she can, little by little, get into these neighborhoods and still feel like she’s balanced, and that people “want this as a voice” in the food world of Seattle, she’ll think about opening her own brick-and- mortar space.
For now, it’s enough to bake up a little piece of her culture to share with Seattle and her newfound community, one concha at a time.
Comadre Panadería: There is no pop-up currently scheduled for October, though Comadre Panaderia baked goods are available at places including Elm Coffee Roasters, Bait Shop, Addo, Damn the Weather and Resistencia Coffee. Check comadrepanaderia.com and Mariela Camacho’s Instagram account (@pan_y_mijas) for last-minute announcements of pop-ups.