Why we love molletes, Puebla’s sweet (and elusive) dessert cake
Molletes poblanos, however, are rare treats eaten only in Puebla city for a couple of months every summer. They’re so elusive that some poblanos don’t even know what they are. When I asked some friends in Puebla and Mexico City if they’d tried them, I received blank looks.
So what are molletes?
Unlike the savory version of molletes served all over Mexico—comprising a toasted, open-faced sandwich topped with beans and melted cheese—Pueblan molletes are a dome-shaped egg bread filled with a custard-like coconut cream, topped with a thick glaze made from ground pumpkin seeds and sugar. They’re unapologetically, somewhat cloyingly, sweet, which is why they’re meant to be shared among families at home.
On a recent trip to the city of Puebla, I was lucky enough to arrive at the very beginning of mollete season, which is said to last from around Father’s Day to the end of August. (The exact annual dates are arbitrary, which adds to the breads’ elusiveness; I was there in mid-July and only one sweet shop was selling them.)
According to Emilio Quintana Ramírez—the third-generation owner of the sweet shop Arte Mexicano El Colibrí, where they were not yet available during my visit—molletes are time-consuming to create. At his small operation, one of only a few in the city of Puebla that makes them, it takes multiple days to create this baroque dessert: one for the bread, one for the filling, and one for the topping and to put it all together. His mode of advertising them: Facebook.
Molletes History, Explained
After speaking with him, it still wasn’t clear why this bread was only available once a year, since the ingredients were available year round. And what was the bread’s origin story? Renowned Mexican cookbooks don’t mention the poblano version of molletes. Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy, widely considered to be standard for researching Mexican cuisine, doesn’t include an entry for them. Neither does Puebla y Su Cocina, a popular compilation of Pueblan cooking sold across the city, or La Cocinera Poblana, a 19th-century cookbook considered to be one of the country’s first.
For answers, I turned to Claudia Soto, the fourth-generation owner of La Gran Fama, the oldest store on Puebla’s famous Calle de los Dulces (or “street of sweets”)—and the only place in the city selling them during my visit in July. Like Ramírez’s shop, La Gran Fama publicizes mollete season on social media, as well as good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Soto told me that, like many traditional poblano sweets, nuns invented molletes during the time of the Spanish conquest. “Before the Spanish arrived, Mexico didn’t have ingredients like eggs, sugar cane, and milk. Most desserts created during that time were a mix of European and Mexican recipes,” she said. “And most sweets were originally done for specific holidays.” In the case of molletes, the convent of Santa Clara de Asís (Saint Claire de Assisi) created them to celebrate the saint’s day of Santa Clara on August 12.
The Chiles en Nogada Connection
As for when the mollete’s availability expanded beyond one day to months, that remains somewhat of a mystery. Neither Soto nor Ramírez could tell me. But the “why” was easier to answer. At some point in history, the sweet became tied to that of another traditional, and very seasonal, poblano dish: chiles en nogada.
Chiles en nogada is complicated to make, and involves stuffing poblano chiles with a mix of meat, fruit, and spices, and then topping the chiles with a creamy walnut sauce, a sprinkling of pomegranate arils and parsley. The end result is a dish that’s red, white, and green—the colors of the Mexican flag—and only available while the ingredients are at their peak, usually from July to September.
Both Soto and Ramírez said that, at some point, molletes became the customary dessert for families to eat after chiles en nogada—and that was that.
“We could do it all year since none of the ingredients are seasonal, but then we would lose the tradition,” Soto said.
And her theory as to why many locals have never tried one?
“I think it’s because people go on summer vacation and miss the season.”
Where to Find Molletes in Puebla
La Gran Fama
Av 6 Oriente 208-C
Arte Mexicano El Colibrí
Av 6 Norte N° 4 interior 17
La Colonial de Puebla
Av 6 Oriente 207-A
Brooke Porter Katz is a freelance writer based in Mexico City.