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A brief history of cake and pastry making in Gijón

confiteriasTo try and summarise the last century of history in only a few lines is no easy task, but if I had to do so, in particular I would state the following fact: although we have suffered both civil and world wars and their corresponding periods of scarcity, we have never ceased to be sweet-toothed.

For many years our sweet heritage lived on in the household, in the hands of those ladies who -wooden rolling pin in hand- spent hours preparing the pastry for casadielles or stirring a saucepan full of creamy rice pudding.

The city´s history has always been linked to gastronomy, whether in its sweet or savoury expression. But the love for sweet things has always had an unquestionable role to play. That is how we are -llabión- and many people say that sweetness has shaped our friendly, easy-going character and has helped us to be happier.

The city currently has 65 patisseries, the longest-standing of which still open is La Playa, which was founded in 1921 almost on the sea shore. At that time, the fashion was to sell cakes and chocolates in the street, cart in hand. Thirteen years later, La Ibense opened its doors, though only in the summer to sell ice-cream.

So much chocolate was consumed that El Musel was crowned as the port where the most cocoa was unloaded, after its journey from America. In the 1980s, Gijón boasted more than one hundred patisseries.

The majority of pastry chefs in Gijón were not trained at renowned international schools, but rather have learned the trade from one another. I belive that by now few people will doubt that La Bombonera, a prestigious patisserie in Corrida Street that has recently closed, was the best "sweet" school in the city. Others no longer ply their trade, but have passed on their know-how to the following generation. The majority are no longer among us, though they have also left their legacy in good hands.

Some of the city´s most emblematic desserts were created in the second half of the 20th century. The Tarta Gijonesa was served for the first time at a wedding of the Agüera family in 1971, specifically created for this event by the pater familia of this saga of pastry chefs and which La Pondala restaurant made popular through a version with biscuits, followed by the Álvarez Baños Brothers´patisserie La Fé, where it was called Postre Gijonés.

The other major creation of recent decades is in fact an import, since the Tarta Charlota is a development of a recipe brought to the city by an Austrian pastry cook, Friedrich Bacinger, and which, conveniently adapted to the local taste, has become the other emblem of the capital of the "Costa Verde". Federico, the name by which he was known, founded the patisserie La Vienesa in Covadonta Street in the 1940s.

Finally, a truly attractive whole is formed using these ingredients, for which those who rise each morning to knead dough and shape what we shall subsequently ingest are especially to blame. They are worthy of our highest admiration.