LONG BEACH, Calif. — The pleasure of a well-made kouign-amann — a French pastry from the town of Douarnenez, perfected in bakeries across Brittany — is in that tickle of salty butter layered throughout the laminated roll, set against the sweetness of the yeasted dough and the dark caramel that covers it.
At Gusto Bread, in Long Beach, the savoriness is intensified by sourdough and a dose of nixtamalized corn. The combination is enough to completely recalibrate the flavor and texture, to shift the pastry’s fealty away from France and to reposition it as a Mexican sweet bread, a pan dulce. This calls for a new name, no?
The Nixtamal Queen is delicious, both as a pastry that leaves you satisfied and sticky-fingered, and as a challenge to the idea of Eurocentric authority in the bread and pastry world.
Arturo Enciso and Ana Belén Salatino run that rare kind of bakery, unrestrained by conventions or nostalgia, but with a reverence for Mexican and Indigenous traditions. Their xocolatl emphasizes the deliciousness of the cocoa bean in its most basic and ancient form, the dark chocolate crushed and whisked into hot water until it dissolves almost completely and only a faint grain remains.
Arturo Enciso and Ana Belén Salatino started Gusto Bread as a cottage bakery in their home, and later opened a storefront in Long Beach.Credit…Cody James for The New York Times
The drink is not creamy, exactly, but it is full-bodied and head-filling — a chocolate bar you tip back. Warm and undiluted, the flavors open, moving from floral to fruity to tangy in the course of a single sip.
Gusto Bread, which opened in Long Beach in 2020, is part of a constellation of panaderías, including Panadería Rosetta in Mexico City and Barrio Bread in Tucson, Ariz., that have reclaimed the principles of craft baking — traditional fermentation methods, heirloom grains and local, seasonal ingredients — away from European traditions, which never held exclusive rights in the first place.
As with that Nixtamal Queen, Mr. Enciso bakes all of his naturally leavened breads and pastries not with yeast, but with a pancake-batter-like sourdough starter fed with bread flour — his masa madre — and works with a wide array of grains, many of them grown in Mexico or California: wheat, corn, amaranth, rye, spelt, buckwheat and rice.
Mr. Enciso, who was raised in California by parents from Mexico, learned to bake relatively recently, in 2013, using a book by the baker Richard Miscovich and a wood-fired oven in his backyard.
As his hobby became more serious, in 2017, Mr. Enciso and Ms. Salatino moved into a new home a few blocks away where they started a cottage bakery out of their living room and found an eager audience in the neighborhood.
Holiday breads and daily specials have also made Gusto something of a destination. Through the end of October and leading up to Día de los Muertos, the bakery sells sourdough pan de muerto, brushed with syrup as it comes out of the oven and rolled in cinnamon sugar.
And this past Three Kings Day, Gusto sold miniature Roscas de Reyes — rosquitas! — the sweet dough filled with guava, cranberries and almonds.
Though I’m not entirely won over by the whole-grain cookies made with buckwheat and spelt, the delicate walnut polvorón and whole-grain concha, coated in cocoa-stained butter, are a joy.
Gusto’s pudgy pan de maiz, roughly textured with corn milled in the kitchen, and sweet with honey, is wonderful plain. I also like to break it into bowls of beans and greens drizzled with chile oil, mushing a few crumbs into the broth, where they hold firm, and soak, and make the food I’m eating even better.
The California loaf I brought home recently from Gusto had a dark, thin crust and a beautiful open crumb, but with an even, sound structure (not so gaping with holes that it was impossible to spread with butter). Baked with locally grown Yecora Rojo, a hard red spring wheat, this bread kept me company for a whole week, both directing and informing my meals.
At first I enjoyed its chew and malty, mellow tang just plain, with butter and salt, next to a pile of salad. As it staled, I toasted pieces under the broiler and dipped these into runny egg yolks. I covered some with sautéed garlic greens, walnuts and a spoonful of Gusto’s habit-forming salsa negra — hot and fruity with morita chiles and sweet with garlic confit.
Most recently, I tore and fried the last of it in olive oil, then built a sort of panzanella using pomelos, soft herbs and tinned smoked trout. At every stage, in every state, the bread had something to give.
I tell you all this because it’s not enough to say that the bread was good. Because unlike a restaurant, a really great bakery will fold itself into your life in quite an intimate way, if you let it. Because you don’t just go to a bakery, you also bring it home.
Gusto Bread, 2710 East Fourth Street, Long Beach, Calif.; 562-343-1881; gustobread.com
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