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Torta reform: Las Delicias Bakery 

Inexpensive bakery now offers sensational international treats

There is something so sensual and cheekily naughty about biting into a warm sugar-sprinkled golden churro and having the gooey caramel interior ooze into your mouth. Too often, churros are old, cold and formerly frozen. A churro made fresh from a family recipe and sold warm from the fryer is an unexpected pleasure one you can have at Las Delicias Bakery

Each morning at 4 a.m., bakers arrive at Las Delicias to begin the day's work, creating 60-plus items. Since the roster changes daily, new pastries or cakes appear on the shelves each day.

When Las Delicias opened 16 years ago, it was the first Latino in Charlotte and the first to offer Mexican and the French-styled breads used to make (sandwiches). The original bakery grew into three more shops. But when the recession hit and Latino immigrants left Charlotte, the owners, natives of Chihuahua, Mexico, were forced to close all but the original shop on Central Avenue. In 2011, they sold the bakery to their daughter Zhenia and her husband, Colombian native Manolo Betancur. Both had been helping in the bakery for six years.

But Betancur saw potential in the business. After seeing the success of Amelie's French Bakery (which had an uncertain future when it was first opened as Marguerite's French Bakery in the interior of the Charlotte Plaza building), Betancur developed a plan to take Las Delicias mainstream.

To this end, he hired a Portuguese pastry chef capable of producing European and Brazilian-styled cakes and pastries. While the Mexican telera and bolillo breads are still handcrafted and baked each morning, a fanciful parade of colorful and tempting pastries now lines the shelves of the glass display. Here, chocolate-covered fruits, Napoleons and tarts share space with the treble cleft opera cakes (here called 100 Layer and with the taste of the lovechild of a Napoleon and a tiramisu) as well as Brazilian desserts like passion fruit cake and manjar branco, a coconut pudding often mistaken for a flan. Several tres leche cakes, each starring a seasonal fruit, are served in single portions easily enough for two.

Artistically styled gelatin desserts taste better than they look, while the back wall refrigerator holds whole cakes sold in two sizes; some are sold by the slice.

On the opposing wall are shelves of Mexican sweet breads: conchas, ojo, polvoron, tostada, picon, mantecado and sugar cookies. Most were top rate with singular exceptions: The little piggy cookies, the marranitos, were not gingery. Flaky empanadas are stuffed with fruits like guava or ham with farmers' cheese and a healthy dose of jalapeno slices.

Las Delicias also has coffee and savory snacks items such as tamales, either wrapped in corn husk or banana leaves, in chicken, pork or beef. Recently, the owners had local artist Rosalia Torres-Weiner paint the wall mural Pastry War, about the first invasion of Mexico by French forces in 1838. What the French left behind was their style of artisanal breads and pastries. Betancur saw this painting essential to his new direction since many do not realize the French influence on the baked goods of Mexico. We decided to keep our traditional Mexican breads here, but our goal is to have Americans fall in love with our product.

And this comes from a man making the best telera and churros in town, in a bakery where you can fill up a bag for only a few bucks.

Delicias Bakery 405-C Central Ave. 704-568-2120. Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

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