All right, hand over that box of cake mix. Take your hands off the cookie dough tube. You there, with the Entenmann's, listen up. You're in for a real summer sweet treat.
Tucked into one wing of the Ashton International strip mall on Capital Boulevard is a storefront with an unassuming "BAKERY" sign above it. If you peek in, you might notice some maps on the wall, one of Mexico and one of "Mi Colombia Linda," or you might catch a little boy toying with his soccer ball.
But don't be shy—go on in. At Balcazar Bakery, you won't be disappointed.
For six years now, the Balcazar family has sold cakes, pastries, breads, coffee and fruit shakes out of this storefront, and built a loyal following among Triangle Latinos. But the store isn't all empanadas and flan: the husband and wife team of Jaime and Jasmith Balcazar have their pastry bases covered. They offer international styles ("lines," they call them) of sweets in three large cases and two upright glass stands. The American line has strawberry shortcake; the French has Napoleons and mousse au chocolat; the Italian has sinfully good tiramisu; and the Colombian section features traditional cheese breads like pandebonos, in the shape of a donut, and buñuelos, slightly larger than a golf ball.
"We love more salt than sweet," says Jasmith, who manages the business end of things. "We usually eat coffee or chocolate with all of this," she says, pointing to the shelf of Colombian breads.
The Balcazar family is from the Tunjuelito section of Bogota, Colombia, where Jaime, the maestros pasteleros, went to pastry school and later owned his first bakery. After managing two bakeries in New York, he was hired as pastry chef at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, then opened Balcazar Bakery. Dad has passed on his trade secrets; their four children probably know more about baking than a first-year culinary student. The youngest, 6, cracks eggs and measures sugar. The older three—13, 14 and 18—have learned to decorate the cakes; as I stand at the counter ordering pastry after pastry, the oldest brings out an elaborate white and green 8-inch round he's just finished.
A traditionalist, Jaime deems his favorite item in the store to be the Linzer torte. His wife, the romantic, prefers a guava and cheese pastry called Romeo and Juliet. Jaime is quick to share a photo album of cakes he's designed. They range from rainbow-colored children's birthday cakes to elegant multitiered fondant cakes for weddings and quinceañera. A lovely sample cake with fondant calla lilies sits on a high shelf; it could compete with a Martha Stewart design any day.
The tres leches cake is their specialty (it's so well known they don't waste valuable glass-case space, so just ask for it), and the prepared slices come with one layer of peach and one strawberry. They can customize a whole cake (Jasmith recommends pineapple and coconut fillings), and at only $20, you don't need a special occasion.
For anyone driving down Capital Boulevard to get to work downtown, it's a quick stop by Balcazar for a 9 a.m. coffee and the best flaky elephant ear this side of Paris. Or if your waistline has been feeling a little snug, go for the $2.75 mango shake—and see if the boy with the soccer ball will play a little keep-away.
Balcazar Bakery is located at 4020 Capital Blvd. in Raleigh, just south of the U.S. 1 and 401 split, in the Ashton International shopping center; 878-5120.