Instead of a couch, there are prep tables. One holds racks of cooling cookies, waiting to be sandwiched together with chocolate ganache; the other is laden with nearly a dozen eggs and baking sheets.
Wire shelves line the walls, stacked with plastic bins full of sugar and flour, bundles of cinnamon sticks, and jars of chocolate sprinkles. A whiteboard mounted to the wall lays out the day’s plan of attack: garabatos and garibaldis, Nutella-filled conchas and ancho chile brownies.
“My husband told me that the living room would become the bakery,” says Dulce Monterrubio, owner of Dulceria Bakery, as the sweet smell of chocolate and cinnamon wafts from her home’s modest kitchen. “I didn’t believe him, but now look at it!”
With a first name that literally means “sweet,” perhaps Monterrubio was destined to become a baker. But this is actually her second career: After moving to Minnesota from Mexico nearly two decades ago as a student, she eventually started a family and embarked on a successful career in higher education.
She enjoyed working with students, but the intense demands of her position took a toll. Eventually, she chose to step back. “But being at home was really hard,” Monterrubio reflects, especially after a career spent doing the intercultural work she was passionate about. So she started Dulceria Bakery in 2017, selling her artisan Mexican pastries at the Linden Hills Farmers Market and pop-up events. They’ve been a hit, so much so that—luckily for Monterrubio’s repurposed living room—a storefront expansion is in the works. The bakery has secured the former Colossal Cafe space at East 42nd Street and Cedar Avenue in south Minneapolis and is on track for a summer opening.
At first glance, the transition from college to the kitchen might seem unexpected. But Dulceria Bakery isn’t just a purveyor of conchas and cupcakes—it’s also a way for Monterrubio to celebrate her Mexican heritage, examine issues of identity, challenge stereotypes, and create an inclusive space for the community.
It all began when she learned how to bake pan de muerto so she could set up a Day of the Dead shrine. “I started creating things because I wanted my kids to try them,” says Monterrubio. Many of the pastries she remembered from her childhood in Mexico City weren’t readily available at local Mexican bakeries, as the country is home to a wealth of regional baking traditions. (According to Monterrubio, there are over 50 different varieties of pan de muerto.)
Baking was also a way to address the challenges of being a biracial and bicultural household: The concha cupcakes she makes for her children combine a classic Mexican sweet roll with an iconic American dessert, incorporating both parts of their heritage.
“Sharing my culture came in the shape of pastries,” explains Monterrubio, recounting the leap from avid home baker to small business owner. “I want to bust stereotypes, and create community and awareness... People think all we [Mexicans] eat is tres leches cake and churros.”
Instead, Dulceria Bakery focuses on classic and modern interpretations of the sweets that grace the pastry cases of Mexico City bakeries: polvorones, delectable cookies flavored with orange and dusted with powdered sugar; garabatos, sandwich cookies filled with chocolate ganache or cajeta, a Mexican caramel sauce made with goat’s milk; and garibaldis, miniature pound cakes glazed with guava jam and encrusted with sprinkles. There are fresh mango bars topped with shredded coconut and the ever-popular ancho chile brownies, richly fudgy and laced with Mexican vanilla and cinnamon.
Many items merge the flavors of Mexico and Minnesota, like the mango rhubarb pie made with a lard-based crust recipe from Monterrubio’s grandmother. This blending is intentional, and reflects Monterrubio’s mindset about overlapping identities. “We try to put people in buckets, but it doesn’t work like that,” she says. “Take a trans Latina who’s undocumented—there are many layers of identity. I try to show that in my pastries.”
Inclusivity is another important element of Dulceria Bakery. In addition to creating a welcoming space for people regardless of their race, nationality, gender identity, or sexual orientation, the many gluten-free and vegan options come from Monterrubio’s desire to make her sweets accessible to everyone. Some products, like the vegan conchas, are the result of customer suggestions and experimentation. Others, including the alegrias (a traditional Mexican dessert made with amaranth seed, dark chocolate, and fresh raspberries), are naturally gluten-free and vegan.
As Dulceria Bakery continues to grow, Monterrubio felt that she needed both formal training and a more in-depth understanding of Mexico’s contemporary culinary scene, particularly the current focus on reclaiming traditional foods. Hence, a trip to Mexico this past winter for a five-week intensive course at Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana, a culinary school that focuses on traditional Mexican cuisine.
In addition to her lessons in the classroom, Monterrubio spent her time in Mexico City learning on the streets, visiting vegan bakeries and researching culinary trends. She’s already using her new knowledge and insight—for example, an orange Bundt cake with a mole-infused ganache is one of her first forays into incorporating savory Mexican flavors into her desserts.
Besides expanding her product line, Monterrubio is hard at work transforming her new storefront into a bakery. Customers will notice some cosmetic changes, like a custom-built case to display the array of colorful pastries (traditional, gluten-free, and vegan items will be available daily), plus a bright color palette inspired by Mexican stucco houses.
The bakery will also feature a menu of authentic Mexican beverages, including Mexican ground coffee and Mexican chocolate. Not just hot chocolate, either: Monterrubio explains that there’s a refreshing water-based chocolate beverage served cold. There will also be horchata—both the classic cold version and a hot one inspired by beverages currently trending in Mexican coffee shops.
As she talks about her future plans, Monterrubio says Dulceria Bakery reflects how she’s grown comfortable with her identity as an immigrant. “Several years ago, I would’ve been making cinnamon rolls or something... today, I’m really proud to sell Mexican pastries and not feel like I have to apologize.”
“I hope people feel en casa [at home] when they come into Dulceria—everyone is welcome,” she adds. “This is a bakery and space for everyone.”