When it comes to sweets and desserts, Mexico has a lot to offer. From traditional treats like churros, cajeta, and paletas, to modern takes on classics like tres leches cake, there are indulgent options around every corner. But one Mexican city stands out as particularly famous for its sweet treats – Celaya, located in the state of Guanajuato.
Celaya has a long history and tradition of confectionary production. In fact, it is considered Mexico’s “capital of sweets” and is renowned both nationally and internationally for its wide variety of candies, baked goods, and other desserts. The city’s sweet fame began in the 19th century, but has expanded greatly over the last few decades.
Today, Celaya is home to hundreds of family-run candy shops, bakeries, and chocolate boutiques. Walking down the streets, the aroma of fresh baked breads and cakes mingles with that of simmering cajeta and candied fruits. Brightly colored displays of treats line the storefronts, from Christmas candy sculptures to elaborate cut sugar centerpieces. It’s a sugar lover’s paradise.
Many of Celaya’s signature sweets have origins going back generations. These traditional treats are an integral part of the city’s identity and culture.
Cajeta is essentially Mexico’s version of dulce de leche, though the two differ slightly in ingredients and preparation method. It’s a thick, sticky caramel made by slowly cooking down sweetened milk or a milk/cream mixture until it reaches the perfect velvety consistency. Cajeta from Celaya has a renowned richness and complex flavor. It’s used as a sauce, topping, or ingredient in all kinds of desserts, from ice cream to cakes.
Jamoncillo is a fudge-like milk-based candy with origins dating back to the colonial era. It’s made by boiling and concentrating fresh milk and sugar into a firm, sliceable paste that holds its shape. Jamoncillo from Celaya has a distinctive texture – smooth and creamy yet crumbly. Flavorwise, it showcases the sweet and aromatic notes of the milk used to make it. Jamoncillo is often enjoyed with coffee or hot chocolate.
Ate is a classic Mexican fruit candy with roots in Celaya. It’s made by cooking pulp from the quince fruit into a thick jam-like paste that can be molded and coated in sugar. The result is a candy with a soft and stretchy texture and a sweet-tart flavor reminiscent of quince. Ate comes in a rainbow of bright colors and is a popular treat during Day of the Dead celebrations.
Cocadas are coconut confections made from fresh grated coconut, milk, sugar, and sometimes other ingredients like cinnamon or nuts. They have a chewy, fudgy texture similar to coconut macaroons. Cocadas are especially iconic in Celaya, where fresh, quality coconuts give them their signature taste. They come in various shapes and sizes, from balls to discs to miniature cocadas perfect for snacking.
In addition to these traditional treats, Celaya is also known for putting modern twists on classic sweets and developing creative new confections. Some of the city’s contemporary specialties include:
Palanquetas are Celaya’s take on Mexican paletas, or fruit popsicles. They use homemade flavors like coconut, cajeta, and local fruits like guava and tamarind, paired with unique additions like chili powder, pulque, and regional spices. Palanquetas offer cool, refreshing relief from Celaya’s warm climate.
Besos de Celaya
“Besos de Celaya” translates to “Kisses from Celaya.” These small, chocolate kisses are enrobed in a layer of candy coating rather than foil for a pretty, decorative look. They come in an array of flavors like salted caramel, Oaxacan chocolate, and chile. Besos de Celaya make great gifts and souvenirs.
Alegrías are a type of peanut brittle made with peanuts, sugar, and lemon. The unique addition of lemon gives them a tangy twist on the usual brittle flavor. Alegrías have a hard, crunchy texture dotted with peanuts. Their name means “joys” or “happiness” in Spanish, reflecting their ability to lift the spirits.
Pan de Pulque
This sweet bread gets its distinctive name and flavor from the addition of pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented agave. The pulque gives the dough a subtle tartness and natural sweetness. The bread has a soft, fluffy crumb and is often topped with extra pulque syrup or cajeta after baking for an extra punch of flavor.
Beyond individual candies and sweets, Celaya is famed for its decadent desserts that incorporate the city’s iconic treats into to-die-for combinations.
Tres Leches Cake
Tres leches cake gets its name from the three kinds of milk used to make it – evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. The multiple milk dousings give the cake an ultra moist, tender crumb. Celaya’s tres leches cakes also incorporate cajeta for extra flavor. They’re topped with billows of whipped cream and fresh fruit like mango or strawberries.
Flan de Cajeta
Flan is a classic crème caramel-style custard dessert with a smooth, velvety texture. For flan de cajeta, Celaya’s famous caramel sauce is swirled into the creamy base mixture before baking to infuse each bite with dulce de leche flavor. It’s served drizzled with even more cajeta for a double hit.
Pay de Queso
Pay de queso translates to “cheese pie” – and it’s as decadent as it sounds. Layers of cookie crumb crust, rich cheesecake filling, and cajeta combine to make a sweet treat that’s over-the-top indulgent. Some pay de queso versions also incorporate local ingredients like candied squash.
Capirotada is a traditional Lenten bread pudding made with layers of toasted bolillo bread soaked in syrup, cheese, and spices. In Celaya, piloncillo syrup and cajeta add a caramelized sweetness that perfectly balances the savory notes. Dried fruits, nuts, and Mexican chocolate are also sometimes added for texture and flavor.
Where to Find Celaya’s Sweets
Visiting Celaya offers the opportunity to experience the city’s sweets culture first-hand. Here are some of the best places to get your sugar fix:
Mercado del Dulce
This market, which translates to the “Candy Market,” is a haven for artisanal candies, baked goods, and other treats. Stalls overflow with traditional confections as well as Celaya innovations. It’s the perfect place to browse, sample, and bring home some edible souvenirs.
This old-school candy shop features handmade treats using time-honored techniques. Their specialty is “palanquetas on a stick” – Mexico’s take on a cake pop made with paletas. They also offer traditional favorites like ate, jamoncillo, and obleas.
Xochitl creates incredible artisan chocolates and confections. They take Mexican ingredients and flavors like chiles, huitlacoche, and avocado and transform them into truffles and bonbons. Their products make great gifts.
Fiesta del Pan
Every November, Celaya hosts this massive bread fair to celebrate its baked goods heritage. Over 200 bakeries and vendors participate. It’s the ideal time to try all the iconic Celaya breads and cakes in one place.
This third-generation candy shop still uses time-honored techniques and recipes to produce Celaya classics. Their cajeta, jamoncillo, and cocadas are among the city’s best. They also create whimsical sugar sculptures.
Museo del Dulce
Celaya’s candy museum pays tribute to the city’s sweet history and traditions through exhibits and displays. You can see demonstrations of candy production methods, learn about iconic sweets, and of course, enjoy tastings.
How Celaya Became Mexico’s Sweet Capital
So how exactly did Celaya become so synonymous with sweets? Here’s a brief look at the factors that contributed to this city’s confectionary fame:
- Ideal climate and geography – Celaya has an ideal high altitude climate for sugar production. The surrounding lands provide access to key ingredients like milk, eggs, nuts, and fruits.
- Historic production – Sugarcane has been cultivated in the region since the 1500s, which led to early candy-making. Bakeries were established in the 1600s.
- Strategic location – Positioned along trade routes gave Celaya access to new ingredients and methods.
- Innovation – Celaya candy makers constantly innovated, using unique local ingredients and creative twists on tradition.
- Reputation – As sweets became a point of pride for Celaya, its reputation spread nationally and internationally.
- Festivals and tourism – Events like Fiesta del Pan spotlighted Celaya’s sweets and attracted visitors.
Together, these factors combined to make Celaya the powerhouse producer of sweets it is today!
The Significance of Sweets in Celaya
It’s clear sweets hold an important place in Celaya’s identity and economy. But candy and baked goods also have cultural, historical, and social significance in the city:
- Integral to festivals and celebrations – Sweets like cocadas and alegrías are eaten during major holidays.
- Family traditions – Generation after generation pass down recipes and candy-making skills.
- Tourism draw – The city’s sweets reputation attracts tourists from around Mexico and the world.
- Point of pride – Celayans are proud of their city’s sweet fame and reputation.
- Symbol of identity – Certain candies have become icons representing the city.
- Traditional craft – Candy-making is considered a traditional artisan craft to be preserved.
- Economic impact – The sweets industry employs thousands in the city.
So while Celaya’s sweets are certainly delicious, they also represent an important part of the city’s culture, history, and livelihood!
With its bustling candy shops, top-notch pastry chefs, and seemingly endless array of handmade confections, Celaya has most definitely earned its nickname as the sweets capital of Mexico. The city has centuries of tradition perfecting treats like cajeta, jamoncillo, and palanquetas. Yet local producers also continuously innovate with modern flavors and fusions. Whatever your sugar craving may be, you can be sure to satisfy it in Celaya – Mexico’s premier destination for all things delicious and dulce.