The Bilbao of 1852 stretched no further than the confines of the Old City. That year, on Bidebarrieta Street, precisely the same street he lived on, Ildefonso Arrese opened his first shop. Later, it was joined by a location in Atxuri, one on Estación Street (now Navarra), and one on Gran Vía, the youngest and the only one of the three that endured the ravages of the Spanish Civil War, surviving from 1923 until now.
We normally go to any of their six stores, some of which have recently opened. All of them offer the same delicacies, but the store at Gran Vía is our preference. At this historic place, with its marble counters and solid wood shelves, you feel the enchantment of its golden age.
Mrs. Carmen Orueta Arrese is the current heir and owner, and, faithful to the family tradition, she continued offering exactly the same recipes and the same 100% handmade preparations.
Arrese is famous in the capital for their Russian cakes or “moscovitas,” with which the empress Eugenia of Montijo regaled the Russian Czar. These cakes, for as noble as they are, are prepared with three basic ingredients: eggs, meringue, and butter. Other regular customers advocate for their chocolate truffles — on top of the traditional flavors, like creme and chocolate with cognac, they also recommend the creme truffle with essence of orange liqueur and another with an essence of creme of coffee. But there are other fans, like in our case, who come from time to time eager to get their hands on Arrese’s irregular chocolate palmera pastries.
No two are alike, so it’s a lottery to see which one the clerk will wrap up for you, and it’s a fight with your friends to see which you’ll end up with. The puff pastry is thick, toasted and crispy, with a present but not overwhelmingly sweet buttery flavor. The dark chocolate is in a fairly visible layer and has a texture like fondant, but not too sweet. But it’s both of them together, their union, that makes the magic happen. And we don’t know how, in its cooking, a very thin layer of caramel gets created, almost imperceptible by a novice but necessary for die-hard fans, since this detail plays a part in of most of our sins.
Yes, we’re addicted — take this very seriously. We confess to have come here in the rain to have palmeras for breakfast, returned a few hours later to eat palmeras, and finished by running before they closed because nothing sounds better to us than ending the day eating palmeras.
Hours: From 9am to 9pm every day
Text: Lucía Gomez Meca
Photos: Borja Llobregat