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Mexico meets Greece for holiday treats

by Tom Hanchett

Porfirio Armenta with rosca de reyes, left; Martin Rojas with vasilopita, right.
Porfirio Armenta with rosca de reyes, left; Martin Rojas with vasilopita, right.

Christmas may be upon us, but holiday baking is just beginning at New York Pastries & Pasteleria off South Boulevard near Woodlawn Road.

At age 15 Martin Rojas journeyed alone from Tlaxcala, Mexico to New York City where he found work cleaning a Greek bakery. “I never imagined I would be a baker,” he recalls.

His boss recognized a willingness to learn and work hard. He taught Martin to make butter cookies. Then came the Greek braided shortbread called koulouraki, and kourabiedes cookies dusted with powdered sugar and many more. “We worked together nearly 20 years,” says Rojas, his sales assistant Ivon Lopez helping supply some English words. “I looked up to him as a father, my teacher.”

Two years ago the opportunity came to open his own bakery in Charlotte with associate Porfirio Armenta. “Everything is peaceful here,” says Rojas with the joy of a former New Yorker. His NY Pastries & Pasteleria celebrates Greek and also Mexican foodways.

This week he bakes special holiday sweets — in both traditions.

Rosca de reyes is a Mexican ring cake flavored with fruit. It’s eaten on January 6, the date that the Wise Men reached the Christ Child. A small white baby doll is baked into each cake. If it turns up in your slice you must throw a party for your fellow eaters on Candlemas, February 2, the day that Roman Catholics believe baby Jesus was first taken to church.

Vasilopita, from Greece, is more bread-like. It’s eaten on January 1, St. Basil’s day in the Greek Orthodox church, the date when Greeks traditionally open Christmas presents.

Rojas bakes a dime into each vasilopita. If you find it in your slice, you will enjoy good luck throughout the year.

New York Pastries & Pasteleria

Martin Rojas learned to make (left to right) butter cookies, koulouraki and kourabiedes in NYC.
Martin Rojas learned to make (left to right) butter cookies, koulouraki and kourabiedes in NYC.

Monday – Saturday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

221 E. Exmore St. at Old Pineville Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28217
(704) 900-5944

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