As you enter Milohas Pastries in San Jose, the enchanting aroma of fresh-baked empanadas fills your senses long before you can take in the display cases packed with a bounty of the golden brown pastries. They range from sweet and savory Colombian standards to imaginative takes on calzone ingredients.
“People would come in, thinking we were the pizza place next door,” co-owner Mireya Báez told San José Spotlight. “So we started making empanadas with pepperoni or ham and pineapple, and now those are some of our most popular flavors.”
Báez owns Milohas with her husband, Ernesto Prada. Natives of Bogota, Colombia, Báez made her living in finance and Prada was an architectural engineer. When the country experienced an economic recession in 1998, it left them without work and wondering how to move forward.
“My husband always liked to cook,” Báez said. “He had his mother Isabel’s legacy, a cookbook of her own recipes that had all the right proportions and the exact steps. He said, ‘Architecture and cooking is not that much different. I can do this.’”
The couple purchased a commercial oven for their home and did catering for six years, making a wide assortment of empanadas and breads.
“(Prada) learned to make pastry dough like a masterpiece,” Báez said. “It takes a lot of time to roll it and fold it, then put it back in the freezer, then roll it and fold it again. You do that with every piece of dough about four times, and it is very hard work.”
Coming to America in 2005, they initially went back to the jobs they had trained for, with Báez working at a bank and Prada at a tech company. But cooking was always in their hearts, Báez said, and eventually the couple left their jobs and returned to the kitchen.
They opened Milohas 10 years ago, seeking out authentic ingredients and importing what they could not find locally, like guayaba, or guava paste. Prada wraps it with pastry dough and bakes it to make his rich and delightful Guava Fingers.
Milohas carries a range of authentic dishes, including several types of cheese bread, arepas or cornmeal cakes, traditional soups, cabbage and jicama salad and a Colombian version of the tamale filled with pork, chicken, carrots, potatoes and chickpeas, which are wrapped in banana leaves.
But the real treats are the 20 different kinds of savory and dessert empanadas, each exuding an aura of culinary perfection that could drive anyone to try every single one.
The empanadas are baked as a nod to the culture and healthy living, though diehard fried empanada lovers can request they be served as such. The labels in the display case feature color-coded labels that indicate meat, vegetarian or gluten-free ingredients, as well as allergen information.
There are two types of chicken empanadas, with either finely diced potatoes or crisp bits of celery in the filling, along with a generous amount of tender shredded chicken breast that is lightly seasoned and packed with flavor. The ground beef empanadas come with diced onion or potato. They are large—roughly six inches across—and a single one with a side dish could easily be a filling lunch. Vegetarian choices include egg, mushroom with quinoa, potato and spinach with cheese.
Milohas carries desserts as well, including apple, pumpkin, pineapple and guava empanadas, along with flan and arroz con leche. There’s also the bakery’s namesake, milohas, which translates as “thousand sheets:” layers of pastry and custard topped with arequipe, a Colombian take on dulce de leche.
Adding to the authenticity of the cuisine, Milohas sells specially commissioned ice creams in Colombian flavors such as cherimoya, zapote, lucúma, mango and guava, along with Colombian coffee and imported Colombian snacks and sodas.
Johanna Andrade, a regular customer who also hails from Bogota, drives an hour each way from her home just to get an order of the buñuelos, perfectly spherical Colombian fritters made with cotija cheese and corn meal, which she describes as a kind of salty doughnut.
“They are doing the area a favor by bringing these foods here,” Andrade told San José Spotlight. “Doing that in another country, and with different ingredients, it is difficult to replicate all the flavors. But they get the tastes right, and it brings back all my memories.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].
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