A one pound tray filled with Middle Eastern pastries
It’s early on a Sunday afternoon, and the bakery is busy. I presume the time waiting will give me a chance to figure out my order before it’s my turn at the counter. But as I peruse the glass display cases lining the shop, my decision only gets tougher. Inside I find what appears to be every conceivable use of pistachio in a pastry.
1183 E Main St # A1, El Cajon
A lot of it is baklava, cut into different shapes and sizes, some with thicker portions of phyllo dough, or smaller crumbles of pistachio. My attention settles on what looks like a small bird’s next filled with whole, candied nuts. What I’m seeing is called kadaif, its shredded phyllo dough strands thinner than vermicelli noodles, baked to a crisp and sweetened with syrup beneath those pistachios. My order will definitely include a couple of those.
A chocolate-dipped sandwich cookie encrusted with pistachio
This is Shakira Pastry, an Arabic dessert shop and bakery in El Cajon, and when my time comes I learn that, whichever pastries I add to it, my order will be priced at $13 per pound.
Inside the Shakira Pastry shop in El Cajon
As I snack my way through my tin of treats, too often my instant response is, “I should have ordered more of those.”
There’s no one around, but I even say this out loud when I try the awamat, Levantine balls very much like sugar glazed donut holes, except perfectly crisp on the outside with an almost creamy, doughy center. Similar, but ridged like a churro and twisted into a donut shape is the tulumba.
Anybody know the name of this coconut and pistachio sweet?
I say it again about the zenod el set, a pastry roll encrusted with pistachio crumbs that resembles a baklava roll, but it filled with a mild cream cheese. I say it about half the cookies I try, whether they’re coated in chocolate, pistachios, or coconut, whether they’re filled with chocolate crème, strawberry, or apricot jelly. And again about a coconut pastry, which looks like Turkish delight but tastes like an Almond Joy candy bar, minus the chocolate, with almonds swapped out for — you guessed it — more pistachios.
Cookie pans fill a glass counter of Shakira Pastry
A lot of the above ingredients appear and reappear often in different combinations, typically flavored by sugar syrup, honey, and/or rosewater. And I grant you, these sweeteners may not sound super exciting to modern candy lovers accustomed to whatever it is that makes Skittles tick. But I’m here to testify, there is great joy to be mined in the Middle Eastern dessert shops of El Cajon. After the first floral-infused pastry hit my palate, I didn’t want it to stop.
Bird nest like kadaif (shredded phyllo dough) pastries filled with candies pistachios
In other words, I should have ordered more of that, too. Which means, sorry waistline, but ordering an entire pound of Shakira pastries wasn’t enough.