Lucía Merino’s canelés are delicate, precise, and, like everything at her humble patisserie, hard to come by. “We only have 16 molds, and they don’t always come out exactly right,” Merino says of the custard-filled pastries, which she makes with organic milk, eggs, butter, and dark rum sourced from local farms. “They are never officially on the menu, but we always keep them as part of a secret menu.”
Secrets are hard to keep on an island as small as Puerto Rico, but at Lucía Pâtisserie, an air of mystery prevails. That’s because Merino opens her San Juan bakery for just a few hours every Saturday—from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.—and each week the menu is completely different. Frangipane tarts, sweet-and-salty galettes, and hazelnut praline profiteroles are here today, gone tomorrow, replaced by another collection of sweet French classics that fly off the baking sheets the following week. Most Saturdays the shop sells out by noon. Then it’s back to a busy week for Merino and her two pastry chefs, sourcing ingredients from all over the island and brainstorming another menu of carefully crafted desserts.
Merino’s obsessive dedication is no doubt a product of her training. The Puerto Rican native studied for three years under Frederic Monnet (one of just a few dozen master pastry chefs in the world) and traveled to Madrid and Barcelona to expand her craft. But after more than a decade abroad and a stint under yet another pastry legend— Miami’s Antonio Bachour—she felt the itch to return home and start something of her own. In Puerto Rico, she saw an opportunity to turn the sweets scene upside down.
“Everybody here was doing traditional Puerto Rican stuff—
pastelitos, rum cakes—and I wanted to bring something different to the island,” Merino says. “I had my doubts because the economy was not the best and everyone told me not to come back, but something was calling me.”
Two years later, after a successful Kickstarter campaign
“EVERYONE TOLD ME NOT TO COME BACK, BUT SOMETHING WAS CALLING ME.”
and a few delays (including a three-month setback due to Hurricane Maria), Lucía Pâtisserie opened last December. The long lines of sweet-toothed patrons that snake out the petite bakery’s front door every weekend soon followed. But the draw, Merino says, isn’t just in the intricate execution of each beautiful confection—it’s in the distinctly local story each one tells: Her famous tarts are filled with fresh passion fruit sourced from island growers, and her flaky croissants owe their richness to the butter produced by one of Puerto Rico’s oldest dairy farmers. And on some Saturdays, Merino even offers a new take on that age-old classic, the hand pie, with fresh cheese from Caguas and guava jam from Guaynabo.