One magical day, a croqueta at a Cuban party rolled off its tray and fell into the nearby frosted cake.
When Andy Herrera grabbed the besmirched croqueta, it was smeared in sugary, white frosting. He eyed it suspiciously — and ate it anyway.
This moment will be remembered like the day Sir Alexander Fleming left a petri dish uncovered and accidentally discovered penicillin. Because this was the day the croqueta cake was born.
“I ate the croqueta, and I was pretty amazed by it,” Herrera said. “It’s that combination of savory-sweet that makes it.”
Herrera, the owner of BreadMan Miami bakery in Hialeah, lit up Instagram last week when he posted a photo of his triumphant yet somehow troubling creation. Call it a Cuban tiramisu, but instead of lady fingers, this three-layer round cake with whipped icing is armored with 100 crispy, golden brown croquetas.
His post has received more than 600 likes. Herrera has sold more than 40 of these cakes, at $56 a pop, at his two BreadMan Miami bakeries.
This croqueta cake, it is many things: a centerpiece, a conversation starter, a phenomenon, an abomination. Literally, it’s an entire Latin party platter in one compact package. The idea, Herrera says, is you pick the croquetas off during the party, then slice the cake.
The cake below is more than a novelty. Beneath the fried ham croquetas (way more than Herrera imagined it would take to cover it), lies a three-layer butter cake with vanilla and Nutella filling, covered in a silky sweet cloud of whipped icing.
This shouldn’t work. It can’t work. Yet, somehow it does.
A kiss of sweetness brings out the flavor of the savory croqueta. Hit the croqueta with a squirt of lime, and it awakes every part of your palate. Is it a step too far or is it perfection?
“When you’re in this business, nothing surprises you anymore. We needed something new,” Herrera said. “You don’t want to eat the same thing over and over, so you have to put a new spin on things.”
Herrera was the kind of guy who dipped his Rally’s Cajun French fries into his chocolate shake. (His late father owned a fleet of lunch trucks and cooked for them out of a commercial kitchen at their house “in Hialeah, of course,” he Herrera said.) At BreadMan Miami, he puts a similar twist on traditional bites — with tongue-in-cheek nods to his parents’ Cuban roots and his Hialeah upbringing.
Other pastries here are similar Frankensteins. Pastelitos are stuffed with Nutella. He named a combination flan-rice pudding the Alabao (as in “Praise the Lord!”). And crema Catalana with a cake base and torched crust is simply called the Ñoooo.
He’ll wake up his wife at 2 a.m. and say something like, “Write this down: carne and platanitos,” and the next morning will invent a beef and sweet plantain pastelito.
“He’s always inventing,” Jessica Herrera said.
I brought a croqueta cake back to the Miami Herald, and there were gasps.
One of our investigative reporters, of course, just wanted to know why? Why would someone do this? Croquetas, yes. Nutella cake, yes. Together? His deeply skeptical, rational mind couldn’t make sense of it. He laughed.
They laughed at Elon Musk, too. Now there’s a car in space.
Our Latin American-born reporters from El Nuevo Herald were much more receptive. Indeed, enthusiastic. This, in their minds, after a lifetime of watching this accidental disaster at Latin parties, was a long time coming.
The croqueta cake was, in fact, inevitable.
“You’re like, ‘Ew,’ then you try it and think, ‘Oh, my God. This is phenomenal,’ ” Jessica Herrera said. “He has a gift.”
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