Cuban heritage baked into goodies at OB patisserie


If you are headed to Newport Avenue to do a bit of antiquing, make sure to include a visit to Azucar, owner Vivian Hernandez-Jackson’s bright and cheerful patisserie.

Azucar means “sugar” in Spanish, and the sweets and pastries Vivian conjures up in this tiny bakery are infused with flavors inspired by her Cuban heritage. They have been satisfying the sweet tooth of local Ocean Beach residents for more than eight years.

Azucar: A Cuban Style Patisserie

4820 Newport Ave., San Diego; (619) 523-2020;

“I was obsessed with baking and cooking growing up,” Vivian told me. “I loved getting cookbooks for my birthday, and I still have all my old Bon Appétit magazines – going all the way back to 1992.”

Vivian Hernandez-Jackson owner chef of Azucar, a Cuban style patisserie in Ocean Beach, holds Iberico Cheese & Grainy Mustard Scones. — Eduardo Contreras
Vivian Hernandez-Jackson owner chef of Azucar, a Cuban style patisserie in Ocean Beach, holds Iberico Cheese & Grainy Mustard Scones. — Eduardo Contreras
(Eduardo Contreras)

When she was young, instead of cartoons, Vivian watched cooking shows starring Nathalie Dupree and Jacques Pepin. “Growing up, there was no plan B, I only wanted to cook and bake to earn my living.” Born and raised in Miami, she did acquiesce to her parents’ wishes and first attended Florida International University, earning a degree in hotel and restaurant management before flying off to London to study both cooking and pastry at the famed Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School.

“London was everything I imagined it would be,” she said. While still in school, she squeezed in an internship in the pastry kitchen of Claridge’s in Mayfair, one of the oldest and most illustrious hotels in London, and sometimes referred to as an “annex to Buckingham Palace.”

After returning to Florida, Vivian worked at Loews Hotel in Miami Beach before moving to San Diego to teach at the National Culinary School in La Mesa. She moved on to work as a pastry cook baking pastries and desserts for Tartine in Coronado. While she was baking at Tartine, she was also learning the intricacies of running a small business, and that knowledge spurred her to finally open her own place near her home in Ocean Beach.

The kitchen at Azucar is tiny, so many items on the menu are baked in small batches throughout the day, so no matter when you visit, the pastries and scones offered are freshly baked. Vivian’s recipes reflect her training, grounded in classic French technique, combined with her affection for tropical flavors. The Pastelito de Guayaba con Queso, puff pastries filled with guava paste and cream cheese, are a specialty.

“In Cuba, guava is boss!” Vivian told me. “When I was growing up, we used to spread saltines with guava and cream cheese for an easy snack.” The pastries made with guava alone are the most traditional, but the combination of the sweet, highly perfumed tropical fruit with cream cheese is a local favorite.

Patelitos de Carne, little meat pies made with her mother’s picadillo recipe, are brushed with a cinnamon-spiked sugar syrup as soon as they come out of the oven for the salty-sweet flavor profile Vivian is particularly fond of.

Coconut Almond Florentine Bar prepared by Vivian Hernandez-Jackson owner chef of Azucar, a Cuban style patisserie, on Wednesday in Ocean Beach, California. — Eduardo Contreras
Coconut Almond Florentine Bar prepared by Vivian Hernandez-Jackson owner chef of Azucar, a Cuban style patisserie, on Wednesday in Ocean Beach, California. — Eduardo Contreras
(Eduardo Contreras)

Island flavors wind through many of her offerings, from the Mojito cookies made with lime zest and fresh mint-infused sugar to miniature meringue-topped key lime tarts and mango-passion fruit cheesecakes. Her Cinco Leches cake is a wondrous concoction; gluten-free almond cake is soaked in five different milks, drizzled with dulce de leche and frosted with a dulce de leche French buttercream before it is encrusted with crunchy sugared almonds.

Vivian likes to have fun with different flavors and textures. “Every dessert has its own flavor profile, its own special decorations and different sauces. I try and make each individual dessert its own little work of art.”

O’Connor is a San Diego-based food writer and author of six cookbooks, including “Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth.”

Almond & Berry Buckle Cakes

Makes 14 individual cakes

  • 5 ounces almond paste
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cups fresh mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries) or sliced peaches, nectarines, or plums

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream together the almond paste, butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium speed, for 3-5 minutes until well combined and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the flours, baking powder and salt to the bowl and pulse the mixer on low speed just until combined, taking care not to over-mix the batter. (At this point, the batter can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1 week, or in the freezer for 2 months.)

Spray individual 4-inch tart pans with nonstick cooking spray and fill each one with 1/3 to ½ cup of the batter. Top each tart with approximately 1/3 cup fresh berries, or slices of stone fruit. Sprinkle each tart with 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet.

Bake for 25 to 27 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.

Coconut-Almond Florentines

These buttery, gooey bars are delicious and easy to make. Make sure to let them cool completely before cutting them.

Makes 20-24 squares

Cookie Crust:

  • 21/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 31/3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour

Coconut-Almond Topping:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 8 ounces sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a rimmed, half-sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray.

For the cookie crust: With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg and egg yolk, just until combined. Add the salt and flour, beating on low speed until the mixture forms a soft dough. Press the dough into the pan in an even layer. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until the cookie dough is firm and light golden brown.

While the cookie crust is baking, prepare the coconut-almond topping: Combine the cream, honey, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan stirring until melted over medium-high heat. Stir in the coconut and sliced almonds. Pour over the pre-baked cookie crust, spreading it evenly. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. When cool, cut into 20 to 24 squares.

Iberico Cheese & Grainy Mustard Scones

These savory scones are delicious freshly baked. The dough can also be scooped into ½-cup portions and frozen until needed.

Makes about 2 dozen small scones

  • 41/2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
  • 11/2 sticks (12 ounces) cold, unsalted butter chopped into 1-inch dice
  • 2 cups shredded Queso Iberico cheese
  • ½ cup Guilden’s Spicy Mustard
  • 3 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
  • 11/2 cups heavy cream

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In stand mixer with paddle attachment on the lowest speed, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and mustard powder with the cold butter until the mixture is sandy and the largest pieces of butter remaining are the size of a pea. Add the grated cheese, mustard, mustard seeds and the heavy cream.

Mix on low just until combined, you can mix it a bit with your hands to finish it off.

Scoop the dough in ½-cup portions onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, at least 1-inch apart. Bake for 28-30 minutes, until golden brown and baked through. (Alternatively, freeze scones uncovered just until solid, and then pack the frozen scones, in a single layer, in a large zip-locked bag. To bake, place the frozen scones 1-inch apart on lined baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown.)