Hidden behind the basilica, a cake shop in the historic center of Luján where tourists arrive by chance
The confectioner and chocolatier Gustavo Molero (55) remembers, as if it were yesterday, one of the first recipes he prepared. It was just a few hours before the grand final of the ’78 World Cup, in which Argentina was crowned champion. The young man, who was only twelve years old at the time, prepared a homemade vanilla sponge cake and decorated it with granas albicelestes and the iconic logo of that year: the two hands holding the ball.
“That day we all got together at home to watch the game with my family, it seems that the cake brought luck,” he says. After that victory, Gustavo discovered that he was passionate about confectionery. Over the years, it was perfected with various courses and workshops. He was also a teacher. Until he fulfilled his greatest wish: to open the doors of his own business of cakes, chocolates and a cafeteria. He called it “Villa de Luján”, in honor of the city, in the province of Buenos Aires, that saw it grow.
The aroma of cocoa and homemade sweets is perceived a few meters before reaching the picturesque place located at 179 Bartolomé Miter Street, in the historic center of Luján. Due to its location, among old neighborhood residences, the wooden cabin (which seems to come out of a story) often goes unnoticed. On several occasions, tourists discover them by chance, after visiting the Basilica. But the vast majority come by recommendation.
For the construction, Molero based himself on the wooden villages of Bariloche, a city that captivated him from the first time he visited it in 1992. “I was inspired by alpine design, I love the south. Here used to be a mansion from 1890 with a patio and high ceilings with pitch pine braces. When we started with the work on the cabin, we decided to reuse those historic straps for the floor”, he details. As for the decoration, wood and antique furniture are the protagonists. There are also hundreds of vintage objects and buttons that he collected from his travels: from chocolates, cookies and brands that have marked generations.
Gustavo, or “Toto”, as his godmother used to call him when he was little, is low profile. Very rarely do you find him behind the counter, except when a regular asks for him to say hello. Her place in the world is the kitchen: in the sweets and chocolate production sector. There, he feels comfortable to unfold his creativity. “In my house they always cooked. My father, José, was a butcher and had a store. My mother, Marta, prepared some delicious cupcakes and donuts. I remember that when I was little I used to grab the dough to play”, he recalls. At that time, “Good Afternoon, Mucho Gusto” was on television and he loved watching the program to learn different recipes.
At the age of fifteen, he began to prepare cakes, muffins filled with dulce de leche, thin pastries and crumb sandwiches to sell among the neighbors in the neighborhood. “I bought a display case and added my specialties to Dad’s store. Little by little I added my clientele”, he says. One of his classics was the cake in the shape of a train machine, made with a roll of dulce de leche and wafers.
In the 1980s, he fulfilled one of his dreams: meeting his kitchen idol “Doña Petrona”. ” As a viewer I sent him a letter and to my surprise he answered it. At the time, I had the opportunity to visit the studios and his kitchen laboratory. I took bus 57, which goes from Luján to Palermo, accompanied by my sister and my mom, and I brought her some large dry meringues with pastry dulce de leche”, she says. Petrona tried them and gave her her verdict: “Kindly told me that it was a little uncooked inside. I clearly remember, as if it were today. I keep the memory in my memory, “he confesses. But the young man was not discouraged and continued with his passion. “In the kitchen I am a perfectionist, until I get what I want I do not stop, “he adds, laughing.
In the early 1990s, she signed up for different pastry courses with Alicia Berger and Marta Ballina. Then, he took his first steps as a teacher and began teaching cake decorating classes in Luján. In 1992, its first store opened selling jams and cakes. He baptized it “Amadeus”, since as a child he played the piano and is also a fan of Mozart. At that time, many customers came to ask me for birthday cakes. One day I invented the “Anniversary”, a vanilla sponge cake with dulce de leche, meringue and chocolate cream. And topped with Italian meringue outside. I still do it,” he says. Over the years, their specialties became famous in the city.
Years later, the project came to move and design the new wooden house. Thus, “Villa de Luján” was born in its current location. At first it was thought as a pastry shop with an office. Then, it occurred to him to add some small tables so that customers can sit down to enjoy the specialties with coffee, tea and juices, among others. Without imagining it, the weekends exploded with clients. Before the pandemic, it was a classic to line up at the door. Soon after, he added more tables in the internal patio and on the sidewalk.
At that time, Molero also became interested in the wonderful world of chocolate and began to make signature chocolates (both classic and filled). “Chocolate is exciting. I am always creating and trying new combinations of flavors”, he says. There are stars of the house like those of dulce de leche; dark chocolate; pistachios; Moroccan cream and almond praline. For the holidays, a classic is the handmade almond or pistachio nougat and its sweet bread. While at Easter time, many make a pilgrimage in search of chocolate eggs or figures and the “Colomba”, a sweet bread with a traditional Italian recipe.
Alfajores cannot be missing from the must-see list. Many take it as a gift for their family or friends. There are classics such as chocolate and dulce de leche or chocolate mousse. And others, specialties such as meringue and dulce de leche or with quince. Depending on the season, they also offer a variety of homemade jams.
Every time Gustavo was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered: pastry chef. “I always wanted to have my own cake business”, he concludes and recommends trying the house cake: “Villa de Luján”, a chocolate sponge cake, mousse, chantilly cream and red berries.