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When you come across a name as exotic sounding as “Pancha Dulce,” curiosity will certainly take over. What is this company?

It’s a bakery, answered the butcher at McLean’s Organic Butcher, one of four retail outlets for this husband-and-wife cookie company based in the city of Falls Church. Not only that, this small company with its exotic name has been nominated as the best bakery for “The Best of Falls Church” for 2012. That is outstanding name recognition, assuring the cookie-eating public that these are yummy and delicious sweet treats.

The owners/bakers, Patrick and Priscilla Giannelli, started the company several years ago more or less on a whim. Inspired by the delicately rich alfajores, or shortbread cookies with a caramel filling, of her Peruvian family, Priscilla started making these cookies about three years ago, trying to re-create the authentic cookie that she loved as a child. “I couldn’t find one around, so I started to make a true one like I remembered,” she said. “That was our original concept — to make the real deal.”

As it turned out, making the real deal was more of a challenge than she anticipated. “For making alfajores, it was trial and error for six months,” she said. “It was hard getting the dough to roll out without crumbling and to get the rich, buttery taste. We also had to make sure that for shipping, they didn’t break.” Finally, she admitted, they got the recipe right.

“My parents are Peruvian,” she said, admitting that the cookies are a little tedious to make. And now they see themselves as something of experts in the cookie-baking world.

Two years ago, they asked The Local Market in Falls Church if they could sell the cookies there, and with the cookies’ growing popularity, the couple decided they had to expand their concept.

As a result, they introduced the Double Chocolate Sea Salt and the Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal cookies. These, too, became instant hits, and the family baker, Patrick, found himself baking virtually full time. What is a typical day for Patrick? Each one has its list of kitchen duties, but he says the biggest baking nights are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, during which time he bakes about a thousand cookies each night. (Note: Priscilla, who works full time elsewhere, is the alfajores baker.)

As their line has expanded, the couple has been scrupulous about sourcing their ingredients so that all their cookies use all-natural and local (when possible) ingredients. Because of their success, they have expanded their line to include 12 different flavors, but with each new cookie, Priscilla works behind the scenes perfecting the recipes. “I like lots of nuts and fruits in cookies” she says. “I like them to be richly packed because customers don’t want anything skimpy. For example, we wondered how many chocolate chips should be in a cookie. It was trial and error.”

They even did their own taste-testing among friends. “In the beginning, we never told anyone about our company,” she said. “No one knew we were baking because we wanted honest answers.” And as their line has expanded and the cookies have passed the intense taste tests, the couple now sells to four retail outlets—The Local Market, Organic Butcher, Stachowski's (in Georgetown), and Falls Church’s Meat in a Box. Farmers markets include the Falls Church Farmers Market on Saturdays and Westover Farmers Market on Sunday.

So, what exactly does “pancha dulce” mean? As Priscilla explains, “dulce” means “sweet” in Spanish. And “pancha” is a nickname for Francisca, her sweet grandmother who passed away several years ago.

For more information, check out their Facebook page, which is linked from their website: www.panchadulce.com.