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The Secret Life Of A Traditional Mexican Bakery. Part 1

Pan_Dia3_6 We seldom get the chance to put a face on the  anonymous  heroes who made our modern life so simple.

It is actually sad that we are so familiar with celebrity cooks but we don’t know the name of the baker who wakes up every day at dawn to make sure we get freshly baked bread on our tables.

As a part of a research project I’m currently working on, I decided to step into the fascinating world of traditional bakeries.

And I don’t mean your typical high street boutique-bakery, I mean good old fashion family bakeries with flour covered floors, where employees have become family and costumers are friends. The real deal.

IMG_3805The bread-loving city of Puebla (my hometown) is located in a vast valley surrounded by volcanoes in the heart of Mexico.

Unlike other colonial cities, there was no pre-columbian urban settlement in this region, so Puebla was entirely built by Spanish immigrants.

Wheat was one of the crops that was successfully introduced, other colonial crops include apples, pears, peaches, carrots, onions and garlic, to mention some.

Pan_Dia4_3But it was the humble wheat that came to become the star of an epic tale involving the colonial rural nobility, political and agricultural empires and of course: a gastronomic fusion.

In what is now known as “the old city of Puebla” there are many traditional bakeries, and numerous workshops that still produce decorative glazed ceramic, pottery.

Pan_Dia1_1I approached the owner (and master baker) of a very well-known bakery called “Hornito de San Francisco” (San Francisco’s little oven) to kindly ask if I could join the bakers for a week for a sort of apprenticeship.

I explained to him that what I needed to find was not available in book or archive but within the walls of a real traditional bakery. He told me to come back next day, apron on and hair covered. That was it.

The Bakery.

The Velez family has a 50 year tradition of baking, three generations have built a business of which they all feel proud. Young and old family members can be seen throughout the day taking shifts, helping with all sorts of tasks such as: baking, selling, and cleaning. Laughter and good humour ease all the hard work that goes on in there.

 Pan_Dia1_21The Bread.

The star product is the “Torta de Agua” (“water bun”) a small crusty bun with a moist open structure similar to ciabatta and a tangy aftertaste, a staple bread since colonial times.

They also produce an enormous variety of pastries which has undergone slow but constant variations, most of them determined by the clientele’s tastes and preferences.

Some history:

During the early years of bread production in colonial Puebla only savoury bread was sold, and there were only two types, one being of a higher quality than the other.

The “good bread” (also called French bread) was made with refined white flour, water, salt, lard and very little yeast with a prolonged fermentation. By enriching this dough with eggs and butter, colonial bakers also produced round buns.

Pan_Dia5_27

Here Don Jorge Velez and I are sugar coating “apasteladas”.

The second type of bread was made with an inferior quality of flour, a mix of low quality grains and bran.This flour was then used to make cemitas and pan baxo or “pambazo”, sold at very convenient prices.

Pambazos, cemitas and tortas de agua are still immensely popular in Puebla to this day.

End of Part 1.
Next time I’ll share with you more about some of the types of pastries I had the chance to learn how to prepare. I’ll introduce the fantastic team of bakers who single handedly produce literally thousands of breads everyday that go straight to high end restaurants, hotels and of course make their way to hundreds of homes and lunch boxes.
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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: The secret life of a traditional Mexican bakery part 2. | How To Be The Hero Of Your Own Kitchen

  2. Pingback: The secret life of a traditional Mexican bakery final part | How To Be The Hero Of Your Own Kitchen

  3. Pingback: The microbakery business model: nerd style. Part 1 | How to be the hero of your own kitchen!

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