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.
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.
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.
I 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 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.
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.
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.
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.