In the first part of this story I mentioned the long tradition of wheat and bread production in Puebla, Mexico. This time we’ll learn about how this bakery came to be, and a little taste of the bun production which takes place during the first shift.
A bakery’s biography. Nearly twelve years ago an urban renovation project took place in the barrio of San Francisco in the historical centre of Puebla. That meant that many old and decayed properties were torn down and replaced by new ones, to create a series of businesses and a shopping centre around a park that used to be an artificial lake in the late 19th century. The house where the Vélez bakery was located was demolished too but the business was relocated next to an impressively large Franciscan church and monastery, and the bakery “El hornito de pan de San Francisco” (“San Francisco’s little bread oven”) was reborn.
Master Baker and owner Don Roberto Vélez along with his brothers Jorge, Francisco Javier and Angel, rapidly built a famous and successful business selling pastries and only one type of savoury buns called “torta de agua” –water bun- which has a slightly acidic taste, a firm and moist crumb and a crisp, golden crust. The magic begins. A bakery has to operate like a clockwork machine. The first ship begins at 3 am. The bun production is the longest and most time-consuming process. It all starts the previous night when 5 sacks of flour of 44 kilos each are placed in the “artesa” (bread trough) a wooden rectangular container. The rest of the dry ingredients are added too: salt, malt, yeast and vegetable shortening (lard is no longer used). Water is added to the artesa and the mixing process starts. At the old bakery, Mr. Roberto tells me, the dough would have been kneaded by hand, just like in the colonial times. But now they combine hand work and the use of industrial mixers. Still, it takes up to three hours of continuous kneading plus 4 to 5 hours of proving. Then the buns are baked in batches for approximately 15 minutes per batch, over the course of approximately 4 hours. By 1 pm the oven has been working non-stop for more than 7 hours, a tangy smell floats in the air, mixed with the intoxicating fragrance of freshly baked bread. The bakery is busy and full of people. The last batch of savoury buns is being prepared, this means, portioning the dough into small round pieces of 70-80gr each. Shaping them with a long incision in the middle and placing them in rows of four on a 30 x 255 cm long and flat piece of wood or “peel”. The batch is set aside to prove. Then in under 40 minutes over a hundred buns are baked in the brick oven, quite similar from those used in Colonial times in Mexico, with the exception that they aren’t fired with wood- and coal but with natural gas.
Torta de agua has been a staple bread for poblano families for centurries. They are have the perfect shape and size to make sandwiches but they are also placed at the centre of the table at lunch time. The bakery has a daily production of 7,000 buns. And they also produce special batches of miniature versions for high end hotels and restaurants.
Next time: Pastries.