This story in three episodes began with the origins of bread and wheat production in Colonial Puebla, Mexico and my transition from being a culinary researcher to become a bread baker apprentice.
The second part focuses on the traditional bakery “Hornito de San Francisco”, its owners, history and the production of its star product: savoury “water buns”.
In this final part I unveil the vast and irresistible variety of pastries produced at the bakery. I participated in different stages of the production, in some cases preparing doughs and batters, shaping, baking and garnishing.
Poblano society is an avid consumer of bread and pastries. The quality and variety of sweet treats is famous nationwide.
At the bakery the pastry baker almost single-handedly produces an astonishing diversity of pastries that come in many shapes and sizes from very few types of dough. The weekly production alternates certain types of pastries but some are baked on a daily basis.
These are the types of sweet dough that are prepared:
- Cake batter
- Cookie dough
- Refined cookie dough, with a shortbread-like texture.
- Puff pastry
- Apastelada. A simple dough made with flour and vegetable shortening, worked into impossibly thin sheets.
- Refined Spanish dough. Some of the savoury bun dough is enriched with milk, sugar and shortening to make a wide range of soft pastries.
- Pound cake batter.
- And a special enriched dough with flour, eggs, milk, sugar and shortening flavoured with a molasses and aniseed syrup to prepare “cocoles”, “coloraditos” and “chimizclanes”.
The pastries are then decorated, stuffed or covered with one or several of the following:
- Sweet short sugar paste (chocolate, vanilla and strawberry)
- Strawberry glace
- Strawberry jam
- Pineapple jam
- Sesame seeds
- Egg glazing
- Caster sugar
- Icing sugar
- Dried and shredded coconut
- Crème patisserie
- Ricotta Cheese & cinnamon paste
- Red-dyed sugar
Don Benito is a talented and fierce patry baker. He juggles the simultaneous making of mixes and about 2 pastry dough types at the same time.
I spent most of the afternoons tiptoeing around the table to try and cope with the many instructions he threw at me. Speed and confidence were required in vast amounts. I’m not embarrassed to say I lacked both but coped all the same with a smile on my face even when he was merciless at my clumsiness. I learnt a great deal from him in a very short period of time.
Don Roberto, the owner tells me he’s only had two women working at the bakery, both pastry bakers but neither stayed for too long. Baking requires long working hours which is very hard to juggle for working mums.
Bakeries are still a mainly male territory. Back in Colonial times only men had access to “serious” trades, omen would only participate in relegated role as sellers or helpers.
And now, here’s this -non definitive- but amazing bread catalogue.
Simply hover over or click any image to open the galleries and read the names of the pastries.
Made with puff pastry.
Made with enriched “pan español” dough:
Made with cookie dough
Made with cake batter.
Made with refined cookie dough (piped)
Made with apastelada dough (“cake-like”)
Made with choux dough
Made with dough infused with aniseed and molasses
What did I learn from this experience?
That the life of a professional baker requires:
A tremendous skill to work under pressure and non-stop multitasking.
Precision, speed, consistency and confidence.
Deep knowledge of each dough, baking times, timing and programming.
And above all: passion.
My admiration and gratitude to the bakers, the invisible heroes behind every sugary bite, whose hands transform simple ingredients into smiles and day after day keep our gastronomic heritage alive.