I was out for a walk this morning and came upon a local baker - el Panadero - busy getting cookies and viennoiserie ready. I asked him - he didn't share his name - if he could show me his operation, which he was happy to do.
Baking is done in a large brick oven, rather crudely made, using a fan fed blow torch (The device to the right in the photo) to heat the oven. Funnily enough, when I was experimenting with methods of heating my oven, I tried out a roofing torch, fueled by a propane tank, propped in the opening. Worked fine, sounded like a jet engine, a little hard to control.
The operation felt rough but grounded; not that many steps away from what the process likely looked like 50+ years ago in a small pueblo. Some mechanical mixers, no refrigeration (essential to a bakery operation in the U.S or Europe.) and little other equipment.
My Mexican baking friends tell me that the local flour quality is not great (Remember, we are with the People of Corn) and this, combined with the simpler facilities and equipment, might account for rougher finish of the final product.
A few doors down is a Farmacia, which like our chains in the U.S., sells a variety of grocery products and has a small German convection oven with which to prepare fresh pastries from frozen product, undoubtedly produced at a large factory.
And that is all for now from your panadero.
While I am not able to bake with you, I thought it might be nice to give you a brief update from Zacatecas, where I have been working as a digital nomad for the past couple of weeks.
Zacatecas is about 8 hours North of Mexico City on the Altiplano between the Sierra Occidental, which stretch all the way up to Arizona, and the Sierra Madre Oriental. The town was established by the Spanish in the mid 1500s, before Shakespeare was born, to take advantage of the rich deposits of silver and lead, which are still mined today (funnily enough by some Canadian companies.
It is a beautiful town: a mix of Europe and the developing world, which I find very appealing. It gets a lot of Mexican tourists but only a few Europeans and almost no Americans, so it is a fine place to be forced to practice your Spanish, however execreble.
I am staying at an eccentric apartment hotel, an old casa broken up into apartments and the proprietress Soledad makes occasional, mysterious appearances. The staff are happy to chatter away at me in Spanish and I am happy to try and understand them. I try to run every morning which, at 8,000 Ft altitude, makes me wheeze.
And now, to bread. In some ways. bread is not Mexico's strong suit. A visiit to the local Panaderia will show your a cornucopia of pastries, a little heavy, made with lard, icing askew. But lovely in their own way. Some nice buns.
The real thing here is the corn and the corn tortilla. Nothing quite like a super fresh tortillas served as tacos or with roast chicken. As Michael Pollan notes, the Aztecs were the "Corn People", who had been fed by the grain for many thousands of years. Interestingly, corn tortillas are made and sold by one vendor in the local market and flour tortillas are made and sold by another. And at the restaurant I eat at, flour tortillas are used only for quesadillas and corn for tacos.
If we do not speak again, have a fine holiday. Feliz Navidad!
Your Canadian Baker