Mexican culture is diverse and rich in flavors, colors, and traditions, and many Mexicans take pride in this diversity. One example is the variety of Mexican sweet bread, which can be found in every bakery and enjoyed by many. For some Mexicans, choosing which sweet bread to have with their coffee can be a tough decision.
In bakeries and markets, the range of textures and smells on offer can be overwhelming. Mexican sweet bread is not just a tasty snack, it is also an expression of culinary expertise and knowledge that has been passed down through generations.
The Evolution of Mexican Sweet Bread
Mexican sweet bread has been part of the country's culinary history since pre-Hispanic times, with various types of corn-based bread. After the Spanish Conquest, bread-making underwent significant changes, as new techniques and ingredients were introduced from Europe. Bread production began in Mexico in 1525 and was initially sold in markets and plazas.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, bread quality was associated with social class, with the upper class enjoying higher quality bread than the lower and middle classes. The arrival of the Italians and the French in the 19th century brought new techniques and more refined products to Mexican bakeries.
During the Porfiriato era, the influence of European opulence further impacted the style and techniques of Mexican baking. Industrialization and modernization during this time caused changes in the quality of products and their marketing. After World War II, Bimbo, a multinational bakery company, introduced industrial bread production methods, leading to the creation of bread as we know it today in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Variety and Delight of Mexican Bakery
Mexican bakery is famous for their diverse shapes, flavors, textures, and colors. There are different types of dough used in Mexican bread, including raised, flaky, fermented, fried, flaky-fermented, and crispy dough. Creamed doughs are made with oil, butter, and sugar and include butter cookies, panqués, cornbread, garibaldis, and beso (or yoyo).
Regional variations exist; for instance, cornbread in Hidalgo is heavier, while in Guadalajara, it is similar to a pudding made with corn, milk, egg, flour, and starch. Flaky pastries have thin layers of dough and include orejas, campechanas, banderillas, and rehiletes. Fermented doughs contain yeast and have high butter content, as seen in conchas, picones, pollitos, and doughnuts.
Sourdough bread, including bolillo, telera, pan de muerto, rosca de reyes, and cinnamon rolls, is soft and fluffy due to butter and egg. Flaky-fermented doughs have a filling, like bigotes, moños, and croissants. Crunchy doughs, such as polvorones, chilindrinas, chocolate mirrors, brick, puerquitos, and biscuits, are very sweet and popular among children.
International Recognition of Mexican Bakery
Ojo de buey, also known as Pancha's eye, is a beloved pastry among older Mexicans. It is a pastry hybrid with a raised dough center, similar to shortbread, and a flaky dough edge. The combination of textures creates a unique sensation in the mouth. The pastry's name comes from the appearance of a large animal's eye, which it resembles.
Other pastry hybrids in Mexican baking include manteconchas, which is a fusion of mantecada and concha, mantemuertos, which is a mantecada with pan de muerto components, and rosconcha, which is a rosca de reyes with concha cake topping. While some may find these hybrids aberrant, Mexican bakers see them as an opportunity to add more creativity and magic to their creations.
Mexican bakery is vast, yet it remains traditional and familiar. In Atotonilco el Grande, Hidalgo, a wide variety of traditional bread is still prepared in stone ovens with firewood and wooden tables. The image of an elderly person wearing a typical bakery cap is preserved.
Today, Mexican bakery is gaining popularity globally, and those who pursue it internationally can expect success. The culture, tradition, and versatility of this gastronomic jewel born in Mexico are being widely recognized and appreciated worldwide. Mexican bread, like pan de feria, pan de muerto, and rosca de reyes, is unique and endemic to Mexico.
Mexican Bread Across Regions and Ingredients
Despite popular belief, there are variations of bread among different regions in Mexico, ranging from minimal to significant differences. For instance, in the central region, bolillo and telera are used in dishes like tortas, molletes, and guajolotas, while in Guadalajara, virote is used. In Guadalajara, tortas are called lonches, and torta ahogada is made from virote, which is soaked in a sauce and enhanced with lemon to elevate the flavors of carnitas inside.
Other factors can also influence bread preparation and make them unique, even with similar ingredients. For example, the quality of water in Jalisco differs from that in the central region, affecting the bread's flavor, texture, and color due to varying mineral components.
The three primary ingredients for making bread are flour, water, and salt, but yeast can be added to accelerate fermentation. To create a sweeter or softer bread, milk, butter, sugar, and essences like vanilla or orange can be added, which also alters the texture and flavor.
Before making bread, understanding flour, proteins, yeast, and sugars is essential. This knowledge helps bakers perfect their technique and adapt to various diets, including gluten-free. Next time you visit a bakery, appreciate the various smells and colors and choose your bread wisely, knowing that it has a story to tell.
Source: Gaceta UAEH, No.31. by Natalia Ayerim Baltazar Flores.