- The Nuestro Pan Dulce blog catalogs different pieces of Mexican sweet bread en español, and it's highly worth a visit to begin learning how to tell these breads apart.
- My favorite Mexican food experts, Yuri de Gortari and Edmundo Escamilla, made a great video that showcases a local Mexico City bakery and talks about the history of wheat in the country. (You can also hear the gas guy shouting "Gaaas!" in the background around the four-minute mark.)
- No mention of pan dulce would be complete without the story of my old encounter with the bike-riding pan dulce vendor (complete with audio!) in my former neighborhood.
conchas because I’m obsessed, but there are plenty others I like too: the campechanas topped with burnt sugar that remind me of the best, crispiest pie crust; the puerquitos that taste like piloncillo and molasses; the cocoles, lightly sweet and sprinkled with anise seeds, which taste just about perfect with a cup of coffee. Mexico’s history with breadmaking dates to the beginning of the Spanish Conquest, when, according to Spanish chroniclers, a freed slave named Juan Garrido -- one of the first black men in Mexico -- planted the first wheat seeds, which had been accidentally included in sacks of rice. The first wheat mill opened in Mexico in 1525. Over the course of a few centuries, bread consumption grew slowly, until eventually, in the 19th century, it became present on most tables next to tortillas. According to CANAINPA, Mexico's largest union group for bread makers, there are currently more than 700 types of bread registered in the country. Another article I've read places the number of unique Mexican sweet breads at 1,200 (!), with savory breads numbering 400. Interestingly, as CANAINPA's site notes, the modern panadería — a place where each customer grabs a set of tongs, and serves herself — did not exist until the 1950's. Before that, Mexican bakeries kept the bread behind glass display cases. If I’m being honest, most breads I’ve eaten at neighborhood bakeries in Mexico City look beautiful but don't taste like much. I've eaten the best bread in pueblos, or at nicer restaurants like El Cardenal that use good-quality ingredients. I think change is coming, though. More and more of Mexico's high-class food scene has embraced typical Mexican ingredients; surely recognizing traditional breads will not be far behind. Here are some of my favorite pan dulce photos from my archives. Feel free to share your favorite type of pan dulce with me in the comments! For more on Mexican pan dulce:I am pained when I walk by a bakery in Mexico and can’t go inside. It’s like going to a shoe store for me — I want to look at every single piece and wonder if maybe it’s my type. I usually stick to
The conchas at Mexico City's Rosetta bakery are quilted in dark, chocolate-sugar diamonds. The rolls are dense but somehow airy; yeasty, but not too chewy or sweet. On a recent visit, I gobbled almost en entire chocolate concha before my coffee had even arrived. The secret to these conchas is slow fermentation and a small amount of yeast, which creates a soft, airier crumb, says chef and owner Elena Reygadas, who was hanging out at the bakery recently and answered a few of my questions. “We don’t put a lot of butter,” Reygadas says. “We want to respect the Mexican village-style bread.” Mexico City is undergoing a bakery renaissance, and Rosetta -- a sister establishment to the Rosetta Italian restaurant a block away -- is among those leading the pack. The narrow, warm Colonia Roma cafe invites you to sit and stay awhile. Creamy subway tile covers the walls, and fresh-baked loaves stack neatly inside wooden crates. (One of those loaves is pan de pulque, which is a rare find in Mexico City.) Croissants and chocolatínes mingle in a glass display case near the entrance, along with bulbous popovers bursting out of their little accordion-shaped paper cups. The overall effect is sort of European. But due to the small, sausage-shaped size of the place -- the bakery was once the driveway and garage of a fancy Roma mansion -- it's also quirky, pleasantly chilango. Get there by 8 a.m. on a weekday to snag one of the spot's few coveted seats and to try the conchas. (At 10 a.m. one morning, they'd already disappeared.) The shop's vanilla conchas also contain real vanilla bean. Reygadas admitted it was a little expensive, but I'm hoping she continues to spoil her customers. Rosetta Bakery (the sign says simply "Panadería) Colima 178-A, at the corner of Orizaba Colonia Roma Read about my other Concha Taste Tests in Mexico City here.
All About Puebla, an English-language online city guide. She's a badass go-getter type of gal, so when the two of us get together it always feels like we can conquer the world. She took me to some of her favorite places to eat, and interestingly, few involved corn. Puebla is full of savory breads: the pambazo (a plump, flour-dusted bread, not in any way similar to the Mexico City pambazo); the pelona (a fried roll); the chancla (a fried roll covered in sauce); the telera (a flat, soft roll used for tortas); the cemita (an airy, sesame-seed dusted roll), and the torta de agua (a crunchy, rustic bread). All are used in different sandwiches. The most Poblano of tacos, the taco árabe, is traditionally served on pita bread and not corn tortillas. The two of us hit Puebla's Centro last week for a food-fest, filling up on as many snacks as our stomachs could handle. (This may be why my stomach can suddenly only handle rice and applesauce. The travails of being a food researcher.) Here's a quick look at what we tried: I've got some exciting Puebla news to share in the next few weeks, so stay tuned...I was in Puebla this weekend visiting my friend Rebecca, who runs the excellent
You may already know this, but you can actually make bread without kneading it. It is a big, gloppy mess, but still -- you don't have to stick your fingers in there, or do any work. People love this idea. There's actually a cult of no-knead bakers out there, inspired by a New York Times article that hit the Internet in 2006 that called for making a bread dough, and leaving it untouched for 20 hours. If you google "no-knead bread," you'll find videos about how easy it is. Blog posts. Even one set of photos where the bread's made by a 4-year-old boy. (Who is extremely adorable.) I never really got into the idea -- not kneading takes all the fun out of baking bread, for me -- but recently, after Crayton and I made grilled cheeses with the hangover potato bread, I started thinking. What would be the perfect grilled cheese bread? No-knead bread is a crispy, almost artisan-style loaf, because it's baked in a pot. So, envisioning gooey cheese stuffed between two dark-brown bookends, I called my friend Julie, owner of a large, 6-quart Le Creuset dutch oven. "Do you know about no-knead bread?" I asked her. "Huh?" she said. She'd never baked bread before, but being a curious, cool woman, she was in in a heartbeat. Later I realized that 20-hour bread is probably not the best choice for two girls with busy schedules. We let the bread rise overnight, and in the morning, we plopped it into the pot and let it rise again, while we took a quick trip to Costco. Costco segued into Chedraui, and a quick trip turned into a three-hour tour. I fretted a little over the bread -- what if it had risen too much? What if it had fallen back on itself, and we'd have a dense rock of a loaf? -- but I had no control over it, so I tried to put it out of my mind. When we got home, the bread looked bigger, but not necessarily taller. It had swelled across the pan, like I imagine my hips will do by the time I'm 45. We'd wrapped the bread in a floured kitchen towel, and planned to turn it out into the pot and bake it, like the recipe said. However, when we tried to unwrap it, the top portion of the dough clung to the towel. I hadn't used enough flour. Finally we got the bread in the oven, and about an hour later, we had a nice, dark-golden crust. But the loaf hadn't risen much. It looked like a lumpy chair cushion, maybe twice the thickness of your average focaccia. As for the taste -- not bad. Lots of air bubbles. Chewy crumb. Crisp crust. If only it was thicker, it'd make a hell of a grilled cheese. There were lots of things that could have gone wrong here -- I'd left our window open overnight, accidently, during the first rising in the oven, which could have made the house too cool; we'd been at Costco for hours and the bread could have risen too much; the whole floured kitchen-towel debacle, which killed about 1/4 cup of our bread dough. I have learned, however, that I'm sticking to the kneading in the future. Why spend two days making bread, when you can do it in three or four hours? My grilled-cheese bread quest isn't over.
There was a big outdoor concert on Reforma on Sunday night, and in the midst of a string of lesser-known Spanish-language pop bands, I got bored and felt like going for a beer. Three micheladas and two glasses of wine later, I was feeling gooood. The next morning, though -- revenge. Dry mouth. Headache. I'd forgotten to eat anything on my beverage spree. I ate some dry cereal and grumbled to myself about how I was too old for this crap. In my brain fog, I downloaded Confessions of a Shopaholic. (Note to everyone else: BAD IDEA.) Then I saw a bowl of potatoes sitting on the counter. Wait. Potato bread. That could make my hangover better. It was warm, hearty. My stomach could handle a yeasty slice soaked in butter. Hell, maybe I'd even have it for lunch, since I certainly wouldn't be eating the last serving of Alice's homemade kung pao chicken. (She'd brought some over on Saturday.) Okay, it was settled. I'd make potato bread. But first, to get myself in kneading shape, I would need a sugar injection in the form of Diet Coke. Thank you, past Lesley, for buying a Diet Coke at Oxxo on Saturday. Feeling unfit to google any recipes, I grabbed Joy of Cooking from its handy spot on top of our Spanish-language dictionary and flipped to the potato bread recipe. I microwaved and riced a potato, made my dough, and kneaded it until sweat beads formed at my temples. Unsure of exactly how fast it would rise because of the high altitude, I watched the dough carefully as it rose and then rose again. By 2 p.m., I had a warm, golden-brown loaf resting on a wire rack. But by then I wasn't hungry anymore. I'd also decided to whip up a bowl of jook for lunch. Yes. When other people are hungover, they sit in their pajamas all day. I make potato bread and Chinese rice porridge. I think I have Energizer Bunnies in my intestines. When I finally did cut off a slice -- while watching the dreadfully shallow Confessions movie (Isla Fisher, why have you abandoned me?) -- the bread almost fulfilled my dreams. It needed more potato flavor, but the texture was just about perfect. Soft and chewy. Just the type of pillow you'd want to rest your hangover-pounding head on. Recipes below, in case your head is ever in a vise, too. The jook is amazingly easy. A thickened, creamy rice porridge seems especially fit for overcast days like today. ...