A Guide to the Breads of Mexico

A Guide to the Breads of Mexico

The word concho, sometimes spelled concha, comes from the Spanish word meaning shell. Some of the first conchos were made of melted silver dollars and resembled a shellit is commonly thought this is how the name came about. In Spanish, the correct word is concha, with an a at the end and is pronounced like an ah sound. However, most people now-a-days refer to the Native American style belt as a concho belt, with an o.

Beginning in the 1880s through the 1890s, trade increased for improved tools and stamps, allowing for conchas to become more elaborate. They used cold chisels, files, punches, stamps, and repouss techniques.

As youve probably already guessed, at any given moment of the day, Im thinking about food in some form or another. I get obsessed with ingredients quickly panela cheese! mangoes! mamey! and then the obsession peters out, replaced by the next thing.

Since then Ive tried to find a concha thats equal to or better than Bondy. I hadnt had much luck so far, but then I heard about Maque, a Condesa caf on Parque Mexico. My guidebooks raved about Maques conchas. So we went last Sunday for breakfast. A friend warned us to get there before noon, because the tables fill up quickly.

In Patzcuaro during the rainy season which is now the clouds are so amazingly beautiful, theyre like people, almost. Theyre grayish and menacing, and they hover over the mountains as if to say, We all know whos really in charge here.

There are so many strange things about our new normal, but on a recent Sunday in Los Gatos, California, a pleasant town hugging the sunny side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, little appeared out of the ordinary, with one notable exception. Manresa Bread, the best bakery in Los Gatos and also for some miles, seemed to be closed, but it was actually open. Anybody with their heart set on some of the Bay Areas finest bread could easily have itso long as they learned the new rules.

And they are: You order online, days ahead, because everybody else is going to have the same idea, and they will sell out. Then, on your appointed pickup day, which will be Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, you head down, not to the cute little caf across from David Kinchs Michelin three-star restaurant of the same name, but to the utilitarian commissary, a few blocks over. You park your car wherever, you put on your mask, and you line up behind everybody else on the west side of Industrial Way, a line that will often stretch out one, two, maybe even three auto body shops back.

And then you wait, shuffling six feet at a time, finally turning left at the dumpsters, and picking up what you came for. Hopefully, youll have had the good sense to book yourself in for the 30 bag of bread, filled with four of the most beautiful sourdough loaves you can buy with American money. By now, after weeks of eating too much supermarket bread, perhaps occasionally interrupted by your own admirable investments toward becoming the worlds next top bread baker, youd take almost anything, and be happy with it. Anything that will make you feel like everything is going to be alright, even if perhaps not today.

Across the country, similar versions of the scene in Los Gatos have been unfolding on a daily basis. There are the New Yorkers waiting in their own long lines, for btards and baguettes from cult-favorite She Wolf Bakery, diligently delivering their little works of art to greenmarkets throughout the grieving city. On any given morning in the Los Angeles suburbs, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people will wait in their cars for curbside pastelitos from Portos, Southern Californias treasured Cuban bakery, which is also now shipping nationwide.

For the most part, the Kringle bakeries of Racine, Wisconsin, have yet to dim their lights; there has been no grave shortage of po boy bread in New Orleans, of pan dulce in San Antonio. These simple, attainable thingsa crackling baguette, a square of rosemary-scented focaccia, a loaf of soft milk bread, a scone slathered in fresh jam, that cascade of sugar crust as you bite into the perfect concha, the spiders web hidden inside a perfectly-laminated croissantthey have have seen entire civilizations through their share of dark times, and they lend great comfort to us now. Life may have been put on pause, but in so many of our towns and cities, the bakers have baked on.

Out beyond our front doors, too, baking is bigger, and often better than ever. We are learning about grain, and the way it is grown, stored, and supplied. We are discovering just how much work goes into better bread, into the best breads, and how much things like labor, good butter, and new commercial ovens cost. Many of us are tasting truly great, naturally leavened breads for the first time in our lives. Its a beautiful thing, all of itfar from perfect, but thats progress, ever a mess.

I've learned that our country has a bread problem. We buy a lot of it, but for most of us, the product is compromised. Too often, the very best has become something akin to a luxury item, nearly the sole province of the privileged. This relatively new pursuit of perfection, of grain purity is certainly admirable, but have we asked ourselves, who really benefits? Does it matter that the bread is the best weve ever had, if nobody else can afford a loaf? Is there some middle ground to work toward—a better bread for everyone, rather than the best for a fortunate few? And how do we get there? What must give? History reminds us that wars have been fought over flour; perhaps we are about due for another one.

Consider us in a state of flux. The foremost question on our minds right now is what small, independent bakeries will be like, and how many will be sustained in future, but while we fret, there are also hopeful signs. While America stayed indoors, the bakers have been hard at work, often partnering with their generous customers to put bread in the hands of those who cannot afford to buy their own. Countless amateur home bakers are discovering the simple pleasures of their own breads, from simple no-knead to the long-fermented; wouldnt it be the craziest thing, if a wave of fresh talent emerges from the lockdown?

Back in the 1990s, closing up shop and leaving Detroit was a lot more fashionable than the opposite, but Ann Perrault and Jackie Victor took a chance, and theyre still there today, plying you with Leelanau cherry bread, crunchy with walnuts. The 5 fill-a-bag Friday tradition ensures a high-quality product remains accessible to all. Currently wholesale only.

Ever wonder what Samoasonly the best Girl Scout cookie ever, lets not fightwould be like if they were cake? Pastry chef-turned-bakery owner Aya Fukai went there, and the results are incredible. Brown butter, chocolate, dulce de leche buttercream, toasted coconut, and the requisite drizzle of chocolate add up to one of the most smile-making sweets in Chicago right now.

However brief the actual control of Mexico by France was, it was enough to leave behind a strong French influence that peaked in the early 1900s during the dictatorship ofPorfirio Díaz – a big sympathiser of anything that was French in origin. He even sought to modernise his country by replacing traditional local dishes with French cuisine!

The French bakeries certainly left behind their legacy in the art of bread making in Mexico as it eventually helped to establish the Mexican baking tradition that has become one of the most inventive in the world.


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