Ventanas Mexico

Resources and insights for full- or part-time life in Mexico

Provides a blog promoting living in Mexico and promotes books on learning Spanish and how to rent in Mexico.

Why You Should Never Bake in Mexico

 
Mexican bakery

She’s actually laughing at me.

Mexican cuisine is world-renowned, internationally celebrated. Once you live in Mexico, you would be foolish not to take advantage of the local ingredients and try your hand at making enchiladas, pozoles, tacos al carbon and an endless variety of salsas.

What you won’t be doing is a lot of baking.

Given my well-documented enthusiasm for Mexico, her people and her culture, I hope her devotees will forgive me for what I’m going to say about her baked goods: They are terrible. After partaking in Mexican bakery offerings a few times, you will wonder why Mexican bakers attempt it at all.

Sure, the conchas and coyotas may look good, but you will find these “pastries” are all the same taste in different shapes; flavorless to anyone who knows a good oatmeal cookie. The only things rich about baked goods in Mexico are their traditions, much like King Cakes are to Mardi Gras (If this blog inspires a refute from a famous Mexican baker or Enrique Elvera, I will be nothing but grateful).

There are two types of television competitions you will never see - Mexican extreme-sport competitions (Mexicans have more common sense than we do in this regard) and Mexican bread-baking. Don’t think you can do any better either. Tristemente, you will not be able to make a decent cookie or loaf of bread in Mexico for the same reasons Mexicans cannot.

Rather than following my own steadfast rule in Mexico, that if a Mexican does/doesn’t do something you think would be logical to do, there’s a damn good reason for it, I actually believed I could master American baking in a Mexican kitchen. I am that stupid. While I’ve never attempted making bread here, I’ve tried a multitude of baked goods only to be soundly thrashed. Here are the issues as I have experienced them, and they are major.

Butter - high-quality butter is essential to many baked goods. Even imported butter in Mexico, if you can find it, for a reason I’ll never understand lacks the richness of the butter you are used to. Remember when your parents had their “oleo” phase? Typical Mexican butter tastes more like Crisco than butter. Visually it’s butter. But only visually.

Brown sugar - You never realize how much you love brown sugar until a country takes brown sugar away from you. The soft sugar at home, with a texture and color akin to soil in both color and meaningfulness to your sweet tooth, is not available. Perhaps the Mexican government knows a highly-addictive substance when it sees one and has banned its importation as a narcotic. What is sold as brown sugar (azucar moreno) may be brown, but it aint’ brown sugar.

Ovens - Ovens in a typical Mexican kitchen are basically a large tin box set on top of a gas coil. They often breathe like the dragons of your childhood nightmares. Many ovens will have no more than low/medium/high settings. For anyone coming to Mexico, I urge you to bring a full set of kitchen thermometers. You still won’t be able to bake a loaf of bread, but it will save you from heartbreak in countless entrees and side dishes.

You’d think commercial kitchens would be able to overcome this issue. Maybe it’s a matter of demand. Tortillas are less expensive and more popular, an ancient staple replacement for bread that is getting more and more elaborate in flavors at home.

Mexicans do not usually bake in their homes. They go to bakeries and buy their bad baked goods there rather than make bad baked goods themselves. Bakeries don’t usually carry anything other than white and wheat bread (integral) in various forms. A Mexican friend once brought me a loaf of Pumpernickel bread from Guadalajara. I brushed aside the main course I’d taken the afternoon to prepare, instead placing the loaf of bread in the center of the table as the entréé, as if she had brought a fatted calf on a spit. If you live in a coastal area, baking bread is a near impossibility due to the high humidity. The dry ingredients soak up humidity from the air, causing it to clump up.

You can find excellent cakes at pricey stores that specialize in cakes. Even these shops can’t give you a great cookie. But it’s the artisan breads that are all the rage at home that you will miss the most as there is really no substitute for them in Mexico.

Like any good drill sergeant, I have broken your spirit in order to build you back up in a way that will enable you to survive under these harsh conditions. You can satisfy your addiction for richer cookie fare with other desserts. Many are baked but don’t require the precision nor our beloved butter and brown sugar.

Pies, flans and Tres Leches cakes (which capitalize on Mexicans’ love of condensed milk) are the most popular. Simple pie crusts (not graham) can usually be found in grocery stores for recipes like Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie {below]. Plain pie crusts are generally available in larger grocery stores.

Your Canadian expat neighbors in Mexico will decry your concept of maple syrup as you will decry the Mexican concept of brown sugar. However, the maple syrup in Mexico is adequate for this pie, even winning over my Canadian business partner who guards her Canadian syrup as Americans do spice rubs. You will survive.

Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie

(Recipe Credit: New York Times Cooking Section)

pie

INGREDIENTS

¾ cup maple syrup

2 ¼ cups heavy cream

4 egg yolks

1 whole egg

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pre-baked 9-inch pie crust

PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce maple syrup by a quarter, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and egg. Whisking constantly, slowly add cream mixture to eggs. Stir in salt, nutmeg, and vanilla.

Pour filling into crust and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until pie is firm to touch but jiggles slightly when moved about 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Related Links

I am not unaware of the official position regarding breads and baking in Mexico, I just beg to differ.

A wonderful website full of delicious Mexican alternative recipes like flans and cheesecakes.

Once you eat a home-made flour tortilla, you’ll see why Mexicans are not that interested in bread. (Ventanas Mexico)

Most recent:

Employment prospects have improved for older Americans. Should you stay or should you go?

About the author:

Kerry Baker is the author of two books, the Interactive Guide to Learning Languages Free Online and If Only I Had a Place.

The Interactive Guide is a curation of the best free websites and learning features for Spanish on the web, sites you will not find on your own. They are organized by interactive links into lesson plans based on level. Spanish is a must for life in Mexico if you are to get the most our of your expat experience.

If Only I Had a Place, recently updated, is a how - to on renting in Mexico with both the opportunities and risks. The book includes a listing of rental concierges in the most popular expat destinations.