Yeast leavened bread, while not as core to Mexican cuisine as corn tortillas, is nonetheless quite popular.. The baker – el Panadero – in Mexico, bakes all manner of large, kind or rough, pastries (Dulces) and bread that is not memorable by Artisanal standards. Flour is a regulated staple in Mexico and so bakers have access to only a few types and these are not particularly high quality. This regulated supply of flour aligns nicely with industrial scale baking and so it is no surprise that the multinational baker Bimbo has roots in Mexico and churns out millions of loaves of Wonder Bread-style loaves daily.
Brioche dates back to the 1500s in France and is considered a subset of the Viennoiserie, which includes croissant. Made with eggs, butter, milk and sugar, sourdough brioche needs to be managed carefully through the proofing process as these additional ingredients make things hard work for the yeast biome. Brioche was baked by parishes as a “Blessed bread” throughout France, though likely as a luxury for the clerisy than as a part of communion. The French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau attributed “Qu’ils Mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake) to Marie Antionette but there is not evidence she said this.
My good friend Tony D’Amato offered to build a bread oven in our backyard about 10 years ago. Tony is one of those guys that can do anything – tilework, carpentry, welding, brick laying, plumbing and so we set work to construct the mass that I now bake bread in and did so over a couple of months on evenings and weekends.
I was Tony’s labor – I know that the oven has over 2 tons of fire brick and concrete because I organized, mixed and lifted all that material into place. Tony declined the need for drawings – the entire structure existed perfectly in his head an, upon completion, the tolerances between the brick and support steel structure of only a 1/16th of an inch.
We set the oven up with an burner used to heat pizza ovens and piped in natural gas (Much easier to manage than using a wood fire and cheaper than Propane. An engineering friend helped me how to use a pressure cooker to generate steam (Commercial bread ovens enable the baker to flood the oven with steam when loaves are loaded – the steam helps develop a crisp and chewy crust helps give the loaf an oven spring.)
Few food items have the totemic significance of the baguette, embodying much that we love about France, its mother country. It’s origins are unclear but were driven by Viennese innovations in the 19 century (e.g. The steam injected oven). The name for the long cylindrical loaf shows up definitively in the 1920s for the Department of the Seine:m “The baguette, having a minimum weight of 80 g [2 3⁄4 oz] and a maximum length of 40 cm [16 in], may not be sold for a price higher than 0.35 francs apiece” The high surface area to volume ratio means that the loaf does not stay fresh for more than a few hours. I find baguettes purchased in France, frankly, somewhat bland, which I think is due to strict pricing and content regulation.
It is remarkably easy to bake your own loaf of sourdough bread, using the Tartine no knead method and baking the loaf in a dutch oven or other heavy casserole with a tight fitting lid. You’ll need to get a starter going – with Covid you’ll likely know someone who has some starter and can share. and it will likely take a few tries to get the dough texture dialed in.