The Light and the Sweet

People who don’t have much experience with Mexican breads are often surprised when they enter a panaderia. They expect tortillas or some other types of rustic corn or wheat breads. What they get instead are lighter-than-air white breads, most of which are also quite sweet. Whoa, where did THESE come from? The answer is: the French.

Other than the indigenous peoples that thrived in Central America before Europeans came along, it was the Spanish that had the biggest cultural impact on the region we now know as Mexico. Mexico was, after all, a key part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a group of territories that included Cuba, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, the Phillipines, even Florida and the southwestern US at one time. Still the French managed to make their mark on the place, notably during The Pastry War (yes, that was a real conflict) and the French occupation of Mexico which lasted from 1861 to 1867.

Add in small-but-steady French immigration and a post-independence cultural backlash against all things Spanish and the result was a cuisine with a decidedly French flair. To this day it’s not just white bread that’s considered traditional in Mexico, but laminated pastries like croissants (bigotes) and vol-au-vent (bolovanes). Why? Because once breads this good enter your culture you’d be crazy to give them up.

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