"When I bake bread I think of gardens and music,
grandmothers and God,
and I pray for the yeasties."
(Guest post by Mary Porter--Laura's mom, international traveler & fresh bread snob)
The smell of fresh baked bread invokes the same feelings in any country or culture. The aroma is of comfort and home and simplicity.
That same welcoming smell was the first of many gifts awaiting me as I arrived to my house for seven weeks, the home and panaderia (bakery) business of the Perez Fuentes family in Arequipa, Peru.
I first stepped into the home/bakery through the front door, shown behind these two bakery practicantes (interns):
This is a work room off the side of one of the kitchens, where I was surprised to see a couple hundred pizza crusts in the process of being wrapped and organized for delivery. There was also a large rack of ciabattas fresh from the oven and a bin with karamanducas (bite sized crescent rolls).
The dishwashing station, two more kitchens and several more racks of fresh breads, cakes and cookies were around the corner. The cookies looked like they would melt in your mouth. Before I even met the family, I thought of snitching one but Laura suggested I meet everyone first.
The stairs to Laura and Sergio's part of the house went straight up from there. Our rooms are right above the bakery, and my room is directly over the ovens. Their pipes pass right outside my window. There is bread baking at all hours of the day, so my bedroom smells delicious all day long. If only I were a paying customer!
Being an amateur baker myself, I asked Señora Delia--Sergio's mom and la duena (owner) of the bakery--if I could shadow her for a day. At 5 am, I was awakened by Sergio to accompany them on their morning deliveries. The bakery on Tarapacá does not have a store front. Señora Delia has two stores in the center of the city and many restaurants and hotels that need fresh bread early in the morning.
The delivery van was already loaded so Sergio, Señora Delia and I set out. These stops took a couple of hours and a couple of trips around the city, including one to the Coca Cola plant to drop off their daily rolls and mini-pies for employees.
By the time we returned, the kitchens were a beehive. I counted ten employees and fifteen different breads at various stages of preparation.
There was karamanduca dough in the mixer:
There were balls of pizza dough being flattened, trimmed to size and placed on baking sheets.
There were french rolls rising in the fermenting area and coming out of the oven:
There were loaves of wheat bread cooling to be sliced.
The queques (like a sweet quick bread) and quequitos (sweet bread minis) were finished and ready for packaging.
There was pie dough waiting to be rolled for the pyes de manzana (little apple pies):
There were those same decadent sugar cookies that tempted me when I first arrived--alfajores. They needed to be filled with manjar (caramel), like a sandwich, and then rolled in coconut.
I was put to work helping to shape the little karamanducas. The dough was already cut in equal pieces by a machine. I learned, eventually, to roll them into small oblong pieces with my hands, and then roll out four at a time with a metal pipe and curl them up all at once into a crescent shape.
They probably had to sell mine at a discounted price.
In the meantime, the master baker, Alfredo, and his helper, Percy, made six mixers full of ciabatta dough. They put it all together in one giant blob of dough on the table, then shaped it into about two hundred rolls.
After my lunch at 2 pm, I went back to work. Señora Alejandra, the right hand woman at the bakery, prepared lunch for the crew. Meanwhile, they baked pizza crusts, made chifones (cakes)...
...rolled out and filled the mini-pie tins with dough...
...and to finish them off--added the fresh apple filling and topped them with a fancy lattice crust. The mini-pies are delicious, but, in my opinion, as much work as a regular size pie for only a single serving. That makes them very, very special indeed.
I didn't last as long in the bakery as Señora Delia, who took orders for the next morning's deliveries from 7 to 9 pm and finally went to bed around 11.
The night crew arrived at 6 pm and started on the pan de queso (cheese bread) and pan de yema (bread with egg yolks).
The pan de lema is golden, shaped like a leaf and topped with sesame seeds. My personal favorite is mil hojas, a "thousand layer" pastry made with a flaky dough similar to phyllo with manjar and cream layers.
The team of bakers finally wrapped things up around 2:00 in the morning!
Most of the breads and pastries baked here are from many different countries. The alfajores are typically found in Latin America, as well as the karamanduca. Laura has another post about the rustic triangle shaped bread, pan de tres puntas (three points bread)--a traditional Peruvian bread baked in a very unique oven.
With the exception of tortillas--which Peruvians don't eat--I have consumed more bread in the last two weeks than I ate all of last year. It appears fresh on our table every morning. I am relishing every bite of this simple pleasure without an ounce of guilt.
I am thankful for my daily bread and for live yeasties.