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The Mexican Bakery

Pan Dulce
By Lori Grossman

As you may have read in my article about empanadas, my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant is Teka Molina in San Antonio. My "numero dos" is the Alamo City's famous Mi Tierra Café y Panadería. Besides the wonderful atmosphere, complete with los trovadores (strolling musicians), twinkling lights and great food, I dare you to walk past the panadería without buying something. Talk about visions of sugarplums!

Randy Lankford's article about Mi Tierra took you behind the scenes of the Tex-Mex eatery, but skipped over the Mexican bakery (or panadería) in the front of the café. If you've been there, certainly you have been tempted by the wide selection of goodies in the glass case while waiting for a table. No matter how hungry you are, making the tough decision about which yummy sweet bread or cookies (or a combination of both) you want to buy on the way out sure helps make the wait more bearable.

The panadería's origins began centuries ago when native peoples in Mexico used existing plants, like corn, to make bread. The art of baking really boomed when Napoléon III of France placed an Austrian prince and his Belgian-born wife on the throne of Mexico in 1863. Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlotta were not popular, but their presence sparked an interest in European-style baking. During their brief reign, Mexico City gained more than 100 pastry and chocolate shops and 50 French bakeries! This influence led to the panadería's everyday breads, such as bolillos, and over 400 types of sweet breads, or pan dulce.

These days, it is a lot easier to find Mexican bakery items than it used to be. Grocery store chains targeted towards Hispanic consumers have sprung up in Texas and other states with sizable Hispanic populations. They have a panadería section, just as regular grocery stores have bakeries. Lately, the mainstream chains are getting with the program. I've noticed bolillos in a Kroger store not far from me, and a neighborhood WalMart has pan dulce from time to time. If you're not lucky enough to have any of these options close to you, here are recipes for three of the more common panadería choices.


These rolls are sold fresh twice a day in Mexican bakeries. They are like a small, oval French bread.
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 cups bread flour, sifted (all-purpose flour may be substituted)
  • Butter
Put yeast into a large bowl and soften it in 1/4 cup warm (105 to 115°F) water. When the yeast has dissolved completely, stir in 1-3/4 cups lukewarm water and the salt. Stir to mix. Gradually mix in flour to make a dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl while remaining a bit sticky. Knead dough on a lightly floured board for 10 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic and has lost its stickiness. Place dough in a buttered bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let it rise in a warm, non-drafty place until it has doubled in bulk (about 2 hours). This is a slow-rising dough, so allow enough time for it to rise.

When dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down, cover, and let rise a second time until again doubled in bulk (about 1 hour). Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 5 minutes.

Divide dough in half. Roll each piece out into an oblong, about 18 x 6 inches. Roll each piece up, lengthwise, like a jellyroll. Cut each roll into 9 slices, making 18 total. Pinch the ends of each slice to form the traditional spindle shape, gash the tops lengthwise with a sharp knife, and arrange on lightly buttered baking sheets. Cover and let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).

Brush tops lightly with water and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot. Makes 18 rolls.

Pan Dulce is a general term – meaning sweet bread – but many people use it to refer to pan de huevo, or egg bread. Depending on how you shape the dough and what topping you use, you can either make conchas (scallop shell shaped) or cuernitos (little bull horns), a crescent shape resembling horns. This recipe makes both.

Pan de Huevo

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons butter, cold
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa or ground baking chocolate
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk (to brush on tops before baking)
Combine butter and milk in a small pan and heat over low heat to 110°F (the butter does not have to melt completely). In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine yeast, salt, sugar, and 2 cups of the flour. Pour in the warm milk mixture and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping sides frequently. Blend in the 2 eggs and 1 more cup of flour and beat on high speed for 2 more minutes. With a spoon, gradually beat in enough of the remaining flour to form a stiff dough.

Knead dough on a floured board until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Place in a greased bowl and turn to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 1-1/2 hours until doubled in size.

While waiting for the dough to rise, prepare the topping. Stir together the sugar and flour. With a pastry blender or your fingers, mix in the butter until it forms fine crumbs. With a fork, blend in the egg yolks. Divide mixture in half. Stir the cocoa into one of the halves.

Punch dough down and turn out onto a floured board. Divide into 14 equal pieces and shape seven of the balls into seashells by patting dough into 3-inch rounds. Squeeze 1/4 cup of plain or chocolate topping into a firm ball. Press it over the top of each of the seven rounds. Score in a crosshatch pattern or with slightly curved parallel lines to resemble a scallop shell.

Roll remaining dough into 4 x 8-inch ovals. Top each piece of dough with 3 tablespoons of plain or chocolate topping. To make crescent shapes, roll the oval from the short end, stop halfway, fold in the sides, then finish rolling. Curl ends to form a crescent. Slash tops crosswise with a knife, cutting halfway through dough.

Place buns about 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover lightly and let rise about 45 minutes until doubled. Brush with egg-milk mixture. Bake in a 375°F oven for 15 - 17 minutes until lightly browned. Makes 14 buns.

These deep-fried dough cylinders, called churros, are addictive. Thin and crispy, they are beloved throughout Spain and Mexico, plus the cities that have large Latino populations. Churros remind me a little of that festival staple, funnel cakes. I have read that street vendors sell them in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. What a great idea!


Use a pastry tube or decorating bag with a large 1/2- or 3/8-inch star tip to create the distinctive shape.
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon corn oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • Peanut or corn oil for frying
  • 1 slice bread (to test if oil is hot enough)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Place water, milk, salt and oil in a 1-1/2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add flour all at once and lower the heat. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until it forms a stiff, dry ball.

Transfer dough to the large bowl of an electric mixer and let cool about 5 minutes. Beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute, or until the dough softens and becomes more pliable. Add the egg and continue beating. At first, the dough will be in pieces, but as you continue to beat, it will come together to form a smooth mixture. Set aside to cool. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

In the meantime, heat at least 1 inch of oil in a deep 8- or 9-inch skillet until it reaches 350°F. If the oil isn't this hot, the churros will brown on the outside but remain raw on the inside. Place the slice of bread in the hot oil and fry. When the bread turns golden brown, the oil is just the right temperature to drop in the dough. (Don't forget to remove the bread!).

Place batter in a pastry tube or decorating bag with a large star or fluted tip. Hold the tip perpendicular to the skillet, about 3 inches above the surface of the oil, and squeeze out a 4-inch length of dough directly into the hot oil. Cut off the flow of dough with a knife. Squeeze out 2 or 3 more lengths of dough depending on the size of the skillet.

Fry each churro until golden brown on one side before flipping over to the other side to brown. Remove the churros and drain on paper towels. Sift the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the churros while still warm. Repeat with remaining dough. Serve immediately. Makes about 20 churros.

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