Saturday, November 2, 2013

About Bakeries and Baking in Chiclayo

Small neighborhood bakeries in Chiclayo, which are mostly what this post is about, typically fire up their wood or gas ovens at 4:00am. They open their doors at 6:00 and stay open until they’re sold out, somewhere between 10:30 and 11:00am. The cycle repeats later in the day, opening between 4:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon and closing somewhere around 7:30pm. These bakeries are numerous. It’s nearly impossible to walk in any neighborhood without being tempted by the aroma of fresh, just-out-of-the- oven bakery. Maribel and I often succumb and enjoy a snack while walking.

This internet photo is very close to what a neighborhood bakery in Chiclayo looks like. Though small in size, these bakeries offer a surprising variety of products. Some of the more popular varieties of bread include French, coliza, de yema, integral, marraqueta and mica. My favorite is ciabatta.

These bakeries also make sweets. In this category would be empanadas, conitos, alfajores and many types of cookies. Of the sweets I like biscochos. Bakery doesn’t cost much in Peru. For example, eight ciabattas cost 35 cents. Biscochos are 35 cents each, sometimes less. You can walk out of a bakery with a large bag in each arm for less than two dollars. All of these products are slightly different from bakery to bakery in size, shape and flavor but are essentially the same. 

I enjoy all of the bread type products, and many of the sweets. I am less enthusiastic about cakes and torts. Most neighborhood bakeries don’t offer cakes. You need to go to the specialty bakeries; the bakery department of the large chain stores, or to “…the woman down the street” who makes cakes in her home.  

But whether from a specialty bakery or a chain store, to my taste most cakes are coarse, dry and lacking in flavor. Some I equate to chewing a mouthful of cardboard. And I have yet to taste a good cake from “…the woman down the street”. I don’t care for most cake frosting. They’re either a bland paste with a cool whip consistency or are similar to a piece of rubber that I (and I’ve noticed some Peruvians also) peel off and leave on the plate. Examples of popular Peruvian cakes would be chocolate con manjarblanco, chantilly, pionono and probably the most popular, tres leches. Pies are scarce and pretty much limited to lemon meringue or apple. Some are okay; some not.

It was an urge for a slice of German chocolate cake that had us returning to La Casona De La Abuelita, a restaurant that was the subject of an earlier post. To our disappointment, Bill had sold out the German cake earlier in the day. During our walk home Maribel, who is a good cook but doesn’t have a lot of baking experience casually said that we’d have German chocolate cake tomorrow because she was going to bake one.

The next morning she sat at the computer and watched and re-watched and watched again a Betty Crocker video. Next she went shopping and returned with all the ingredients including the hardware…baking pans, wax paper, etc. I expected her first attempt to be a flop. I don’t know what she was expecting but it turned out great. This was a cake that any bakery or restaurant in the United States would be proud to offer. Maribel wasn’t satisfied. She tweaked the recipe and made another one. It was even better… the chocolate flavor more subtle and the texture a bit finer but firm. Now she says she’s ready for a new challenge and I intend to give her one.

My mother was a good baker. When she baked bread she made three loaves. One loaf would disappear in five minutes. We’d sit at the kitchen table and butter a slice as fast as she could cut them until the loaf was gone. She baked excellent coffee cakes, torts and cakes. Of all the delicious things she baked, my absolute favorite was cherry nut cake. Maribel has promised to try it. Maybe she’ll become“…the woman down the street” who makes cakes in her home.

On a more serious matter, as of this writing we have received $210 in donations for a new home for Luzmila Valdera and her girls. That is 12% of our $1500 goal. This family needs your help. Please visit the Promesa Peru web page to donate. Thank you.

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