Preamble: After a languorous breakfast of fluffy bolillos stuffed with braised carnitas, and a dessert of bolillos slathered with cow’s butter and mayhaw jelly, we got to thinking about how some of the best breads and pastries in Austin come out of Mexican bakeries.
—————————————————— Down in Old Mexico, it’s a certain truth that you can find many hardworking bakers putting out top flight French pastries and breads. We owe this plenitude (at least partially) to La Guerra de los Pasteles (The Pastry War) of 1838.
A displaced French pastry cook, Monsieur Remontel, living in Tacubaya, was outraged at the behavior of Mexican army regulars who had damaged his bakery, and got word to King Louis-Philippe who had his Baron Beffaudis issue Mexican President Anastasio Bustamante an ultimatum: pay the moneys necessary to repair Remontel’s shop or else.
Bustamante was not forthcoming, so on April 16th 1838 the French sent their navy to Veracruz, the principal Mexican port on the Gulf of Mexico.
Mexico declared war!
It did not go well.
Former president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (Santa Anna) rushed into battle, and with his men, briefly held off the invading French. The firepower of France was manifold, and Veracruz was being shelled relentlessly.
Santa Anna had a leg blown off by a cannon round.
Forced to retreat from Veracruz, Santa Anna issued a communique in which he claimed he was dying, and asked to buried where he stood with the honorific of being forever known as “the good Mexican”
He lived, and with tales of his fierce battle against the French sweeping Mexico, his image shone brightly. Santa Anna would go on to experience a career renaissance that saw him return to the Presidency and a life in the spotlight.
The French would emerge victorious from the Pastry War, allowing the occupation of Mexico to continue for well over a decade during which time 1000s of Mexicans trained under French bakers and pastry chefs.
Today it is estimated that upwards of 2,000 different styles and types of breads are produced in Mexico each day.
You haven’t lived til you’ve sat down in a tiny Mexican village with a warm loaf of pan dulce and a steaming mug of cafe as the sun comes up. Prior to the current difficulties in the Texas/Mexico border towns we used to regularly run down to Acuna for a weekend of frivolity and amusement.
After a long night at Don Pablos we’d walk a few blocks to Panaderia Chapa at dawn and eat hot orejas or cuernos, fresh out of the massive ovens.
The rigors of the night before would vanish and we’d repair to Hotel San Antonio for a restorative nap before wading back into the hustle and bustle of the city.
Mariano Galvan Rivera published El Cocinero Mexicano (The Mexican Chef) in 1931