Tuesday, November 30, 2010
On bread, part IV
On bread, part IV. How a Mexican baker invented a New York tradition
Everything you are reading in this story is untrue. It is fabrication, a flight of fancy. The wingspan on it is so wide that you can’t see from one tip to the other. It is the story of how the early Mexicans created the bialy.
We really don’t know much about the baker who created the first bialykuchen. What we do know however, is that its inventor followed Jewish religious traditions. Here’s what we’ve been able to piece together from historical accounts. During the time of the Spanish inquisition when a person’s choices were Catholicism or death, some Jews chose a third option, find a new place to live. Some families went to Mexico with Cortez and other early Spanish explorers. Like every other transplanted culture, familiar foods were introduced to the new lands. One of the breads the Spanish had long enjoyed were buñuelos, a slightly sweet bread, fried in oil and topped with sugar . The Spanish version looks remarkably like a filled jelly doughnut, while the Mexican buñuelo is flat, like a tortilla, and the jelly has been replaced with a honey syrup poured over the top.
After toiling long years to try to keep the Spanish buñuelo version alive, the Mexican born baker Jesus Perez decided to move his family and bakery to Poland, where there were large communities of followers of the Jewish faith. The only problem was, everyone was making buñuelos! Jesus thought about switching to the Mexican version but to the world’s delight, he decided to present a deconstructed buñuelo by baking the dough instead of frying it and putting the jelly on the outside. And in another moment of serendipity, this was during the Polish sugar shortage at the turn of the century, so he decided to use beets instead of the red jelly to top his baked buñuelos. History shows us that the sweet-onion topped version was more popular. He also needed to find a name for his new creation and decided to name it after his new town, Bialystok. His was a very successful bakery and others copied his delicious new offering, the bialy.
History repeats itself and Jesus had heard the first hints of the formation of another religious purge movement and quickly sent his family to New York, staying behind to continue his bakery. He, along with most of the Jewish population of Poland were wiped out during the pogroms that swept the Russian empire, but his family survived and prospered in the new country. Thus, a Spanish born Mexican baker was the inventor of the hero of the New York Deli scene, the bialy. Its all true, you can look it up if you don’t believe me.
- The Bread Guy
- La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
- Before gaining control of my life, I created pastries for some cool places in California: San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Brix Restaurant in Napa and The Lodge in Sonoma. Now I am the chef/owner of Pan D' Les bakery in La Paz. My personal favorite is the Multigrano loaf, full of crunchy seeds and a nice chewy crust.