Making bread in a wood fired oven

Bustamente is a tiny town in the north of Mexico.  It has aspirations to be a “Pueblo Magico” – a “magic town” – a honour that is given by a national committee to towns that are either of great natural or architectural beauty, or historic importance or have lost of fun, high quality things to do.

Bustamente is not there (yet).  There is a groovy cave and a natural spring which provides great water entertainment (slides, swimming) but there a no lovely restaurants or hotels, the town square is a bit dull, and as yet there are not a ton of things to do (shopping for high end, traditional crafts, getting natural beauty treatments, taking various courses…).  However, they are trying and there IS something to see beyond the caves and the spring.  It is the Casso de Luna bakery.


La Senora Olivia and her delightful mother bake all the bread in a wood fired oven and when they are not doing that, they are making jam and salsa with local ingredients, running their shop and showing people around.  All the bread they prepare is tradition – from that region – and they prepare it by hand without the use of scales or bowls or kneading machines.  And on the day we visited it was 40 degrees.  Did I mention it was prepared in a building without air conditioning and – remember – baked in a wood fired oven?  Oof is all I can say.

Preparing the dough for  mollete's - a sweet bread with piloncillo and spices
Preparing the dough for mollete’s – a sweet bread with piloncillo and spices *2 doz eggs*
The oven
The wood oven made of clay bricks.
Making pineapple jam over the fire
Making pineapple jam over the fire.  The sweetener is “piloncillo” – raw cane sugar sold in cones.
La senora Olivia in front of her oven
La senora Olivia in front of her oven.

When you enter Bustamente, you see a hand written sign pasted to a wall that says “Pan de Lena” (the N should have a hat on it, sorry) which means bread baked in a wood oven.  Turn right and go down about two blocks and see the bakery on the right.  It’s pretty big, it’s clearly a bakery, but there is no sign that it is the bakery you are looking for.  It is.

This is the sign you will see!
This is the sign you will see!

The names of the different types of bread are not all familiar to me (coming from Mexico City and the south).  I had never met a coyota or molletta or polka before.  All are in the “pan dulce” family – smaller, sweet breads – and they take 6-8 minutes to bake in the oven.

Some of the bread that Senora Olivia bakes
Some of the bread that Senora Olivia bakes

If you don’t fancy bread, Senora Olivia also makes wheat tortillas and various other sweeties for you to buy and take home.

Hand made wheat tortillas.
Hand made wheat tortillas made of both white and whole wheat flour.

Why this is important?

La Senora Olivia is in her 50s and her mum is easily in her 80s and they are working away, 7 days a week, doing their thing.  We talked a lot with them but there did not seem to be any kids or apprentices to take over from them when they either retire or shuffle off to cooler climes.  And yet, the bread they bake is excellent, the living they make is hard but honest and decent and their life, for many, seems idyllic:  a little farm with nut trees, chickens, fruit and enough space to do everything they need to do.  We need more bakers like this and in order to get more bakers like this they need training from people like La Senora Olivia who loves what she does and whose products clearly demonstrate this.

Sweet bread with piloncillo on the top
Sweet bread with piloncillo on the top


La senora Olivia is holding a training course in September!  During the course she will teach the basics of putting together a dough but, more important for many, is how to build, run and bake in a wood fired oven.  If you fancy a trip to Mexico you can fly to Monterrey and be there in two hours!  During that time you can also see the cave, have a dip in the spring, and take lots of other courses including natural therapy courses, courses in how to use “cal” (dried powdered lime) in everything from building walls to nixtamalising corn for tortilla dough.  I wish I could point you to a source of information but I cannot.  Suffice it to say that if you show up in Bustamente on 12-13 September you will find the town abuzz with activity and you can learn how to do lots of things, including baking bread in a wood fired oven.

If Mexico is just a little too far away, take a bread course with us!  We cannot offer you a wood fired oven experience but we can teach you how to bake excellent bread and even how to set up your own micro bakery so you can provide excellent quality bread in your local community, building relationships and health, and doing something with purpose.

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