Cabal en Chimal is a series about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer living and working in Guatemala’s department of Chimaltenango. Bi-weekly on Food Friday, this series focuses on my love of eating and trying new foods… all within PC medical rules of course!
As I’ve mentioned in the past, Guatemala has one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world. Extreme income inequality (much of the population lives on under $2 US/ day), a history of armed conflict, present-day political unrest, underdeveloped infrastructure, high costs of protein-rich foods, potable water access issues, and diverse spoken languages are daily challenges for Guatemalans. Many Guatemalan adults have not achieved above a sixth grade education for the aforementioned reasons.
While critical thinking and logical reasoning skills are often lacking (and consist a big part of my daily work), Guatemalans can make awesome bread. Pan dulce or sweet bread is often presented at breakfast, for snack, at lunch, for snack again, and after dinner. One could say that alongside rice, beans, and eggs, pan dulce is a major Guatemalan food group.
The process of panificación or baking is similar to that which we have come to appreciate in the states- but since ovens are specialized pieces of hardware that not all Guatemalans have access to, most people rely on panaderías to procure their leaven bread (though the vast majority of Guatemalans love to eat corn tortillas– lacking yeast they can be classified amongst unleaven breads).
Skilled bakers make breads out of all different things- from corn and wheat of course but also with different kinds of seeds, herbs, spices, and sugars. Pan dulce is simultaneously diverse and delicious. While the panes vary drastically based on region of the country- or even the bakery in town- I have prepared for you an insight into the names and flavors of some of the most popular breads universally enjoyed by Guatemalans (and us Gringoes alike).
First of all, thanks to the brilliant and patient ladies of the Panadería La Sanjuanerita for indulging my craziness. It’s a good thing I always go there to buy bread because they might not have had so much patience with me taking out all their breads, arranging them on their countertop, taking dozens of pictures, and bombarding them with questions about the ingredients, names, and spellings of each bread. I think they probably got a kick out of the idea because they were barely able to keep from laughing at me when my back was turned.
- Molletes are an extremely popular kind of bread here in Guatemala. Arguably the most popular kind of pan dulce trotted out at almost every opportunity sweet bread is presented. They have the form of dinner rolls but are drier and much sweeter. The crown on the top is made from flour browned with cane sugar.
- Cortados are like slightly sweeter versions of normal bread. Often with oatmeal or sesame seeds on top, they are mouthwateringly moist yet firmly hold their form. I like to eat these for breakfast with peanut butter and coffee.
- Cemitas are awesome creations. They are wheat flour rolls that are moist on the inside but dry on the outside and coated in flour. They are also baked with copious amounts of anise giving them a unique sharpness that I have never tasted in bread before. When eating bland eggs and beans, cemitas certainly liven the mood.
- Corchos are my second-favorite kind of pan dulce, favorite in the “funny shape” category. Often times they twist like croissants or crescent moons. Corchos are hard on the outside but soft and moist on the inside. The textured exterior and plain sweetness make them ideal for dunking in rich, black coffee after dinner.
- Tostados follow the Guatemalan convention for creative naming. While also a dried, crunchy tortilla topped with tomato salsa, guacamole, and other toppings, this bread is hard and flat. Tostados are similar to biscotti we love to indulge in our fancy coffee shops while aprovechando free wifi. Also a dipping bread, it makes a lot of crumbs if you just bite into it dry and is easily pulverized en route to destination if not carefully packed.
- Campechanas are weird-looking breads. They’re covered with copious quantities of sugar on the outside, baked with lots on the inside, and are large. So if you’re in need of a sugar rush or just having a bout of gluttony, hit one of these up pronto.
- Champurradas are basically cookies. They’re flat and hard on the outside while maintaining moisture on the inside. These champurradas are made from corn flower with sesame seeds on the outside.
- The royal is similar to the mollete mentioned above. The primary difference is the outside is firm (while the inside remains moist). This particular batch of royales has sesame seeds baked onto the top.
- A cubilete is a muffin. These are sweetened corn muffins. But you can also get chocolate muffins, banana muffins, muffins with coconut, etc.
- An ojaldra sometimes called lengua (tongue) is a long, flat, dried bread. It is crunchy through and through. The top is covered with a lot of crystalized sugar.
- Coronas are my favorite kind of pan dulce all-round, hands down. The outsides are firm like the royal, the inside moist like the mollete, and on top there is a delectable sugar/ flower crown that is harder than the rest of the bread- often encrusted with seeds or spices.