Preserving Traditional Tamales at De Alba Bakery
Finding authentic Mexican traditional tamales made with all-natural ingredients and heirloom culinary techniques isn’t easy; which is what makes all four Rio Grande Valley De Alba Bakery locations so special.
Winner of The Monitor’s 2014 Reader’s Choice Awards for Best Bakery, Best Cakes and Best Tamales, De Alba Bakery serves up Mexican tradition with sides of savory and sweet homemade baked goods and handcrafted tamales that honor centuries of Hispanic culinary heritage. The bakery’s new e-commerce tamales program – the latest addition to the de la familia menu – now allows guests from all over the country to order De Alba Bakery’s traditional tamales and have them shipped right to their doors. And it’s all thanks to Ana De Alba, a third-generation baker with a mission to pass on her rich culture using food as a conversation lightning bolt.
“The meaning behind the food is what makes De Alba Bakery so authentic. Each product is steeped in tradition, making early mornings a significant part of our baking process,” said Ana.
Ana and her family have been serving carnitas, barbacoa, tamales, sweet bread and cakes in Texas since 1983 – although the tradition of preparing authentic Mexican fare for friends, family and neighbors goes back much further, to Ana’s grandmother and her humble Mexican kitchen. Along with traditional tamales, the bakery’s sweet bread – or pan dulce – plays an important role in Mexican culture. Families as far back as the 16th century would eat this pastry both early in the morning and very late at night. For centuries, pan dulce has been an integral part of bringing Hispanic families together, and Ana, her family and the entire De Alba Bakery team are honored to continue this tradition.
“Initially, sweet bread was created because its primary ingredient was wheat. At the time, it was the only grain recognized by the Catholic church as being suitable for the Eucharist wafer. Later on, the bread would succumb to French influence during the brief French occupation of Mexico the 19th century. While the invasion was short, and the French were defeated, the baking influence stood. Many Mexican chefs incorporated chocolate, cinnamon and other ingredients into their repertoire, turning the Eucharist wafer into the same doughy confection our bakery serves each and every day,” said Ana.
Sharing her story with much enthusiasm, Ana knows the history behind every product her family creates. Take the iconic shape of tamales, initially conceived during a period of travel and political turmoil between the Aztec, Mayan and Incan civilizations as early as 7000 BC. This now-Mexican-staple was initially designed for ease of transportation – food that could be hot, warm or cold on the go, conveniently packaged in a cornhusk casing. Honoring this tradition and this rich Hispanic heritage is the reason De Alba Bakery still hand-wraps each tamale they serve.
“We can’t forget the purpose behind what we make every day. I like to joke that we ‘kneed’ it in order to continue growing. Sharing our traditions, much like the French chefs did with the Mexican bakers, allows us to remain connected as people,” said Ana.
Ana and her family connect with De Alba Bakery’s customers daily. She is up working alongside her family every day before dawn, just as her mother Dora and her grandmother did before her. It is the memory and deep respect of the women in her family that push Ana to preserve the heirloom baking methods of her foremothers. “Nothing’s changed as far as incorporating fresh, genuine Mexican ingredients,” said Ana. “I will not deviate from my family’s recipes in exchange for the modern convenience of tortilla makers or canned jalapenos. The minute you change tradition, you lose a piece of your history.”
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