Andreja Brulc's Blog

MEXICO Project: Mexican cuisine: Pan dulce (‘Sweet bread’)

Posted in MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 31/10/2013

panaderia_columba_tlacalulaFor a Central European with a sweet tooth, bakeries are one of the first on the list to be checked out when exploring new things while visiting a foreign country. No matter how rustic or urban, Mexican panaderías (‘bakeries’) are just that – they score 10 out of 10 on my list. The sweet aroma of pan dulce coming out on the street can tempt even those with no sweet tooth into entering their premises! Mexican panaderías are one of the most innovative in the world and a pride of Mexican cuisine.

During my stay in Oaxaca I was very lucky that my Spanish teacher José Antonio González introduced me to his family of Zapotec origin from Tlacolula in the Oaxaca Valley and particularly to his brother, who runs the panadería Columba with his wife there, baking pan dulce in a traditional adobe oven.panaderia_columba_adobo ovenIt took him six months to construct his adobe oven – using ancient techniques and materials of clay, straw and earth that keeps the oven warm all the time even if not used. panaderia_columba_demonstrationThis article on pan dulce is dedicated to José in the memory of our many discussions about Oaxacan food tradition as well as Oaxacan culture and history in general in my Spanish class, and, nonetheless, especially to his brother’s passion for the bread making and his love for keeping the tradition alive for posterity!

Pan dulce

Pan dulce (lit. ‘sweet bread’), known as Mexican pastry, is a (not too) sweet yeast bread or pastry, baked in many varieties, of different sizes, colours, and flavours. Most of them are topped with the traditional sugar crust pastry (pasta) made from white flour, sugar and margarine (butter). Being extremely cheap even in local terms, pan dulce is a staple food in Mexico and other Latin American countries. It is also popular with Mexican Americans in the United States. It is eaten with coffee, milk or hot chocolate. Pan dulce is typically enjoyed dipped in Mexican hot chocolate – in Mexico, the hot chocolate is darker and not as sweet as regular hot chocolate one finds at home. In Mexico, the tradition of eating sweet pastries for breakfast or mid-afternoon snack, known as merienda, goes back to the 16th century. Pan dulce is considered to be a Mexican cuisine even though its origins are European.

Photo Ana Gilbert

Photo Ana Gilbert

The history of bread in Mexico

The Spanish colonial influence

Wheat was one of the first non-native foods that the Spanish colonialists introduced to Mexico. The grain was not only a Spanish staple food but it was also a religious necessity – the only grain that the Catholic Church recognised suitable for the making of Eucharist wafer. The first wheat bread produced in Mexico was uninspiring as it came out as a tasteless lump. The indigenous population did not care for it at first, but since they worked on wheat farms that provided bread for the Spaniards, they gradually got used to it, especially since wheat was part of their pay (Palmerin 2012:869).

The story of eating sweet pastries says that an inventive viceroy started a practice that would change the way in which indigenous people perceived bread – he dipped his bread into hot chocolate – a custom that quickly caught on as it tasted better than simple white bread and people never looked back.

The French influence

A desire for something more delicious was further fulfilled thanks to the French influence that took hold of Mexico at the end of the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1821. And, when the French bakers started to arrive in Mexico and influenced the art of bread making there with their introduction of pan francés (lit. French bread), the taste of bread – crispy rolls, baguettes and sweet pastries ­– finally began to appeal to Mexicans. By then, Mexico had already been flooded by French bakeries.

It is ironic without saying, however, that the first French military intervention in Mexico is called The Pastry War (Guerra de los pasteles) (Dec 1838–March 1839). Civil disobedience seems to have been the norm in the early days of the Mexican republic. The properties of many expatriates, including those owned by the French, were constantly looted by bandits and even Mexican soldiers, but their appeals to the Mexican government for compensation fell on deaf ears. In 1838 a French pastry cook called M. Remontel claimed that Mexican soldiers had damaged his establishment in the Tacubaya district of Mexico City in 1828. As he was refused compensation, he appealed to the French King Louise-Philippe for help. As we know the French take their pastry very seriously indeed, the King demanded 600 000 pesos, which was extremely high, as, in comparison, an average workman’s pay per day at the time was one peso! As Mexico refused to pay the sum, a surreal cause for the war as pastry might have been led to a three months long conflict between Mexico and France! Britain acted as a mediator, and as Mexico promised the payment, the French withdrew from Mexico in 1839.

Benito_JuarezThe 2nd French Intervention in Mexico under the army of the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I also lasted for a short time (1861–1867) – the cause for this war, also known as Maximilian Affair or Maximilian Adventure, was again of monetary nature – President Benito Juárez‘s suspension of interest payments to foreign countries (Spain, France and Britain) on 17 July 1861. Benito Juárez was not only the first indigenous president of Mexico (of Zapotec origin) but he is also perceived as the hero of Oaxaca (he was born in San Pablo Guelatao, a small town in the Sierra Norte north of the Oaxaca valley, but was later educated in Oaxaca where he started his political career as a governor of the State of Oaxaca). The French were defeated on 5 May 1862 at the battle of Cinco de Mayo (also known as the Battle of Puebla) but continued fighting in Mexico until 1867 – on 19 June the Emperor Maximilian I was executed by the forces loyal to Benito Juárez in Querétaro. The execution is famously depicted by Eduard Manet (1868–69, Kunsthalle Mannheim, below; fragments of earlier but larger painting are at the National Gallery, London; and a third unfinished version at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Edouard_Manet_execution_Maximilian I

However brief the actual control of Mexico by France was, it was enough to leave behind a strong French influence that peaked in the early 1900s during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz – a big sympathiser of anything that was French in origin. He even sought to modernise his country by replacing traditional local dishes with French cuisine!

The formation of unique Mexican pan dulce

The French bakeries certainly left behind their legacy in the art of bread making in Mexico – as it eventually helped to establish the Mexican baking tradition that has become one of the most inventive in the world.

piloncillo_raw sugar caneAs a result, many Mexican panaderías sprouted up throughout Mexico as skilled panaderos (‘bakers’) went on adopting a variety of French techniques in making dough – and though much of pan dulce resembles French pastries, their flavour and texture are often different because they contain margarine or lard instead of butter (Palmerin 2012:869) thought I think butter is now more popular than margarine with some recipes at least in home cooking! Mexican panaderos then added Mexican ingredients such as corn flour, piloncillo (‘raw sugar cane’), chocolate and vanilla as well as native fruits (pineapple, guava) and native vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin).

The Mexican panaderos created new bread designs in playful shapes and in a variety of dough and textures, bearing colourful names usually associated with their appearance – e.g. marranitos (‘piglets’), conchas (‘seashells’), moños or corbatas (‘bowties’ or ‘neckties’), ojo de buey (‘ox eye’), bigotes (‘moustaches’), canastas (‘baskets’), chinos (‘Chinese’), polvorones (‘shortbread’) or espejos (‘mirrors’).

La Virgen de Guadalupe_Teotitlan del Valle

Pan dulce is not only sold daily at panaderías or at bread stalls on local markets but stalls are also set up for all sorts of events, festivals and celebrations – e.g. above at the celebration of the La Virgin de Guadalupe (12 Dec) in Teotitlán del Valle in the Oaxaca Valley.

Different types of pan dulce

It is estimated that there are between 500 and 2000 types of breads and pastries being produced in Mexico. The most commonly found varieties of pan dulce are the following (for pictures of each type identified by names see Willamette Week or La concha bakery or The Bread Factory):

besosBesos (‘kisses’) – A beso is made of two round domes ‘kissing’ each other through a thin layer of jam (strawberry or pineapple) sandwiched in between and coated in granulated sugar. Besos are popular on holidays such as Valentine’s Day, but they are also eaten, like other pan dulce, at breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Recipe.

churrosChurro (‘fritter’, ‘doughnut’) – A churro is a deep-fried dough pastry, introduced to Mexico by the Spanish but became very popular there, with its local variations of being filled with dulce de leche (‘milk caramel’), in Mexico called cajeta (a confection of thickened syrup made of sweetened carmalised goat’s milk), but also with chocolate (churro con chocolate) and vanilla custard (churro con lechecilla). They also appear as plain (churro naturales), just rolled in sugar and cinnamon. They are best to eat hot, dipped into chocolate. The pastry is piped into hot oil from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle, in order to make long sticks. My article on churros here. Recipe.

Conchas (‘seashells’) – Conchas are one of the most widely recognised Mexican pan dulces, whose name is taken after its shape of a shell. The concha is a slightly sweet roll with a shell-patterned topping made from the traditional sugar crust pastry (pasta) – a mixture of white flour, sugar and butter (sometimes added with cinnamon or chocolate). Recipe.

La Virgen de Guadalupe_Teotitlan del Valle_cono de nieve_whiteLa Virgen de Guadalupe_Teotitlan del Valle_cono de nieve_yellow Cono de Nieve (‘ice cream cone’) – In my opinion, a translation used by La Concha Bakery should be ‘snow cone’ as the word nieve means ‘snow’, while ‘ice-cream’ is helado in Spanish. As Pera Chapita explains, the cones are a kind of cupcakes, with cake-mix, decorated like ice-cream. But the recipe is not the real thing, as the cone ought to be more like a crispy croissant dough rolled in the shape of a cone and filled, if I believe La Concha Bakery, with Bavarian cream. I was not able to find any further information on this type of pan dulce nor a ‘real’ recipe, but it seems that cono de nieve is very similar to what is known as Cream Horn – as in the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen that shows a beautiful demonstration of the cones being made with flaky or puffy pastry filled with whipped cream. The horn shape is made by winding overlapping pastry strips around a conical mould. The pastry can also be moistened and sprinkled with sugar before baking for a sweeter and crisper finish. My Spanish teacher tells me that this type of pastry is known in Oaxaca as barquillo (‘wafer’) – the first photo shows Barquillos con turrón, while the second Barquillos con lechecilla – though the pastry undeniably resembles the process from Natasha’s Kitchen. But not to confuse, there are two types of Spanish turrón, the harder one (the better known) and the softer one (meringue) – for this pan dulce, the softer version is used. I tried both from the pan dulce stall at the celebration of the La Virgin de Guadalupe (12 Dec) in Teotitlán del Valle and were extremely delicious. Recipe for pastry from Natasha’s Kitchen; for custard filling either lechecilla or Bavarian cream; and for white filling Meringue Buttercream de turrón or if difficult to find the ingredients, any recipe for soft meringue or even munchmallow.

panaderia_columba_cuernosCuernos (‘horns’) – Cuernos are made from a rolled pastry in the shape of a bull’s horn, similar to a French croissant but cuernos are not as rich. They are also topped with the traditional sugar crust pastry (pasta) – a mixture of white flour, sugar and margarine (butter). In some regions, like in Oaxaca, cuernos are also called Cuernitos dulces con pasta as in the picture from the panadería Columba. Cuernos have a rich tasting dough with elements of vanilla and cinnamon for flavour. Recipe.

Cuernitos (‘little horns’) – They are also known as Mexican wedding cookies. In Oaxaca, these biscuits are presented in fringed white tissue paper and given as favours to wedding guests. In the States, they are often called ‘snowballs’ as they appear in the shape of a ball. The recipe is similar to the Austrian version called kipfel (with walnuts or hazelnuts) or that of the Greek version called kourambiethes (with almonds). Traditionally, the Mexican version uses pecans, but also other nuts (including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios) are used. The biscuits in all versions are heavily powdered in icing sugar. Recipe.

Elote or elotito (‘corn’) – It is a popular pan dulce, which gets its name from the word ‘corn’ because it looks like an ear of corn. It is made of cinnamon flavoured dough, filled with chocolate or other flavours, and covered with a generous sprinkling of sugar. Recipe.

Empanadas (‘turnovers’) – An empanada is a soft stuffed pastry pocket that typically comes with a variety of fillings depending on the region and season – most common fillings are apple, pineapple, coconut, guava, pumpkin, vanilla custard (lechecilla) and chocolate cream but there are other varieties with other fillings. In Oaxaca, these are also called Empanadas de Corpus Christi, as they are a speciality of the Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi on 7 June, prepared with fillings of lechecilla, pineapple and coconut. Recipes for sweet pastry dough, with chocolate and dulce de leche or apple cinnamon or lechecilla fillings. Recipe for a savory version with pumpkin, Empanadas de Calabaza, from Mexico in my Kitchen.

Galletas (‘biscuits’) – Panaderías generally make several types of galletas depending on the region, some in bright pink or covered with sprinkles. They are firm and crumbly and very popular indeed.

Molletes (‘cheeks’) – A mollete is a round roll that was originally made in Spain before it came to Mexico. In Mexico, it got transformed into a bolillo, a kind of baguette but shorter in length, which is then opened up to make different types of sandwiches or tortas. A bolillo is the most popular of all traditional Mexican breads. Both are in principle savory breads, but the sweet mollete is made by spreading butter over the bolillo and then sprinkled with sugar or honey and grilled until crisp. Recipe for bolillo and mollete.

Orejas (‘ears’) – A sweet, crispy and puffy pastry in the shape of an ear, very similar to the French palmiers. As the saying goes: ‘Lend him (or her) your brittle, buttery ear of bread, and you’ll hear whispers of sweet nothings on this special day.’ Oreja de Elephante (‘elephants ears’) is the same puff pastry as the oreja but with added cinnamon and pecans. Recipe.

Piedras (‘rocks’ or ‘stones’) – A pastry made of old bread and is known to be hard as a rock. It is eaten with very hot drinks. Recipe.

Puerquito or cochinito or marranito (‘little pig’ or ‘piggy’) – A cute little biscuit in the shape of a little pig is the basis of any panaderías. Its taste can be compared to gingerbread though neither ginger nor cinnamon are used to make the pastry. The traditional marranitos get their spicy-brown flavour from molasses or treacle (a by-product of the refined brown sugarcane). There are two types of puerquitos: the traditional crunchy type (recipe) and the modern soft type (recipe from Mexico in my Kitchen).

Yoyos (‘yo-yos’) – A pastry named after the yoyo toy and is shaped exactly like it but does not have the string. It has a filling, usually a raspberry jam. Recipe.

Unique breads in Mexico

With the invention of pan dulce in Mexico, other culturally significant breads were created in order to celebrate occasions and traditions, such as pan de muerto, buñuelos and rosca de reyes – only sold in panaderías a few days prior to, and during, these occasions. These special breads are part of the traditional customs that have been around for many centuries. The stories behind these breads derive from religious beliefs, predominantly from Roman Catholic Church, though pan de meurto may show some links to the Aztecs tradition.

pan_de_meurto Pan de muerto (‘bread of the dead’) – A pan de muerto is a celebratory bread that is offered (ofrenda) and consumed, either at home or at the graveyard, as part of Día de los muertos celebration (1–2 Nov). It is a sweet egg bread decorated variously either with a cross of bones or skeletons or little figures representing the departed soul (difunctos or difunctas). The latter (as shown in the picture) is very popular in Oaxaca where it is called pan de yema oaxaqueño. The history of pan de muerto is a complex one –  one the one hand, it goes back the conquest years when the Spanish added the bread into the ofrenda as a replacement for the Aztecs rituals of human sacrifice, while on the other hand, it brings forth the Aztecs tradition of making figurines out of a paste called tzoalli (amaranth mixed with tamale dough). These moulded figures of certain deities, some of which were linked to death, were used in celebrations and ceremonies. Also, the tradition of placing food as offerings on the tombs of the deceased goes back to the Aztecs rituals. More on the history of pan de muerto soon. Recipes for pan de muerto from Allrecipes or Mexico in my Kitchen and for pan de yema.

Buñuelo – A buñuelo is a wheat-based yeast dough, a kind of large flat tortilla or fritter – it is thinly rolled, cut into individual pieces and shaped into disks, then deep-fried in order to become crispy and light. In Mexico and other Latin American countries buñuelo is often sprinkled with icing sugar, or with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar or honey or most famously dipped into hot sugarcane syrup (piloncillo). It is sold at fairs, carnivals, and Christmas events such as Las Posadas. In Oaxaca, it is a tradition that you break the clay plate making a wish after you finish eating the buñuelo. This tradition is said to spring from a pre-Hispanic festivity in which all the dishes were broken at the end of a calendar cycle. Recipe with piloncillo from Mexico in my Kitchen or with cinnamon and sugar from FoodNetwork.

DSC_0401 Rosca de reyes (‘kings’ cake’) – A rosca de reyes is a celebratory bread, which is symbolic in many ways ­– its round shape signifies the crown of the Reyes Magos (‘The Three Kings’) as the bread is eaten on the Three Kings Day (6 Jan), twelve days after the birth of Jesus Christ. On the story of rosca de reyes and how it is shared among your family and friends see my article in which I shared my rosca de reyes with José’s family while in Oaxaca. Recipe from Mexico in my Kitchen.

My list of pan dulce will certainly grow as I ‘waggle through’ my two books on desserts I have proudly acquired while reasearching this article on pan dulce. The books will certainly help to make my journey to Oaxaca and to my friends there being closer!

===

Sources

Flores, Joseluis, Dulce: Desserts in the Latin American Tradition (Rizzoli, 2010)

Kennedy, Diana, Oaxaca al gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy (2011)

La Monarca Bakery, 2011

Palmerin, Stephanie in Maria Herrera-Sobek (ed), Encyclopedia of Latino Folklore, ABC-CLIO, 2012, pp. 869–870

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MEXICO Project: Mexican cuisine: Churro

Posted in MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 29/10/2013

While I was researching my article on pan dulce (‘sweet bread’), also known as Mexican pastry, I noticed that a churro is never mentioned as a type of pan dulce. According to this encyclopedia article, the Mexican churro is considered as a cross between a dessert and a savory food because salt is added while kneading the flour – not being an expert, it seems an odd explanation since salt is added to most of pan dulce recipes I have been looking at. My explanation would be that rather than being baked, churros, like buñuelos, are always deep-fried. Deep-frying food is not what one might consider healthy, but since yesterday was a miserable Sunday afternoon in London (with a severe warnings of the worst possible wind storms since 1987) and since today is a year from my departure (flying over the hurricane Sandy) to Oaxaca where I discovered my ‘perfect’ snack, it seemed like a ‘perfect day’ (in the words of Lou Reed, R.I.P) to indulge myself with extra calories, why not!

churros

The context for churro

A churro, sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut, is a deep-fried dough pastry. Principally, the dough consists of five ingredients: water, oil, four, sugar and salt. The pastry is piped into hot oil from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle, in order to make long sticks. Churros are fried until they become crispy and golden brown.

In Mexico, churros are normally eaten for breakfast dipped in hot chocolate or coffee, but also as a snack throughout the day. Churros can be bought at panaderías (‘bakeries’), which traditionally sell pan dulce, but the most common way of buying them is at the corner of a street, where street vendors fry them freshly and sell them hot.

Origins

There seems to be two different theories with regard to the origin of churros. The first one claims that the Portuguese sailors brought new culinary techniques from the Chinese Ming Dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula, including the dough for youtiao (‘Chinese doughnut’). The Spanish learnt how to make it from their neighbours – it was then modified by adding the sugar and introducing the star design.

The second theory claims that the dough was invented by nomadic Spanish shepherds living in the mountains cut off from the world with no access to bakeries. The churro paste was easy to make and cook in frying pans over the open fire. This theory seems credible as there exists a breed of sheep called the ‘Najavo-Churro, which are descended from the ‘Churra’ sheep of the Iberian Peninsula – the horns of these sheep look similar to churros.

Churros gained popularity because of its simplicity in the making process.

Variations

In Spain, there are two types of churros: one which is thin (and sometimes knotted or curled) and the other which is long and thick (porra). Porra is fried in the shape of a continuous spiral and cut into portions afterwards.

Although introduced to the New World by Spain, churros are very popular in Mexico as well as in other Latin American countries, where they come in many local variations. In Latin America, churros are thick sticks and often filled. The Mexican churro is filled with dulce de leche (‘milk caramel’) – in Mexico it is called cajeta (a confection of thickened syrup made of sweetened carmalised goat’s milk) – but also with chocolate (churro con chocolate) and vanilla castard (churro con lechecilla). Chocolate and vanilla, of course, come from Mexico. It also appears as plain (churro naturales), just rolled in sugar and cinnamon (churro con azúcar y cañela).

Method

Advice

I followed the recipe from Allrecipes – I recommend the recipe as my churros were very delicious. But whatever recipe you decide to follow at the end – some even use butter and eggs though my Oaxacan friend tells me that these two ingredients are not used there – there are a few things to remember, the information of which you do not normally get from online recipes:

1. The thickness of the churro depends on the width of the nozzle attached to a churrera (‘syringe’). I was rather surprised that my churros came thinner than expected as I used the nozzle for piping icing for cup cakes. See video.

2. Also, I was also hoping that my churros would come out straight like those I remember from Oaxaca. I subsequently read that churros in Spain are thinner, can be knotted, twisted or curled. So, I was doing alright – they were home-made after all.

3. I managed to destroy two disposable pastry bags before I accomplished the task! The first one burst open with a big surprise – luckily, I prevented the dough from falling into a pan full of hot oil on time – in my opinion, the dough should be left to cool down first as my dough must have been too hot.

4. The length of churros should be in relation to your frying pan. If you want them straight, don’t pipe them too long, as they are bound to curl. They are still soft when taken out of the pan for a few seconds and can be straightened before they harden if you can find the method without burning your fingers!

5. Also, fry only a few churros at any time. They will stick together otherwise.

6. I used kitchen scissors to cut each churro before it wiggled like a snake into the hot oil!

7. The recipe is set for 4 servings – a measure of 1890 ml of oil for frying is suggested. Beware, if you change serving to larger than 4, the quantity of oil will change too! However, even if the quantity did not change no matter for how many servings it is used at the end, the suggested quantity is too high. The pan I used measures circa 25 cm in diameter, which is by no means a standard size for any domestic deep-frying. For that size you do not need more than 1 liter of oil (it can then be recycled for 3 deep-frying sessions if sieved back to the bottle when the oil is cooled down). Check Nigella if not sure.

8. The temperature of oil in the frying pan should be set at around 180º C if you have a food thermometer. Nigella says that the temperature should be 170º C, while churros are ready in 30 seconds to be taken out. Allrecipes says 190º C and fry until golden. I judged it on the principle of an eye – I dropped a piece of dough into the oil and waited until it sizzled (at this point my thermometer read the temperature as 180º C). It took about 1 min each time for churros to become golden brown. You really need to work it out for yourself. Some may come out browner than the other but will still taste good.

churros_ingredients

Ingredients for dough

For 4 servings:

235 ml water

30 g white sugar

3 g salt

30 ml vegetable oil

125 g flour

1 liter of oil for frying

Ingredients for coating

100 g sugar

2 g cinnamon

Instructions

1. Place sugar, salt and oil into a non-stick metal pan containing water. Bring to boil, then remove from the heat entirely.

churros_cooking_1

2. Slowly add the flour to the water mixture. It is probably best to sieve the flour first in order to reduce lumpiness – use the whisk to make sure the dough is not lumpy.

churros_cooking_2

The dough should be slightly soft, formed into a ball and sticky to touch.

churros_cooking_3

3. Leave the dough to rest for a while until cool (at least 10 mins) before it is placed into the pastry bag. Choose the width of the nozzle depending whether you prefer churros thinner or thicker.

churros_pipe

4. Heat 1 liter of oil in a frying pan (circa 25 cm in diameter) until the temperature of the oil is around 180 ºC.

churros_frying

5. Pipe the strips of dough into the hot oil using scissors to cut the pieces. Fry until golden brown and crispy.

6. Drain well on the kitchen towel before churros are rolled in cinnamon and sugar mixture.

churros_sugar and cinnamon

¡ Buen provecho!

Beletrina ’36 Top’ Book Covers / 2007–2011

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 06/10/2013

A selection of ’36 top’ book covers made in March 2012 for my ‘artist-in-residence’ application in Oaxaca, Mexico. The book covers were produced during my first five years of the Beletrina contract (2007–2011). My statement for this selection made in the application is below.

1 part_2007-2011 2 part_2007-2011

Statement

The largest body of work I have produced, often involving crafts in the context of contemporary art and design, consists of designs and illustrations for book covers for Beletrina, a major literary imprint of the Slovene publisher Beletrina Academic Press.

In Nov 2006, having just finished my professional studies at the London University of the Arts, I won a public competition in Slovenia to become principal cover designer and illustrator for the imprint, and after nearly six years in this role I will have created from my London home around 200 book covers. The publisher, subsidised by public and private funds, has gained its reputation primarily by introducing prominent works of contemporary national and world literature to Slovene readers, including Mexican authors such as Octavio Paz and Sergio Pitol. The publisher’s goal is to set standards for a new publishing philosophy which, in addition to focusing on non commercial titles and giving priority to inventiveness, freshness and directness, respects authors and invests a considerable effort in the promotion of their work. Their philosophy and my close-knit relationship with the publisher has helped me to develop a highly individual and recognisable style and branding for the imprint over the last nearly six years.

The branding is defined by a central stripe of a single colour with separate but unified design elements above and below. The artwork encompasses the entire jacket. The whole collection is uniform in style, but at the same time each book is visually distinct as each requires a different response in method and technique depending on the content of the book – I am a passionate reader, so all the books are read before I get to visual thinking in the sketchbook, creating artwork and finalising the book for print!

Designs involve mixed media including photography, drawing and silhouette, montage and collage (cut and paste techniques), the use of typography, organic and man-made textures and patterns, textile, threads and so on. The illustrations in particular often use traditional craft techniques such as hand printing, stitching and patchwork, embroidery, knitting and crocheting, and industrial materials such as sandpaper and scrim tape. I also apply traditional techniques to unusual materials and use new techniques with traditional materials. I experiment with different possibilities in which images are juxtaposed in a tense relationship to one another and blended together through mixed media, thus creating different realities and perceptions through the interplay of natural forms, narrations and emotions. The choice of using the traditional crafts as a subversive technique is primarily in order to respond to the content of the book but at the same time to explore and challenge certain traditional ideas ad taboos, expressed in that content, that are deeply rooted in our society, such as cultural, political, social and geographical situations.

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