Cooking Like A Mexican

Pan de muertos and Spicy hot chocolate
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Jewish people have challah bread on Hanukkah, Norwegians and the Danish have julekake on Christmas, and we Mexicans have pan de muertos (dead bread) for Day of the Dead and All Saints’ Day.

One of the best and biggest seasons for Mexican food is around Day of the Dead and All Saints’ Day, which are November 1st and 2nd, respectively. Rather, Mexicans celebrate and carry death with joy and respect as the circle of life is completed. This kind of love also influences our cuisine. Since I haven’t shared a lot of sweet recipes with you, my lovely readers, here are two short and sweet ones: pan de muertos and traditional spicy hot chocolate.

Pan de muertos has many variations depending on the region where it’s baked. Around Mexico City, pulque (occasionally referred to as agave wine) is often added. It’s an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the agave plant. It has the color of milk, a somewhat viscous consistency and a sour, yeast-like taste. Oaxaca, where most pan de muertos is produced and consumed in the country, has the biggest variation of shapes, ranging from flowers and hearts to horses, burros and crocodiles.

pandemort.JPGThe round shape of the bread symbolizes the circle of life. A small dough ball sits on top, representing the skull, and four lines of dough radiating from the ball represent bones and tears shed for those who are no longer with us. These lines also symbolize the four cardinal points, blessed by four solar gods: Quetzalcóatl, Tláloc, Xipe Tutec and Tezcatlipoca. In ancient times, the dead were buried with their belongings, and a special kind of bread made from amaranth, as an offering from the deceased to the death gods so their soul could pass through to eternal life.

It is also said that this bread was made for assimilation purposes: Spaniards needed a bread for Eucharist, to ease indigenous Mexicans into Catholicism by disguising it as celebration of their own gods.

 

Ingredients:

-        3 ½ cups regular flour

-        8 ounces of butter

-        3 eggs

-        7 egg yolks

-        1 ¼ cups sugar

-        ½ cup water

-        2 tablespoons orange zest

-        0.7 ounces yeast

-        Pinch of salt

-        1 tablespoon of azahar water (This can usually be found in markets, but can also be substituted with 2 tablespoons of very strong star anis tea.)

Preparation:

1. In a bowl, mix yeast, ½ cup of sugar and lukewarm water. (Make sure the water isn’t too hot, so the yeast will activate.) Bubbles will start to form, which means that the yeast is “alive.” If no bubbles form, repeat the process.

2. On a table or in a mixer with a proper breadmaking attachment, slowly knead together flour, ¼ of cup of sugar, orange zest, salt, butter, azahar water of star anis tea.

3. Add two eggs and the seven egg yolks gradually, and the yeast mixture.

4. Knead, knead, knead. The dough may have a funny runny texture at first, but knead until it’s manageable and separating from the kneading table or the sides of the mixer’s bowl. It may take some time, so be patient.

5. Once the dough is manageable, let it rest in a warm place covered with a damp towel or saran wrap. Keep in mind the dough will double in size so make sure you pick a big enough recipient!

6. After it has doubled its size, punch the dough down and knead again. Separate 1/6th of the dough to make the decorations. With the rest of the dough, knead buns about half of the size you would want your piece of bread to be, as they double the size while baking. Here, you can get creative making small ones for personal portions, or bigger ones to share.

7. Place the buns on a pregreased cookie sheet, making sure to leave enough space between them.

8. Make little balls to place on top and the bone-like lines to place on the sides.

9. Let the finished buns rest for an hour, in a warm place around the kitchen so they double their size again.

10. Preheat the oven at 392 degrees Fahrenheit, pop them in the oven for 15 minutes, then, drop the temperature to 356 degrees and bake without opening the oven for 20 more minutes approximately, or until golden. Let them cool before taking them out. Once they’re cooled, brush some water on them and sprinkle sugar on top.

 

For the spicy hot chocolate:

- 3 cups of milk

- 1 cup of water

- 1 vanilla pod

- 1/2 tablespoon ancho chiles,

   toasted

- 10 ounces of dark chocolate

- 1 cinnamon stick

Preparation:

1. Blend together chocolate and chiles in a food processor.

2. In a pot, warm milk and water mixture and pop the vanilla pod in there so it warms up and infuses the liquid with its flavor. 

3. Place the chocolate-chile ground mixture, and mix until melted.

4. Add the cinnamon stick and keep mixing until milk or water are hot, careful because milk spills very easily when hot. ,