Día De Los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday encompassing three days and involves family and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.  While the symbols are macabre (often skulls and skeletons are used), the day is used as a celebration of life and loved ones lost.  Legend says spirits of the dead come back from the beyond on these days and would be offended by grief and sadness so the festivities are joyous occasions filled with laughter.  Marigolds are believed to be the pathways that guide the spirits to their offerings. The flower’s vibrant colors and scent attract the departed souls, as they return to feast on their favorite foods.  They are also used to symbolize the beauty and fragility of life.  Stories are often shared around the candlelit cemeteries decorated with orange marigolds on adult graves and white orchids on children's graves.  Altars are built and often include photos of the deceased, marigolds and foods and drinks or any other little things the deceased favored to encourage their return to celebrate with family.  Families often pray for the deceased in front of these altars.  Parades are also common as a large public display of the celebration.  

Day of the Dead is a rare holiday for celebrating death and life. It is unlike any holiday where mourning is exchanged for celebration.  This week’s recipes are common foods made for Dia de los Muertos celebrations.  Make your grocery list and hit the store.  Then meet me in the kitchen this weekend for some traditional Mexican foods to honor the dead.  

Calabaza en Tacha (Candied Pumpkin)

1 5lb pumpkin

2 8oz piloncillo cones (try the Mexican aisle at the store or a Mexican market-I had to make a trip to Tulsa to find it) 

2 cinnamon stick

2 anise star

10 cloves

½ gallon water

In large pot add water, cloves, anise star, cinnamon stick and piloncillo. Bring to a boil.  In the meantime, wash outer skin of pumpkin and cut in pieces easy to handle or just remove top.  Remove seeds and cut into slices.  When liquid is boiling, carefully add in pumpkin pieces and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for an hour or two, until pumpkin is fork tender and liquid has reduced to a thick glaze.  Serve pumpkin pieces with glaze.  

Recipe adapted from sweetlifebake.com.


Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

1 stick of unsalted sweet cream butter

½ cup milk

½ cup water

5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided

2 packages active-dry yeast

¼ tsp salt

1 Tbsp whole anise seed

½ cup granulated sugar

2 Tbsps. orange extract

Zest of one orange

4 eggs

In a saucepan over medium heat, warm butter, milk and water until butter has melted but do not let boil.  In large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Slowly beat in warmed liquid until well mixed. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing throughly. Slowly add in another cup of flour. Continue adding additional flour until dough is soft but not sticky.  Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If dough is dry, add water in little bits and if it’s too wet add some flour. Form dough into large ball and cut into four even pieces.  Lightly grease a cookie sheet and place three dough balls on it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, approximately 1 to 2 hours.  Take remaining dough and place onto work surface.  Add flour and knead if necessary.  Take small portions of dough and roll into a small log.  Form bones for each loaf by rolling on work surface with your fingers spread apart.  Make them long enough to go from one side of loaf to the other.  Roll small piece into ball for top.  Once dough has risen on large balls, lightly spray with water or apply an egg wash (1 egg and 1 Tbsp water whisked together) so bones will adhere.  Arrange bone dough pieces on top of each loaf going down the sides evenly spaced around.  Place small ball of dough directly on top and lightly press down so it will stay. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Apply egg wash to top of buns and bake until golden brown, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of buns. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.  Brush with melted butter and dust with sugar.

Recipe adapted from mexicoinmykitchen.com.


Atole de Vainilla

3-4oz piloncillo

¼ cup water

3 cups milk

½ cup masa (yellow corn flour)

1 Tbsp pure Mexican vanilla extract

1 Mexican cinnamon stick

In saucepan over low heat, combine piloncillo and water and stir occasionally until piloncillo is completely melted.  Whisk in milk, masa and vanilla until masa is dissolved and incorporated with the piloncillo mixture.  Submerge a Mexican cinnamon stick. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue stirring frequently for 30-35 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve and serve in mugs. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon if desired.

Recipe adapted from theothersideofthetorilla.com.


Calavera de Azúcar (Sugar Skulls)

For Skulls:

¼ cup meringue powder

6 cups granulated sugar

cup water

For Frosting:

7 ½ tsps. meringue powder

6 tsps. water

1lb powdered sugar

Gel colors as desired 

Skull molds

Cut a pieces of parchment paper and pieces of cardboard just a bit bigger than your mold.  Mix granulated sugar, meringue powder and water together until all sugar granules are wet. Pick up a handful and squeeze in your hand. If it holds together, it’s ready. If it falls apart, it will need bit more water.  Fill your skull mold with wet sugar, pressing down to compact it as you go. Fill both front and back skull cavities with sugar if you have one to make them 3D. Scrape off excess sugar.  Set parchment paper on top of mold. Set cardboard on top of paper. Grab onto mold and cardboard and carefully flip the whole thing upside down. Set it on counter, then carefully lift mold up off sugar skulls. The mold should pop right off. If the sugar sticks, it's too wet. Scrape it out of mold, clean mold, and add more dry sugar to mixture and try again. Repeat until all sugar is used.  Allow skulls to dry 12-24 hours depending on how big the skulls are. Midway through drying, carefully flip them over so the back sides can dry out as well. Beat together powdered sugar, meringue powder and water until it’s shiny and will hold stiff peaks.  Once your skulls are dried, spread a thin layer of royal icing on flat part of each skull side. Press front and back sides together. Use finger to wipe off frosting that oozes from between pieces. Allow skulls to dry for at least an hour. After your skulls are dry, they are ready to decorate. Color small bowls of royal icing using food coloring. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap between use as it dries out really quickly.  Pipe royal icing onto the skulls using piping bags and small tips as desired. Use lots of bright colors on each skull.  Allow 6-8 hours or overnight for frosting to dry.


Recipe from tablespoon.com.