Día de los Muertos is my favorite holiday in Mexico City. I love the orange cempasúchitl flowers that suddenly pop up in the street medians and parks, and the altars sprinkled with flower petals and candles. I love watching the seasonal fall foods finally arrive in the markets: pan de muerto, calabaza en tacha, tejocotes. Sadly, the Día de los Muertos season pretty much passed me by this year. I was traveling in the States through most of October, and then I got home and promptly caught a head cold. I was too sick to visit the Sugar Skull Market in Toluca like I did last year, or wander around checking out ofrendas. One thing I could do, though, was make my own pan de muerto. Last year I took a class on how to make the round, orange-flavored loaves, so I was already familiar with what the dough contained -- basically flour and a lot of butter -- and how to form the ropes on top to make "bones." The bread has a delicate orange taste, which comes from a few spoonfuls of orange blossom water, known in Spanish as agua de azahar. I wanted to use Fany Gerson's Pan de Muerto recipe from My Sweet Mexico. But I had to tweak a few things, because I was too tired and/or I didn't have enough time to seek out the proper ingredients. Watered-down orange blossom essence became my substitute for agua de azahar, because it was all I could find. I dipped into my abundance of mascabado -- unrefined cane sugar -- and used that instead of regular white sugar, even though it made the dough less sweet. Once I started baking, more issues popped up. My yeast starter, made from instant yeast and not active-dry as the recipe had stated, didn't bubble, sending me into a panic. I couldn't tell if my dough was too sticky, or not sticky enough. The dough also rose sloooowly: three hours during the first rising, and a whopping five after the dough chilled in the fridge overnight. (Note to Future Lesley: Do not place buttery dough in an heated oven to speed things up, as it'll turn it into a greasy, sloppy mess.) While my loaves baked, I discovered my oven temperature was whacked-out. My first batch looked pretty and golden-brown. When I sliced into it, the insides were still doughy and chewy. So yeah. What I'm trying to say here is that both of my pan de muertos turned out kind of flat and homely. I didn't care too much in the end. The bread was the centerpiece of my Día de los Muertos celebration this year, and I was going to enjoy it. I sprinkled one loaf with sugar and the other without, as an experiment. I actually liked the un-sugared one better -- it was lightly sweet and perfect with a cup of hot chocolate. Crayton and I each had a wedge for dessert on Nov. 1, while the candles burned on our altar. (Yes, that's a bottle of Coke below. It's for Crayton's relatives in South Carolina.) Here are the shots of my flattish, but still tasty, breads. For more pan de muerto adventures, check out Three Clever Sisters (she also used Fany's recipe, resulting in these cute, plump little loaves) and Steven McCutcheon-Rubio's post on Serious Eats. If you made pan de muerto this year, send me a picture of it and I'll post it here. UPDATE: Here's a picture of reader Isabel's pan de muerto... And Don Cuevas's bread: ...
Dia de los Muertos
All the Day of the Dead festivities officially ended yesterday. Boo. I did want to share with you, though: The Feria de Alfeñique had some of the neatest looking Day of the Dead candy, much of it from dulce de pepita, which is a thick, moldeable paste made from pumpkin seeds. It's lightly sweet. Almost everything was in miniature, which of course made the girlie side of me cry out. Especially when I saw the tiny pieces of sweet bread. And then the teeny tortas. I bought one, just because they were so adorable. The man selling them joked, "Would you like one with ham or milanesa?" There were also candy rats.... And hundreds of chocolates... And tiny pieces of fruit, made from dulce de leche. (This is different from the dulce de leche in Argentina -- it's sweeter, and doesn't have that warm caramel taste.) I liked dulce de pepita better, because it wasn't as sweet. And that's not even mentioning the sugary fruits and vegetables. They're regular old pieces of fruit (or squashes, or sweet potatoes) that have been boiled down with sugar and slathered in honey. They're eaten a piece at a time, so you can savor their extreme-sugar state. My faves, for their pure unique value, were the shriveled carrots and the nopal. Lastly, I saw chongos zamoranos, which I'd read about in a few cookbooks but never seen up-close. I pictured little knots of honeyed curds -- not sure why. These looked kind of like fried pastry dough, and ended up tasting like thin, ultra-concentrated sheets of dulce de leche. Basically, another big mouthful of pure sugar. The chongos were too sweet for me. Looking at all these now, I wish I would have bought more dulce de pepita. It's 8:24 a.m., and I could really use a teeny torta right now with my coffee.
Remember my trip to Patzcuaro? It was a research for an article on Día de Los Muertos there. The article was just published American Way magazine, American Airlines' in-flight publication. Check it out here. And now, since I'm currently sick, I'm going to go back to sipping manzanilla and ordering groceries online from Superama. But I can't pick anything too crazy, because then they might not have it, even though it appears right there on the screen. (They let you order it, and then they call and say, "Señora Lesley? No tenemos espinacas. Lechuga romana está bien?") If you know of any homeopathic ways to relieve sinus pressure, I'm all ears.