Chocolate pan de muerto — bread of the dead

Día de Muertos, observed November 1st and 2nd in Mexico when families honor their departed loved ones, has its own bread, the unique pan de muerto, bread of the dead. This egg-rich bread decorated with skull and bones is offered in all the supermercados and panaderías (bakeries) throughout October. Homemade pan de muerto is far superior to what the panaderías sell. Most commerical pan de muerto doesn’t have much of a buttery flavor. Maybe there’s no butter at all. Formed huesos (bones) and a ball of dough for a skull, give this bread an appearance like no other. As I had already made a more traditional pan de muerto in 2015, this is a chocolate version of pan de muerto for something different.

A few days ago, trying to come up with a different take on pan de muerto, I made a sourdough version. That entailed getting a starter going, which is another story. Suffice it to say that my starter is bubbling along now and is named Niño. (Apparently, sourdough starters have names, so I’m told. If any of you need any starter, just ask. I have plenty of little niños I’ll happily give away.) But pan de muerto, sourdough-style (and without cocoa powder), turned out to be, perhaps, too complicated to expect you to devote the better part of a day to it, with a stretch and fold technique and overnight fermentation in the fridge. Russ and I can’t stop nibbling on it, so it was worth the effort, but I would not expect this bread effort of you, unless you happen to be a sourdough aficionado.

Orange blossom water, orange zest and green anise seed are the traditional flavors of pan de muerto. Green anise seed is not to be confused with star anise. While similar, they are from two different plant species, sharing a subtle licorice flavor, while anise seed is spicier than the milder star anise. The anise and orange pair well with chocolate.

It took three loaves for me to get the chocolate version right. Russell can’t believe his good luck. This might be better than Halloween candy any day.

Chocolate Pan de Muerto 1 loaf

  • 125 g whole wheat flour
  • 125 g white flour
  • 1 tablespoon gluten flour (optional, and not necessary if all white flour or bread flour is used)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) whole milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
  • 2 teaspoons roughly crushed green anise seed
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 egg for brushing on loaf before baking
  • Coarse sugar for dusting on loaf after baking
  1. Add all dry ingredients to bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix for 1 minute to thoroughly blend.
  2. Add milk, eggs, orange blossom water, anise seed and orange zest. Knead with dough hook for 10 minutes, or until dough forms a soft, slightly sticky ball of dough and no longer sticks to side of bowl. Add a very small amount of milk if dough is too dry, or milk if too wet, to form a soft ball.
  3. Place dough in a lightly buttered bowl, cover, and let rise until almost doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Punch down dough, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Cut off four 1-oz. (30-grams) pieces of dough.
  6. Form a smooth ball with remainder, placing seam on bottom of ball. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.
  7. Roll one small piece into a round ball. Roll remaining 3 pieces into 8″ (20 cm) long ropes. Using one finger, roll 5 equally spaced flat spots along each rope. (See 2nd photo.) There is no need to flour the work surface, as the dough is too buttery to stick. Place across large ball of dough, tucking ends underneath. Press small ball into indentation on top.
  8. Slide baking sheet into plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in size. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this can take 30 minutes to 1 hour. (In my warm kitchen, it was ready for the oven in 30 minutes.) To test when rise is complete, gently press a finger tip into dough. If indentation remains, it is ready to bake. If it springs back, allow more time to rise.
  9. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (177°C).
  10. Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush lightly on loaf.
  11. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped firmly by thumb. If you use an instant read thermometer, internal temperature should read 185°F (85°C).
  12. Remove from oven and lightly brush with egg wash again, then dust with coarse sugar. Return to oven for 5 minutes to set egg wash.
  13. Cool for 1 hour before slicing.

Notes ~

~ Fany Gerson’s pan de muerto recipe from “My Sweet Mexico” inspired this recipe, with my addition of cocoa powder.

~ Like all rich egg breads, pan de muerto is best the day it is baked. Leftover slices are wonderful when toasted, with morning coffee or as an afternoon treat.

~ Day old pan de muerto makes great French toast.

Google photo

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Kuchen de manzana con migas

Just to set things straight, this is not a dessert from Mexico. It is from south of the border, but way south. In fact, south of the Equator. When thousands of Germans immigrated to Chile (and many other countries, including Mexico) in the 19th century, they took their recipes for breads, pastries and cakes (and beer!) with them. Kuchen de Manzana con Migas evolved in Chile, based on Apple Kuchen from Germany. It translates to Apple Cake with Crumbs, or crumble, as we might say.

There are German communities in Mexico, and I would like to think that somewhere a Mexican-German family is baking Kuchen de Manzana today. Maybe Frida Kahlo, of German heritage, baked this cake. Maybe Vincente Fox, the former president (whose immigrant ancestors changed their name from Fuchs to Fox), enjoyed it at his family’s table. In any case, this is a cake worthy of Chile’s and Mexico’s German immigrant heritage.

It’s apple time in Mexico, when small manzanas criollas, sometimes called manzanas nacionales, start making an appearance in the local grocery stores. They always used to have a wormhole or two, and be a little misshapen. That wormhole was, for me, a seal of not being sprayed. At least, I liked to tell myself that. Now the only ones I see are wormhole-less, sprayed no doubt, but still good and definitely better than the carbon footprint it takes to get apples from Washington State to Mexico.

This cake has three elements — an egg-rich, buttery, cake-like crust, an apple filling, and a streusel crumb topping. It is baked to my usual specs of using part whole wheat flour and less sugar. I used homemade, cultured butter, but sweet cream butter will work just as well. It took a few zen minutes to arrange the apple slices. Not to create a pattern, but to fit the slices as closely as possible. When ready to serve, dust the cake with azúcar glass (confectioner’s sugar) if you wish, but I think that might be gilding the lily.

Kuchen de Manzana con Migas serves 8

Crust

  • 1 cup (120 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup (120 g) white, all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (128 grams) very cold butter, cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 2 large eggs

Filling

  • 1.8 lbs. (850 k) apples
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Crumb Topping

  • 1 cup (120) g) whole wheat flour (or white ( flour)
  • 1/3 cup (67 g) brown sugar or musovado, not packed (for those in Mexico, this is known as azúcar mascabado)
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) butter
  • pinch of salt if butter is unsalted
  1. Line bottom of a 9″ (228 mm) springform pan with parchment paper. Butter sides. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and adjust oven rack to center of oven.
  2. For crust, mix flours, baking powder, sugar and salt briefly in food processor or by hand.
  3. Add butter, and process just until mixture resembles cornmeal, or blend butter into flour mixture with a pastry cutter.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just until dough starts to form a ball.
  5. Press into springform pan, pressing dough 1.5″ (38 mm) up sides of pan. Chill in freezer while preparing filling and topping.
  6. For filling, peel and core apples. Slice into quarters, then slice each quarter into 4 slices. Toss with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside.
  7. For topping, blend flour and sugar in food processor or by hand. Blend in butter until crumbly looking, and starting to form small lumps.
  8. Arrange apples slices on pastry crust, fitting slices closely to each other.
  9. Evenly top apple slices with crumb topping.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes, or until topping is starting to brown and apples test tender with a paring knife or skewer.
  11. Cool on cake rack 30 minutes. Run thin knife around inside of pan to release sides. Remove side of pan. Cool for one more hour before slicing. Refrigerate leftovers.

Notes ~

~ My grocery receipt lists these apples as “manzana criolla” — wild apple. But they are not wild at all. Apples originated in central Asia, and they likely arrived in Mexico with Spanish colonists. These apples from Pepe’s in Mascota are Galas, so Russ says, and I think he’s right. Galas keep their shape when baked, and their natural sweetness allows for a decrease of sugar in a recipe.

~ Other apples which maintain their shape and texture when baked include Granny Smith, Winesap, Pink Lady, Braeburn and Honeycrisp.

~ Mascabado sugar is Mexico’s equivalent of brown sugar. It is less refined than white sugar, containing some molasses, and comes either light or dark brown in color. Muscovado, also unrefined cane sugar, is the same thing.

~ Mangos, pineapples, and bananas are typically thought of as the fruit of Mexico, and it came as a surprise to us to discover an apple season when we moved here. Our part of Mexico, the mountains of Jalisco, grows peaches and plums. We have yet to encounter local cherries and apricots, but I’m hopeful.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Capomo

Caffeine and I parted ways a number of years ago. I’m one of those people who can wake up, raring to go without any extra stimulus. But it is still nice to have a hot cup of something first thing in the morning. For years, it was Pero, the coffee substitute made from roasted grain. Every summer, when I make my annual trip north of the border, I bring back Pero. At least that was the plan until this year when covid upended everyone’s travel. I had tried capomo before, and didn’t really like it, but now I had no choice. Maybe I just bought a poor quality. Now I really like its mocha flavor with a hint of chocolate. I don’t miss Pero. In fact, I now prefer capomo.

Capomo is ground from a dried, tropical fruit in the fig family, Brosimum alicastrum, and makes a satisfying, hot morning beverage. It can also be served over ice and used in a variety of recipes, like smoothies, baked goods and ice cream.

Capomo is also known as breadnut or Maya nut, and by the Spanish name ramon, and the indigenous names ojite, ojushte, ujushte in Mexico, and ojoche in Costa Rica. It is not a true nut, but a drupe harvested from the Brosimum alicastrum tree, which grows in southern Mexico, in our state of Jalisco, and is also found in tropical regions of Central America and the Amazon. It is known throughout Mesoamerica as a nutritious food source, where it has been stewed and roasted by indigenous people for millennia.

Making a cup of capomo is as easy as making coffee. The ground, roasted “nut”, resembling ground coffee, can be simmered in water or steeped in a French press. I multi-tasked a milk foamer into a French press, as it has a very fine screen with a plunger. I’m not even a week into this, and I’m already looking forward to my morning capomo routine. A soothing way to start the day.

French Press Capomo

  • 2 cups (475 ml) water
  • 2 rounded tablespoons (25 g) capomo
  1. Add capomo to French press.
  2. Bring water to a boil.
  3. Pour water into French press and stir a few times.
  4. Put plunger on French press, but don’t press down. Allow to steep for 4 minutes.
  5. Slowly push plunger down.
  6. Pour capomo into cup, and add milk or sweetener of choice if desired.

Alternate methods: use a drip coffee maker; or add capomo to a tea ball and steep in hot water; or steep capomo in a saucepan of hot water, then strain. Use the same proportion of water to capomo as given for French press method, adjusting for the strength preferred.

Notes ​~

​~ I bought a 500 gram bag (just over one pound) of Caffiana Capomo from Pepe’s, our local tienda de abarrotes (grocery store) in Mascota, for 126 pesos, about $6.00 USD. Caffiana doesn’t have an internet presence, so it’s possible their market is local in Jalisco.

​~ If your local grocery store doesn’t carry capomo, order online in Mexico from Wayak Táanil, which also sells capomo flour for baking. Farmacia San Pablo, Chedraui supermarkets, City Market (Mexico City), natural food stores, and the Wayak Táanil office in Roma Norte, Mexico City, sell Wayak Táanil organic capomo. wayaktaanil.com

​~ Outside of Mexico, capomo can be ordered online.

Grilled plantain — plátano macho asado

If you ever see plátanos machos (plantains) that are ready to be cooked, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking they should be immediately dispatched to the compost pile. Black, spotted, and sometimes even a bit moldy, they don’t seem exactly appetizing in their raw form. As funky as they look, this is when they are at their sweetest and most flavorful. Don’t judge a plantain by its skin, or a book by its cover, someone once said.

Years ago, when the restaurant El Coleguita was still in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, and so were we, we enjoyed many a pleasant Sunday afternoon meal with friends while overlooking the Bay of Banderas. Dessert was always the complimentary half plátano with a dribble of condensed milk. El Coleguita must have known how easy it is to do dessert for a hundred or more diners by serving grilled plátanos. I always passed on the too sweet condensed milk, hence my photo (from ten years ago!) shows a token drop of it.

I’m telling you this as a tip on serving dessert to a large number of people. Load up the grill or oven with dozens of plantains, and set out toppings for do-it-yourself. You don’t even have to peel the plantains. Just slit them and you will have a table of happy guests.

Once plantains are grilled, fried, or baked, their intense flavor outshines the everyday banana we eat out of hand or sliced over cereal. A spoonful of crema with queso cotija, or with cajeta (caramelized goat milk) or agave syrup to sweeten them up (as though they need any more sweetness), might have something to do with the enhanced tastiness. Russ liked the sweetness cajeta added. I liked the counterpoint of the salty cotija cheese.

Grilled Plantain — Plátano Macho Asado

  • 1 plantain per person
  • foil
  • crema or sour cream
  • cotija cheese
  • cajeta or agave syrup
  1. Individually wrap fully ripened plantains in foil.
  2. Grill over medium heat with grill lid closed until tender, about 25 minutes, turning every 5 minutes.
  3. Unwrap and split skin lengthwise.
  4. Serve in skins with crema, cotija cheese, cajeta or agave syrup.

Notes ~

~ Plantain, known as plátano macho in Mexico, shares the same genus as bananas. They are normally cooked, not eaten raw. They are ready to cook when they are soft to the touch and the skin is mostly black. Cooked plantains are creamy and very sweet.

~ I grilled one plantain without wrapping in foil just to see the results. Not a good idea. The skin became almost crispy, and didn’t turn back easily when slit open.

~ Plantains can also be baked at 400 F (204 C) for 30 minutes, turning halfway through, until tender. Split skin lengthwise first. Or microwaved for 6 minutes, until tender, also splitting skin first. Foil is not needed for either of these methods.

~ Cotja cheese is available in US supermarkets, as is cajeta. I believe agave syrup is also widely available now in the US. My summer visit north of the border didn’t happen this year, so I’m not up to speed on the availability of Mexican products, but generally you will find all these ingredients if you have a Mexican grocery store in your town.

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