Rosca de Reyes

Tomorrow, January 6, is the day when the three kings, the wise men of the Christmas story, will bring gifts to the good little girls and boys in Mexico. This is Epipany, called Dia de los Santos Reyes on my Mexican calendar, and it is the offical end of the Mexican Christmas holidays. A sweet, decorated bread, the Rosca de Reyes, the (bread) ring of the kings is served to all, whether you have been good or bad.

This bread has a muñeca, a little ceramic doll, tucked into it to represent the baby Jesus. Whoever finds it in their slice is obligated to serve tamales to guests on Dia de la Candelaria, February 2. Because this can be an expensive meal (two tamales per person, at least, for twenty to thirty or more people), sometimes the one with the muñeca conceals it in their mouth and doesn’t own up. For this reason two or three muñecas may be in one bread, with the hope that at least one person will annouce they are the lucky one who will host the tamale dinner.

Most people in Mexico buy their Rosca de Reyes from a panederia (bakery) or supermercado. If you have a baking inclination, here are two recipes from past years. Rosca de Reyes are yeast breads decorated with ate, a dried fruit paste, and formed into a ring. This recipe is a classic Rosca de Reyes from 2010. My favorite, from 2011, Mini Rosca de Reyes with Frangipani, is a bit more work with homemade almond paste, though you could use store-bought. Either way, be sure to slip in a muñeco, or use a shelled almond as a stand-in as I did.

Leftovers toast well, and also make great French toast, maybe my favorite way to eat Rosca de Reyes. And now that the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the agave flower Christmas “tree”. And start eating salads.

© 2009-2021 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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

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

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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

Simple bread and butter

Two of the things we missed when we moved to Mexico were good, whole grain bread and the wide selection of butter available in the U.S. The large supermercados do a decent job of offering multigrain bread, but they don’t have the chew and crust that make a great bread. In Mexico’s defense, bread is not part of the traditional diet. And butter options are limited. If you are an expat who is missing bread and butter a cut above what is generally available in Mexico, the answer is to make your own and it couldn’t be easier.

Jim Lahey’s popular no-knead bread recipe has made a huge impact in home kitchens. So easy, yet so good. If you have never baked bread before, you can make this one and feel proud of your accomplishment. My bread is a version of Jim’s, with whole wheat flour (harina integral) added, sometimes seeds, and yogurt instead of water for a sourdough-like tang. I’m not a real sourdough baker, so I pretend. An 18-hour rise allows for flavor and yeast to develop.

Jim Lahey’s recipe calls for baking in a cast iron pot with a lid, which I don’t have. I improvise by using an insulated cookie sheet and a stainless steel bowl. You could also use a Pyrex dish with a lid. By covering the bread, steam helps form a crusty crust. An 18-hour rising time allows the flavors to develop.

What Mexico lacks in butter, it more than makes up for with crema, very close to sourcream, but better. Like crème fraîche, crema is cultured with naturally occurring bacteria until it reaches a slight, acid flavor. As it turns out, crema makes an excellent cultured butter, with more depth and complexity than sweet cream butter. Crema, brought in from local ranches, is sold fresh in many of the small grocery stores, sometimes from a bucket in the cooler, usually in one-pint cartons. If you have a food processor, you can have butter in minutes. Well, add about 10 more minutes for washing the butter, but we’re talking again about great results for not much time and effort.

Easy, No-knead Bread

  • 10.6 oz (300 grams) whole wheat flour
  • 3.5 oz (100 grams) white flour
  • 1.4 oz (40 grams) gluten flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) plain yogurt OR 1 1/3 cups (316 ml) water
  1. Mix all dry ingredients in a standing mixer bowl, add yogurt (or water) and mix using dough hook until a ball of dough forms. OR mix by hand in a large bowl until dough forms, adding more flour or more liquid as needed to form a sticky dough. You want dough that’s very sticky, but can still be handled.
  2. Cover well with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 18 hours.
  3. Place dough on well floured board and fold over on itself twice. Form a ball, with seam on bottom.
  4. Place dough on parchment paper and slash top of dough with a very sharp knife. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to almost double in size, about 1 hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
  5. Preheat oven to 450 F/232 C. If using a cast iron pot with lid, pre-heat pot in the oven for 30 minutes. If using an insulated cookie sheet and stainless bowl, there is no need to pre-heat sheet and bowl.
  6. Using the parchment paper as a sling, carefully lower dough into the now very hot cast iron pot, leaving parchment paper in place, or place on baking sheet. If using baking sheet, cover with an overturned stainless steel bowl about 8″ across and 4″ deep, lined with a 3″ wide strip of parchment paper.
  7. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid or bowl and bake another 20 to 30 minutes, or until well browned and bottom sounds hollow when thumped.
  8. Allow to cool 1 hour before slicing.

Cultured Butter

  1. Process 4 cups (960 g) crema in food processor bowl until butter curds separate from the liquid. This may take as little as 30 seconds, or up to 2 or 3 minutes.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer curds to bowl, and with the back of a spatula press out milky liquid until there is almost no more to press out. Save buttermilk for baking.
  3. Wash butter by adding 1/3 cup very cold water to bowl, and press water and butter together, washing out more milk from butter by pressing with a spatula. Repeat 3 or 4 more times, kneading butter with spatula until almost all liquid is removed.
  4. Knead in 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Refrigerate or freeze. This makes 640 grams of butter and 1 overflowing cup of buttermilk.

Notes ~

~ It is vital that yeast is fresh for any bread recipe. Store it in the freezer, where it will keep well for a year or more.

~ You can tell when bread has risen enough when you gently press a finger 1/2″ into the dough and an indentation remains.

~ The more sour the yogurt, the better approximation of a sourdough flavor.

~ In Mexico, gluten flour can often be found at bulk spice/seed/flour stores. La Abejita in Bucerias carries it. The large supermercados that carry imported foods sometimes have Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten flour.

~ Sweet butter can be made the same way by using sweet, heavy cream. It may take longer in the food processor to become butter. Pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized cream will not have the same flavor. Avoid using cream with additives. Commercial brands of crema acidificada, like Lala or Alpura brand, will not make butter, as they have stabilizers added. These products are closer to commercial, American sour cream. Look for a pure cream product. 

~ The buttermilk by-product can be used in any recipe calling for buttermilk. This is real buttermilk.

~ Other agitation methods can be used to make butter. A large jar sloshed by hand, a regular mixer, or a blender will make butter. If you use a jar, make sure it is large enough to allow the cream to move around vigorously.

~ For 4-ounce bars of butter, press 1 pound into a parchment-lined, rectangle container. When cold, cut into 4 bars, wrap and freeze.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

Bread of the Dead

20201025_080040

Mexico has a special relationship with the dead that we northerners can find disconcerting. We understand Halloween and all that goes with it, including skeleton costumes, excess candy  and scary cemeteries. We don’t always understand how families in Mexico can celebrate Day of the Dead at cemetery graves decorated with candles and marigold flowers, and favorite food and drink of the deceased enjoyed by all, including the departed. Children run around and play among the gravestones, while their parents and grandparents share special dishes, laugh and chat. One may see images of La Catrina, the elegantly attired female skeleton who laughs at death, and sugar candy skulls decorate the alters. At this time of year, death seems front and center, not tucked away behind social mores.

20151020_114501

Pan de Muerto, or Bread of the Dead, is the most iconic food for Días de los Muertos. This lightly sweet, rich bread, similar to brioche, can trace its origins to Spanish bakers who immigrated to Mexico in the last century. This makes sense, given that Mexico does not have its own tradition of baking, but rather adopted desserts and recipes brought to the New World by Spanish nuns and later by immigrants.

20151020_115107

In the few weeks leading up to Day of the Dead, Pan de Muerto is in all the panaderías and grocery store bakeries, even at Costco, where they were handing out generous slices the other day. I won’t go so far as to say we can make a lunch of Costco’s samples, but Russell and I can come pretty close, and Pan de Muerto made a perfect dessert after other bits and bites were sampled last week.

20151024_133621

Orange blossom water and anise seed are the two signature flavors of Pan de Muerto. Surprisingly, I found a bottle of orange blossom water on my shelf, purchased on a trip to the U.S. for a now forgotten recipe. This distillation is made from the blossoms of bitter orange, and has a strong floral aroma that mellows as it bakes. If you don’t have orange blossom water, use grated orange zest instead for a citrusy aroma. In Mexico, orange blossom water is known as agua de naranjo or agua de azahar.

Green anise seed was new to me. I’m familiar with star anise used in Asian cooking, but did not know that green anise seed is from a totally different plant. This is the anise used for making absinthe, the green colored liqueur.

20151024_135126

If you are familiar with my baking by now, you know that I generally use 50% whole wheat flour. To my taste, this adds much to the flavor — a nuttiness and sweetness found only in fresh whole wheat flour. Use all white flour if you prefer, which is in step with most Mexican baked goods.

20151025_154250

My breads and cakes always have a charming (or embarrassing) homemade look, though this loaf pushed the envelope in the homemade category. When Russell saw my loaf come out of the oven, he kindly said it looked muy rústico. After his first bite, he said it reminded him of his Polish grandma’s babka.


Pan de Muerto — Day of the Dead Bread 

  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./118 ml.) whole milk
  • 3 oz. (85 g.) unsalted butter
  • 2 large strips orange zest, minus white pith
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water (or 2 tablespoons grated orange zest)
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1  1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 cups (8.5 oz./228 g.) white all purpose flour
  • 2 cups (9 oz./250 g.) sifted whole wheat flour, bran reserved for another use
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 oz./50 g.) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons anise seed (known as anis in Mexico)
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon salt
  • oil for bowl and pan
  • Topping: 1 oz. (28 g.) melted butter and 1 -2 tablespoons sugar
  1. In a small saucepan, warm milk,  butter and orange zest until butter melts. Remove from heat and discard zest. Whisk in orange blossom water and beaten eggs.
  2. Blend yeast, flour, sugar, anise seeds and salt in a large bowl. Gradually add milk mixture, stirring with a large wooden spoon. When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, knead by hand for about 10 minutes until smooth. If too sticky to handle, add flour a tablespoon at a time. If too dry, add water or milk by the tablespoon.
  3. Turn into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise until double in size. Punch down, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next day, remove dough from refrigerator and bring to cool room temperature. Save aside a small amount of dough to form “bones” and “skull” (sometimes called a tear). Form ball of dough, slightly flattened. Roll 3 small balls of dough into ropes for the “bones”, and shape to form bony segments. Place “bones” across the loaf, with the “skull” or “tear” pressed into the center. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until almost double in size.
  5. Bake in a pre-heated 350 F./180 C. oven for 30-40 minutes, covering with foil in 15 minutes if top browns too quickly. When done, a tap on the bottom of the loaf will make a hollow sound. Or bake until interior temperature measures 190 F/88 C.
  6. Brush with  melted butter and sprinkle with  sugar.  Serve warm.

Notes

~ For my readers in Mexico, I have found Espuma de Chapala to be the best whole wheat flour brand in the grocery stores here. It comes in a plastic-lined bag for freshness, and is high in protein, which corresponds to its gluten content, making it great for bread baking. It needs to be kept refrigerated to discourage rancidity, as do all whole grain flours.

~ I used my KitchenAid stand mixer to knead the dough for about 8 minutes. Use your hands, a KitchenAid mixer, or a large enough food processor for mixing and kneading, following dough instructions for mixer or processor.

~ Like other rich egg breads, Pan de Muerto is best the day it is made. If it lasts longer, toasted slices are almost as good as freshly baked.

~ Thank you to Rachel Laudan for the information about Spanish bakers in Mexico If you are interested in reading more on the history of Pan de Muerto, I recommend her blog, A Historian’s Take on Food and Food Politics.

~ This recipe was primarily adapted from a recipe in Fine Cooking, by Fany Gerson. Other recipes to check are at Pati’s Mexican Table and The Mija Chronicles.

Coconut Bread — Pan de Coco

Coconut Bread

The cuisine of Mexico is built upon foods that originated in the New World: beans, corn, chile, tomatoes, avocados, squash, chocolate. These are some of the first foods of the first people of Mexico that still form the basis of the most common dishes of Mexico.

Coconut is thought to have been cultivated in Mexico when it was brought from the Philippines in the 16th. century. Even though it has been here for almost five hundred years, that is too recent for it to be ingrained in the Mexican food culture. This is a country whose civilization goes back to the Olmecs, who lived in Central Mexico as early as 200 B.C. Something that showed up only five hundred years ago does not rate as an established ingredient. It is too new.

For coconut bread to make an appearance in Mexico, wheat, another recent newcomer, had to be introduced. The final necessary element was the craft of baking, brought to Mexico by Spanish nuns. Coconut, wheat and baking. With all three present, coconut bread can happen in my kitchen in Mexico today. OK, I already knew how to bake, thanks to my European heritage and my American mom, but if I were a mexicana, I would be thanking the nuns right now.

Epicurious, a favorite recipe source, inspired my coconut bread, but I made a lot of changes: whole wheat flour, vanilla (another Mexican native), organic, unsweetened coconut instead of sweetened, coconut oil instead of butter. Epicurious describes this bread as being very crumbly and suggests waiting a day before slicing it. Right. Once the kitchen is bursting with the aroma of freshly baked coconut bread, we are going to wait twenty-four hours before we cut into it? There may be others stronger and more disciplined than we are. We went for warm coconut bread, crumbs and all.

Russ can always be counted on for a few interesting comments about whatever is set before him on our kitchen table. With an amazing palate and high culinary standards, he doesn’t mince words if something doesn’t measure up. When asked what he thought about the coconut bread, he said one word: good. And then he repeated it, mumbling because he had his mouth full. You get the idea. It is good. We spread warm slices with Walnutella, a new recipe still in development.


Coconut Bread makes one 9″ x 5″ loaf

  • 4 cups (10 oz./283 grams)  organic, unsweetened dried coconut
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz./113 grams) organic coconut oil, not melted
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz./100 grams)  plus 1 teaspoon organic sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (.24 liters) organic milk
  • 2 cups (7 oz./200 grams) whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 C.). Oil and flour a 9″ x 5″  (12.7 cm. x 23 cm.) bread pan.
  2. Grind 3 cups (7.5 oz./230 grams) of coconut into a fine meal in a food processor.
  3. Beat coconut oil and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated.
  5. Add milk and vanilla.
  6. In a large bowl, combine ground and unground coconut, flour, baking powder and salt.
  7. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture until combined. Do not overmix.
  8. Spoon into loaf pan and smooth top.
  9. Sprinkle one teaspoon of sugar on top of batter, down the center of the loaf.
  10. Bake for 1 hour, or until  a toothpick inserted in center tests dry.
  11. Cool in pan for 15 minutes.
  12. Turn out of pan and set right-side-up on a  rack to cool for 2 hours.
  13. Slice into 1″ (2.54 cm.) thick slices to minimize crumbling.

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check
Share