Ancho Mole Cookies

I wanted to make a pretty cookie, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I really thought I could do it. I’ve probably made thousands of cookies by now, but they were mostly the drop kind. Not the freeze, roll into a three-sided triangle shape, roll in sesame seeds, freeze again, slice really thin through the hard chocolate and nuts without distorting the shape kind. But the Ancho Mole Cookies sure tasted good, despite being less than the perfect triangles I was hoping for.

Epicurious had the recipe for Ancho Mole Cookies on their web site recently, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to make it. The combination of chocolate, chile, cinnamon, sesame seeds, fruit, and nuts — ingredients in a classic mole sauce –was pure genius, and immediately caught my attention and went on the “bake soon” list. Plus, they were just so dang pretty. Perfect equilateral triangle slices, with dried fruit shining through like colored glass.

Russ noticed I was busy in the kitchen, and asked what I was making. “Cookies for the blog.” Russ: “My name is Blog. That’s my new name”. “Blog” gave them his seal of approval, really liking the chile bite combined with the chocolate, fruit and nuts, and he didn’t care that they weren’t equilateral triangles.

Instead of dried fruit, I used fruta cristalizada, a common treat in Mexico, where entire halves of camote (sweet potato), large chunks of papaya or calabaza (winter squash), whole figs and many other fruits are cooked in a sugar syrup until candied, but still tender on the inside. The colors are like gems. If you are not in Mexico, use any dried fruit you have on hand.

Make these cookies. Don’t be put off by my misshapen attempt. I plan on making them again, and just not obsessing over achieving a triangle cut as specified in the original Epicurious recipe. Round cookies are fine. A good cookie is a good cookie, regardless of shape.

Omit the chile if you are faint of heart/palate. And use white flour, if you are not of the whole wheat persuasion. If you use ancho chile powder, be prepared for a mouth tingling zip that leaves you reaching for another cookie.

Ancho Mole Cookies

  • 1 cup (4 oz/115 g) nuts (I used walnuts)
  • 1¼ cups (6.34 oz/180g) raw sesame seeds, divided
  • ¼ cup (.84 oz/24g) pure, ground ancho chile powder
  • ¼ cup (59ml) agave syrup
  • 2 cups (256 g) whole wheat or all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 12 Tbsp. (6 oz/170 g)unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup (33.55 oz/100 g) sugar
  • 1¾ tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 large egg yolks (save the egg whites for brushing on the rolls)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (130 g) dried fruit, such as papaya, mango, or pineapple,, cut into (¾”) pieces. I used papaya cristalizada.The weight may vary, depending on the moisture content of the dried fruit.
  • 3/4 cup (4 oz/110 g) chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Toast nuts and 1/4 cup sesame seeds for 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. Set aside.
  2. Blend all dry ingredients, chile and cinnamon included.
  3. In standing mixer, cream butter and sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat an additional minute. Add agave syrup and beat until well blended.
  4. With mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients until blended.
  5. Stir in nuts, toasted sesame seeds and dried fruit.
  6. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 10″ log and wrap each one in plastic wrap or wax paper, rolling again to make each log smooth. Freeze for 20 minutes on a flat surface.
  7. Now you have a choice. Either follow Epicurious’ instructions and slap the cold cylinder on the counter to form a 3-sided triangle form, OR skip that and leave as a perfectly round log shape. Whichever your choice, leave wrapped and freeze an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Working with one log at a time, unwrap and brush with egg white. Roll in remaining 1 cup of sesame seeds, covering surface completely. Freeze unwrapped for about an hour, until surface is firm but not frozen.
  9. Pre-heat oven to 350 F/180 C.
  10. Slice each log into 1/4″ (6.35 mm) slices. If dough warms and becomes soft while slicing, return to freezer for 10-15 minutes. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced 1″ (25 mm) apart.
  11. Bake 10-12 minutes, until edges are set, but centers are still soft. Let cool on baking sheets.

Notes ~

~ Ancho chiles are dried, smoked poblano chile, with a complex, smokey flavor. The powdered form is common, and is found in many salsas and moles.

~ Mole ( MOH-lay) is a classic Mexican sauce used for chicken, pork, almost any meat. I’ve even spooned it over sautéed tofu slices. The states of Oaxaca and Puebla are famous for their mole. Depending on ingredients, mole can be green, yellow, black or red, and there are more than a dozen different ways to prepare it. Fruit, chocolate, seeds, nuts and chile are typically found in mole sauces. Bottled Doña María mole sauce is the easy way to make a mole dish at home. You’ll find it in the Mexican food aisle if you are north of the border. For those of you south of the border, Doña María is in every little grocery store in Mexico.

© 2009-2021 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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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.

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Chocolate prune cake

Childhood memories of Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bars from the years we lived in England come to mind now and then. Pastelerias (cake shops) in Mexico make very tempting, creative cakes, evidence of European immigrant and foreign government influence. What about a chocolate cake that takes its inspiration from Cadbury’s raisins and almonds? Am I starting a new thing? No. Recipes for Cadbury cakes are all over the internet, mostly from the U.K. Every time I think I might have come up with a new recipe, I find it’s been on the internet for years. Oh well, here’s a very different chocolate cake from this immigrant, me. It’s made moist with prune puree, filled with almonds and raisins, and special enough that it will be our New Year’s Eve dessert and see us into 2021.

Prune puree works some kind of culinary magic, so that less fat and sugar still produce plenty of sweetness and tenderness. Only 1/4 cup of sugar is used, and 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. Coconut oil seems to work its own chemistry, making for more tender cakes.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial for Costco, bakers south of the border can get very good Kirkland brand almendras (almonds), ciruelas secas (prunes), and chispas de chocolate (chocolate chips). But don’t go to Costco for pasas (raisins). Mexico’s markets and little stores have the best, tinted with reds and purples, and two to three times larger than raisins north of the border. They taste sweeter, too, but maybe that’s due to my own enthusiasm for these colorful morsels. In Mexico, you can find them in generically labeled bags or in bulk.

Our New Year’s Eve menu is yet to be planned. Maybe French onion soup with a cheese souffle. No tamales or atole tomorrow night, you ask? Well, when Emperor Maximilian thought he could rule Mexico, his plans failed, but the wonderful cuisine of France stayed. I don’t think we’ll be the only ones in Mexico enjoying French dishes tomorrow night. Bon appetit! I mean, Buen provecho!

The Chocolate Prune Cake is already baked, and because it’s extra moist, it will still be fresh and tender tomorrow evening. That is, if we don’t eat it all by then. You may notice there remained five pieces for the photo above. Will I ever learn to take photos, then eat?

For New Year’s Eve, Russ and I will be staying home with our pup, Yolo, enjoying each other’s company, maybe a movie, and definitely good food. May you enjoy the same. Feliz Año Nuevo!

Chocolate Prune Cake ~ 9 – 12 servings

  • 1.5 cups (10.6 oz/300 g) pitted prunes
  • 1 cup (6.7 oz/190 g) chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) melted coconut oil or butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (4.5 oz/125 g) whole wheat pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour (for gluten free, see notes below)
  • 1/2 cup (1.65 oz/48 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 oz/50 g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz/85 g) almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (2.25 oz/63 g) raisins
  • Confectioner’s sugar to dust on cake (optional)
  1. Cut parchment paper to fit bottom of 8″ or 9″ baking pan. Grease and flour sides of pan.
  2. Simmer prunes in 1.5 cups (355 ml) water for 10 minutes, or until prunes are very tender. (See note below.)
  3. Puree undrained prunes, while still very warm, in food processor with 1/2 cup chocolate chips, eggs, oil and vanilla.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C).
  5. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl.
  6. Stir prune mixture into dry ingredients with remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, almonds and raisins.
  7. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until toothpick tests mostly dry. This is a very moist cake, so some crumbs will stick to toothpick when cake is done.
  8. Cook in pan for 5 minues.
  9. Run a thin knife around inside edges and invert onto cake rack to cool.

~ Notes

~ Prunes from Costco are very moist, almost wet. But if your prunes are the drier variety, use 1 3/4 cups of water to simmer prunes.

~ Pastry flour, with its lower gluten content, is preferred for tender cakes, but not available in Mexico unless you have a large supermarket that carries Bob’s Red Mill products. Most of us in Mexico will have to make do with regular flour, whole wheat or white.

~ For a gluten free cake, replace the wheat flour with Bob’s Red Mill 1 – 1 Baking Flour. According to Bob’s website, this flour can replace regular flour with an equal amount of Bob’s Red Mill 1 – 1 flour, cup per cup. I have not tried this, but it has very good reviews on Amazon.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Star fruit upside-down cake

We decorated the Christmas tree this week, which is the official beginning of the holidays in our house. It’s not really a tree in the botanical sense of the word, but the cut-off, dried flower stalk of an agave plant. This is what campesinos use for their Christmas trees in Mexico, so we have been told, and it sounded like a good idea to us. With real pine trees, from Oregon no less, starting at $100 in Puerto Vallarta, our agave flower stalk is convenient (our lower front yard) and cheap (free). Once the tree is decorated, it’s my cue to start Christmas baking. Russ’es fruitcake is doused with spirits and spirited away, hidden from him until Christmas week. Tequila balls, aka rum balls north of the border, are ageing, and a bright, star fruit upside-down cake seems Christmasy with its golden, crosscut slices.

Star fruit, also known as carambola in Spanish speaking countries, are from tropical regions, but somehow one is thriving in our neighbor Chuy’s yard at 4,000 feet elevation in the mountains. In keeping with the local spirit of generosity, we received a large bag, too many for two people to consume. We are doing our best, eating star fruit every day in fruit salads, and now in an upside-down cake.

My favorite upside-down cake recipe is from Joy of Cooking, well used, stained, and somewhat tattered. It was my first cookbook, and is still the one I turn to most often. Where else could you read about steaming fresh bracken fern or making oxtail soup? Some of the recipes may be dated, but so many have been tried and true through the decades, and the recipe for Skillet or Upside-down Cake (page 607 in my 1967 edition) is one of them. The sweet-tart star fruit made a great cake topping. I confirmed this by eating two slices in a row.

Joy of Cooking calls for beating the egg whites, then folding in the other ingredients for an airy cake. As is my norm, I substituted whole wheat flour and used considerably less sugar. Years ago, I began decreasing sugar in baking recipes and found that taste buds easily adjusted. The palate’s senses are relative, it seems. What was once an OK sweet level is now so cloying in its excess. Use white flour and quadruple the sugar if you prefer the original recipe.

Star Fruit Upside Down Cake serves 8

  • 1/4 cup (2 oz/57 g) butter, plus 1 tablespoon (.5 oz/14 g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (1.8 oz/55 g) brown sugar
  • 6 oz (170 g) star fruit, sliced 1/4″ (.64 cm) thick, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup (28 g) dried cranberries
  • 1 cup (4.4 oz/125 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup (1.78 oz/50 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. If using a 9″ (23 cm) cast iron skillet, melt 1/4 cup (57 g) butter over low heat, stirring in brown sugar until sugar is dissolved and mixture is foamy. If using a cake pan, melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in brown sugar until foaming. Spread evenly in cake pan.
  2. Place sliced star fruit closely together, filling gaps between slices with cranberries.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350F (190C).
  4. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Whisk egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla in small bowl.
  6. Beat egg whites at low speed until frothy. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition.
  7. Fold in egg yolk mixture.
  8. Fold in flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until there is no visible dry flour.
  9. Spoon batter into pan over fruit, smoothing it level.
  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes, checking with a toothpick for a dry crumb.
  11. Let rest in pan for 2-3 minutes. Slide thin knife around inside edge of pan and carefully invert onto plate, scraping out any butter/sugar that remains in pan.
  12. Serve warm or cool with crema, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt. It goes without saying that slices are wonderful for breakfast with coffee or tea.

Notes ~

~ Star fruit is a fall and winter fruit. It is fully ripe when the ribs are starting to turn brown. The thin, outer layer of brown ribs can be removed with a vegetable peeler. A sweet aroma also indicates ripeness.

~ Slices make attractive garnishes on fish and other main dishes, and combine well with avocado and orange juice for a refreshing salad.

~ Whole wheat flour should be fresh, otherwise it can have a bitter flavor. For this reason, it’s best kept refrigerated. When fresh, it has a nutty, sweet flavor compared to white flour, which has no flavor at all. Anything baked with whole wheat flour not only tastes better, but has a higher nutritional content because the bran and wheat germ have not been removed. In Mexico, Espuma de Chapala Harina Integral is my choice for whole wheat flour, though it needs to be sifted for cake baking to remove the bran. Save the bran for muffins.

© 2009-2020 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.

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© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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