Monday, October 31, 2011

Remembrance: Pan de Muertos

When I was younger, I dreamed of my hometown, Laredo, Texas, almost on a weekly basis. I roamed its streets, looking for my house, feeling anxious because I could no longer find it. I took buses that dropped me off at streets I no longer recognized. I knocked at houses where no one knew my family. I walked up and down Kearney Street, looking for the mesquite tree that grew in front of our house, not recognizing anything. To add to my anxiety in this recurring dream, I knew my loved ones were waiting for me to arrive from this long trip home. Funny how dreams are a tapestry of our aspirations, our worries, and our sorrows.

Last night after many years, I dreamed again of going back to Laredo. It was a collage of symbols, of the surreal, of longing, and of loss. In the dream I found my son under the mesquite tree in front of my house, waiting for me. My mother's white dishtowel flapped from one of the branches.  My son was dressed in camouflage as he extended his hand to me to tell me, as he always did, that everything was alright. He led me inside the house where his grandmother and the rest of the family was waiting, gathered around a table bedecked with foods that we all knew he liked.

It comforts me to believe that our dearly departed and beloved come back to be among us on November 1, Día de los Angelitos, and November 2, Día de los Muertos. But the truth is, I always feel close to my son. From my second story window, on this beautiful fall day, I look down at the brightly colored leaves scattered below and can almost see him, looking up at me, proudly stepping out of his new car as he did a few years before he deployed to Iraq.

It was comforting to prepare this simple egg bread, Pan de Muertos. I've woven together recipes belonging to different relatives in Mexico with my own knowledge of bread baking. The result is a very easy brioche-type bread that is not difficult to make and it doesn't stray much from the traditional bread of Mexico. It is an orange blossom and anise-scented, barely sweet, airy bread. Sweetness, love, remembrance, lament...all are part of this ritual. It's hard to believe I'm here, blending, kneading, baking this bread in this quiet house, thinking of my son and all those who did not return from a war that finally ended, much too late.

A whispered Why? floats in the air, unanswered, and the yeast continues to do its work.

Pan de Muertos

Recipe Type: bread, desert

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 3 hours

Cook time: 45 mins

Total time: 3 hours 45 mins

Serves: 8

Dear readers, The error in this recipe has been corrected.


  • 1/2 cup warm water

  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature

  • 3 cups unbleached flour

  • 1 packet yeast

  • pinch of salt

  • 2 teaspoons anise seed

  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

  • 3/8 cups sugar

  • 2 jumbo eggs or 3 small eggs, room temperature

  • 2 tablespoons orange blossom water

  • granulated sugar for sprinkling

  • For the glaze: 1 oz cone of piloncillo and 3/4 cup water and juice of one orange


  1. In a large bowl mix the sugar, flour, anise, salt and ½ cup of the flour and then mix in the butter.

  2. The eggs, the water, and orange blossom water should be combined in a separate bowl, mixed well, and added to the first mixture.

  3. Add another ½ cup of flour.

  4. Add the yeast and another bit of flour until you have gradually added the rest of the flour and a dough is formed.

  5. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 3 minutes.

  6. Place the ball of dough into a bowl large enough to allow the dough to rise and cover with a slightly damp dishcloth.

  7. Cover the bowl with a lid so that the heat and moisture will allow the dough to rise.

  8. Let it rise near a warm area for about 1 hour and a half.

  9. Punch down the dough and shape it into a large ball, leaving small pieces of dough to form the ball on top and the four rolled pieces that form the 'bone' shapes.

  10. Let this shaped dough rise for another hour in a warm spot of your kitchen.

  11. Brush the glaze on it, (see below), sprinkle with granulated sugar and place in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until it is a golden brown.


For the glaze:
Bring a 1 oz. cone of piloncillo to boil in about ¾ cup of water until it dissolves, let it boil until it thickens, add the juice of one orange, cook for another 3 minutes; then let it cool before brushing it on.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tacos de Huitlacoche

This past Columbus Day (also known as Día de la Raza in Latin America and Indigeneous People's Day in the United States) weekend I was back in San Miguel de Allende visiting friends and taking advantage of the long weekend. The weather was delicious with nightly rains quenching the hillsides and leaving the cobblestones glistening in the morning sun. The rains are also responsible for the abundance of huitlacoche, a corn fungus that Mexicans consider a delicacy.

In Mexico, huitlacoche enjoys the same culinary standing as truffles do in Europe, though it doesn't grow underground and isn't as costly.  The high regard for huitlacohe is an ancient sentiment.  The Aztecs revered all forms of maize, especially huitlacoche, a Nahuatl word some linguists decipher as meaning "ravens' excrement."  It is true that huitlacoche is not exactly pretty; the deformed, irridescent, and spongy kernels are powdered with black spores and look a little like, well, bird droppings.

Fresh huitlacoche is not hard to find in Mexico.  I saw a young woman selling it right on the cobb but often I buy it from Josefina, my elderly friend from the sierra, who removes it from the cobb and sells it packaged in baggies.

Huitlacoche's taste is difficult to describe; the flavor is not quite like porcini or truffles, but there is some similarity.  Fresh is better though difficult to find in the United States.  Canned huitlacoche is more readily available, which requires a longer cook time to dry out the liquid.

Doña Beatriz

This recipe belongs to Doña Beatriz, a legendary cook from Casa Carmen in San Miguel de Allende.  She doesn't put cheese in her tacos but to add cheese, cut thin slices of a soft cheese like queso de Oaxaca or Monterrey Jack and warm it on a corn tortilla, topping the quesadilla with cooked huitlacoche.

Photos of tacos courtesy of Kelly Castellanos-Evans

Doña Beatriz's Tacos de Huitlacoche

Recipe Type: Appetiser

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook time: 5 mins

Total time: 25 mins

Serves: 2 to 4


  • Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups of huitlacoche

  • 2 roma tomatoes

  • 1 small onion

  • 1 clove chopped garlic

  • 1/2 cup canola oil (approximately)

  • Fresh cilantro

  • Salt to taste

  • Corn tortillas


  1. Clean the huitlacoche by removing the tiny stems or feet (la patita) from where it is attached to the cobb (these have a slightly bitter taste).

  2. Cook the onion first until it is soft, then add the roma tomato; cook until it dissolves, then add the huitlacoche.

  3. Cook this mixture for about 10 minutes, until it is all softened, add salt to taste.

  4. Warm your corn tortillas on both sides on a comal.

  5. Place a spoonful of the mixture, garnish with a slice of fresh tomato or a slice of avocado and chopped cilantro and serve with your favorite salsa.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Salsa Pico de Gallo

Molcajetes are a type of mortar (molcajete) and pestle (tejolote) made from basalt.  Use of the molcajete in Mesoamerica dates back 6,000 years and remains ubiquitous in Mexican cooking today. Molcajetes are versatile tools;  they can be used to grind chiles, herbs, and spices, thereby releasing essential oils and flavors.  Because they are made from volcanic rock, they may be heated and used to serve stews, meats and other foods that taste better at higher temperatures.  They also function as attractive serving pieces for guacamole and salsas.

Pico de gallo, for instance, is a quick salsa that can be found on nearly every Mexican table at mealtimes, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner.   (La Madrina recalls that preparing it was the first duty she was given as a child.)  It's simple, fresh and zesty and the perfect accompaniment to a variety of Mexican dishes.

Pico de Gallo

Recipe Type: Salsa

Author: Gilda V. Carbonaro

Prep time: 10 mins

Total time: 10 mins

Serves: 4

  • 3 firm, large tomatoes, chopped small, into cubes

  • 1 regular-sized white onion, minced

  • 1 serrano pepper, minced

  • 5 or 6 sprigs of cilantro, roughly chopped

  • salt to taste

  1. Grind the minced serrano pepper into the molcajete.

  2. Add the chopped ingredients: tomato, onion, and cilantro to the molcajete, add salt to taste and stir.


Add or diminish the amount of serrano pepper, as you prefer. Or use another type of pepper, like jalapeño if you can't find serrano.