Friday, October 25, 2013

Pan de Muertos Through the Ages

Coming soon, ¿quien sabe?
See Any Port In a Storm, "Dockside Dining" for the joke behind this blog post.

I may write more later, but I have been very busy lately.

A continuacíon...

These, just into the oven, were made 3 years ago.I must remember to check to see if they are done.

Finished Pan de Muertos, brushed with melted butter or oil,
 sprinkled with sugar. Tastes good, looks nice but then soaks up moisture from the air and runs to ruin.
I tried again. I used a rice flour sprinkle instead of applying sugar. The rice flour is put on the egg washed loaves just before they go into the oven.

Reaching back in time, to Pan de Muertos in 2004.
The little esquéleto was made out of a clothes pin by a regular bakery customer of mine, in Mountain View, Arkansas. I still have two of his skeletons.

I mixed a second batch yesterday evening, using the same starter of flour, water and a little yeast, which then is allowed to prove for several hours. The new wrinkle was that at mixing time, that in lieu of sugar, I added a syrup I’d just made (barely cooled) of piloncillo and ground anise seed. 

I added some coarsely milled whole wheat flour and some regular whole wheat, the rest of the ingredients, including wheat flour, unsalted butter and manteca de cerdo. I have grown to appreciate the subdued, porcine scent of the manteca.

The results, if I may say so, were spectacular.

Pan de Muertos Integral, ajonjolí negro
To be continued...

Daily Update, October 28, 2013:
I started another batch of "white" PdM yesterday at 1:00 a.m. Various social engagements and eating events delayed the dividing and shaping of the dough until 24 hours had passed since the starter was made. It had been in the refrigerator since 10:00 a.m. Sunday and I took it out at 1:00 a.m. Monday. I shaped the dough and let it rest on the baker's bench, while I prepared the pans and turned to writing here.

Scaled, pre-formed balls of PdM dough
We'll see before long how this this performs.

After 30 minutes of rest time, the dough balls seem ready to form into "Muertitos". Hasta luego...

3:07 AM: An hour has passed. The loaves are formed and into their final rise.

Two panes on the greased baking sheet.
Placing "los huesitos"
Breads slowly rising under plastic bag
I have already made another starter, looking forward to the next batch of four breads.
Masa Madre (starter)
Yet more, later...

Self-updating slide show

October 31, 2013: Latest and, I think last update. This morning, I made four more panes de muerto. This time, although the masa madre was made as before with OPTIMA flour, for the dough I used Celestial flour. I had until now considered it a softer flour, lower in gluten, but I didn't really have any evidence for this theory. I also increased the sugar from 1/2 cup to 3/3 cup; mixed the dough a shorter time, and with greater hydration. It was mixed at 7:00 pm, Wednesday and refrigerated after 1 1/2 hours of rest at cool kitchen temperature. Then it was refrigerated until about 2:30 a.m.

The dough had risen well above the rim of the KA mixer bowl in which it had been retarded.

I took it out, punched it down an let it rest under cover for over an hour, then shaped the loaves.

To be continued.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Bucket Full of Tenderness

We have had for over a year now a mutually beneficial arrangement with a kindly neighbor woman, Señora S and her teenaged daughter, Ms M. Their family unit also counts the Abuelita, Doña J, the spirited octo-nonagenarian matriarch of the multibranched family tree.

The mother and daughter clean our house with near endless cheerfulness that lifts our spirits as well. (They turn the house inside out, clean it thoroughly, then reassemble it to an approximation of what it was. This weekly process has given us a great flexibility of attitude). In turn, we help them with rides in our van from time to time. Sometimes they bring us wonderful tortillas, made on the comal from nixtamal and other times caldos, corundas y moles. We, in turn, give them some of my specialties. This usually happens on Saturdays, when they come to do la limpieza.
Corundas y Uchepos

A greater part of the informal arrangement comes when we are requested upon to ferry them to Morelia for various matters. Last spring it was a nearly once a week trip to obtain their Mexican passports. Their persistence won over the sluggish bureaucracy until they got what they came for. I will confess that these trips were often stressful and always tiring for us. But we were glad to help.

The most recent van lifts to Morelia are in order to visit a very sick relative in the Hospital Civil. We also stopped along the country road some kilometers from our village to pick up Tía L and her four daughters, ranging in age from four to 18. They crammed themselves into the rear cargo space of our van and the back seat.

We then spent over 6 hours outside the Hospital Civil, mostly people watching, which can fascinating in that context, while they visited the sick uncle and comforted his wife, Tía R

We felt good about having helped our neighbors. We were generously rewarded on the last leg of the drive home by a glorious, pre-sunset vista of the mountains, veiled in a skein of cloud, and a foreground of pink cosmos festooning the valley fields. We stopped at the aunt and cousins' house to let them off, when Tía L's husband, Tío R came out with a costal of elotes to load in our van.

Archive photo
Once back in our village, we stopped at el molino to pick up a couple of large pails of nixtamal  that Ms M had dropped off as we departed earlier.

We had more rewards awaiting us.

The next evening, Ms M came up our street after sunset bearing a small plastic bucket covered with an embroidered towel. In it were a number of freshly cooked, still steaming, elotes tiernos; boiled ears of tender young corn.

These are not the elotes described above, but charcoal grilled.
They were too beautiful not to display.
In anticipation, I'd bought a small container of Crema “Eugenia”. We ate four elotes each, dressing them with crema, limon, Salsa Valentina, y queso añejo y sal. They were delicious, and even more satisfying knowing that they came from Sra. S’ kitchen.

We returned with them to Morelia on Monday and once again brought them home. On this trip we carried only our three neighbors and not the aunt and her daughters children.

On the following Thursday, as darkness descended, as I considered scrambling eggs for supper, there again was Ms M calling at our gate. In one hand she carried a pot of caldo de pollo, and in the other, a clean, embroidered kitchen towel full of freshly made tortillas del comal.

Caldo de Pollo con verduras
We have had her Mamá S's caldo  before, but this one was the richest, most flavorsome ever. Besides the broth and a piece of chicken, it had potato, carrot and chayote and a piece of elote rojo. I cut an avocado, and diced red onion and cilantro to garnish the soup. A lime half for each of us was a given. The tortillas were earthy as always and redolent of maíz y cal. I ate four, more than my usual amount. I can't imagine a more timely and satisfying supper, one that nourished spirit as as well as flesh, made by the hands of our dear neighbor, Sra. S.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Time Line Convergence

Public domain image
This past weekend was a momentous convergence of the Time Line. It was the Anniversary of the Founding of Pátzcuaro. It was also the 8th Anniversary of our coming here to live. And finally, Saturday, not to slight it, was my 71st birthday. It's almost inconceivable that I could reach this age. I'm a little creaky in the limbs, but still functioning.

Earlier, we realized that we had not fired up our Kingsford Barrel Cooker during the past year. We decided that the time was right, and yesterday, we more than overcame the deficiency.

Mine, and mine alone!
We invited about 9 friends to enjoy a semi-outdoors comida.

Here's the menu. Naturally, there were last minute modifications, which in our opinion only served to make the feast better. The contributors' names are noted.

  • Guacamole and tostadas (Mark)
  • Chayote Salad (Nancy)
  • Potato Salad (Eileen)
  • Frijolitos con puerco y tortillas hechas a mano (MaoTey)
  • Hot flour tortillas 
  • Papas Cambray al ajo (Don Cuevas)
  • Sweet Corn on the cob (Doña Cuevas)
  • Fajitas de arrachera, and two kinds of sausages (Los Cuevas)
  • Salsa Asada con Nopalitos, Salsa Verde Cruda; Verduras en Escabeche (Don Cuevas)
  • Tembleque (Postre) (Georgia)
  • Coffee and Licor de Mandarina Casera (Don Cuevas)
The meal was a great success, and at the end, we distributed leftovers to the guests. (We also had Cerveza Victoria to drink, and some guests brought their favorite wines.)

I'll give the recipes for the two salsas, below.

Salsa Verde Cruda


Para aproximadamente 1/2 litro (no hacer de más porque gran parte del chiste es que la salsa sea del mismo día)

• 1/2 kilo de tomates verdes (escogerlos con cuidado verdes oscuritos, no muy grandes, brillositos, yo me he tardado hasta 10 minutos en escoger medio kilo)
• Entre 7 y 12 chiles serranos (o de árbol verdes, un poco más porque son chiquitos, o cueresmeños, un poco menos porque son más grandes)
• 1/4 de una cebolla mediana.
• 1 manojo pequeño de cilantro (unos dos pesos en el mercado) las puras hojas, nada de ramas (ustedes saben, no se hagan)
• 1 diente de ajo
• Sal (un poco más de un cuarto de cucharada sopera)


Obvio, desinfectar TODO, recordemos que es salsa cruda. Importantísimo mis niños, es el orden en que ponen los ingredientes en la licuadora, ése es el secreto. Poner primero la sal, segundo el ajo, luego un tomatito chiquito (no es brujería, es para que no se fuerce de más la licuadora), después el cilantro, los chiles, la cebolla y al final el resto de los tomates.

Se licua todo. Si vemos que no esta licuando bien, apagar, empujar para abajo los ingredientes, prender nuevamente, y así hasta que todo se licué. Importante, no licuar de más, cuando todos los ingredientes se incorporen (cuando todo dé vueltas) dejar dos segundos licuando y luego apagar, así tendrá consistencia como de molcajete, si alguna cosa no se licuó bien, no importa, le da más realismo.

Pare terminar. Se puede picar un poco de cebolla y cilantro y ponérselo revolviendo todo. Y ya poniéndose muy finos, agregarle aguacate, en ese caso la salsa no se puede guardar pues se hace fea.

Por último, bajo ninguna circunstancia agregar agua a la hora de licuar, eso es de amateurs y se nota en el resultado.
(O.k. then, so I'm an amateur. I had to add water in order to chop the ingredients. The results were satisfactory.)

My Salsa Verde Cruda

The Salsa Roja Asada con Nopal was based on the wonderful salsa we'd first enjoyed at the beautiful, breakfast only restaurant, El Gorgeo de Los Aves in Ziracuaretiro, Michoacán.

Salsa con nopal at El Gorgeo
Mine wasn't quite as lustrous looking, but tasted great nevertheless.

Doña Cuevas roasted about 6 large, ripe Roma tomatoes, 2-3 large chiles jalapeños, 1/2 of a white onion, 3-4 cloves of garlic, and a handful of nopal pads. I tried to grind the roasted ingredients in a molcajete, but its capacity was too small, so I ended up pulse chopping it in a Cuisinart food processor. Salt and chopped cilantro are added to your taste. When it was done, I returned most of it to the molcajete, for visual appeal.

The meats were cooked al punto, thanks to our guest, Everardo.

Grilled Arrachera
Arrachera and chorizos ready to serve

 At the finale, we enjoyed the delicate coconut milk pudding, Tembleque, the perfect light dessert after a hearty meal.

I was surprised but delighted to receive a number of gifts, as we had not mentioned the birthday aspect in the invitations. Thank you, one and all.

Don Cuevas