Sugar Skull Butter Cookies

I really do need to chill with this preoccupation I have with collecting cookie stamps. I can admit that it’s starting to become an obsession. To my own credit though, I will say that I’ve kept it an inexpensive one. Most of the ones that I’m finding, buying and using are inexpensive and the results that they’ve been yielding are so great that I justify it to myself that it was too good of a deal to pass up.

Secondly, I also think that I just may be addicted to the actual process of making them. There’s something I’ve found to be very therapeutic to being alone in the kitchen, rolling out cookie dough, stamping out the design, transferring them to cookie sheets, chilling them, then baking them and seeing how pretty they turn out, all while music or a podcast plays in the background.

Third, whenever I’ve found a new stamp/mold and tested it out with stellar results, I’m always excited to pull out my camera to take pictures and write up a post so that I can show it off to all of you. That’s always lots of fun.

I’ve known I was going to do this post for months, which is when I first bought these cookie cutters/stamps from Amazon. They’d been on my wishlist for a while but they were at a price that I found to be….excessive. Fortunately my patience paid off because eventually it lowered waaaaay down to where they were practically a steal and I ordered them straightaway.

I’ve been baking for Dia de los Muertos for a few years on the blog. Both of those recipes were variations on the Pan de Muerto, which is a traditional bread that’s typically made and eaten for the holiday. Skeletons and elaborately designed sugar skulls are a huge part of the celebrations and overall aesthetic as well. So when I saw these cookie cutters, I knew at once that I would want to make them as both a Halloween and Dia de los Muerto post.

Y’all I’m so happy with these cookies. They came out EXACTLY like I wanted them to, and I have to attribute it to the consistency of the dough. As I’ve mentioned before, when making any stamped cookie, it’s important to work with a dough that isn’t going to spread or puff up so that the intricacy of your design will be preserved. Shortbread is perfect for this, as are most standard butter cookie recipes, like this one.

I really wanted the design of the cookie to be the star here, so I kept the flavor of these simple: two teaspoons of vanilla bean paste did the trick. Although, I could see almond, lemon or orange extracts working well too. The consistency is thick and soft, just how I like my sugar cookies to be.

Let me also say that although I did provide the link for where you guys can buy these cutters for yourself, this cookie recipe will work great for ANY cookie stamp/mold that you have. You also don’t have to use one at all; either just roll out the dough, cut out any shape you want or shape the whole thing into a log then cut off into rounds, and follow the directions for baking as usual. Either way, I guarantee that you’re going to love the cookies. Happy Halloween, Dia de lose Muertos and Fiesta Friday #195 co-hosted this week by Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes and Sandhya @ Indfused!

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Sugar Skull Butter Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Springerle Joy

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Ingredients

  • 2 sticks, plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened (250 grams)
  • 150 grams powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 450 grams all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a handheld mixer) cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and the vanilla and mix until combined.

Stir together the flour and salt in a small bowl. Add it to the wet ingredients in small increments until thoroughly combined. Scrape dough together into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least for one hour.

Sprinkle a clean surface (like a pastry mat or wax paper) with flour. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the dough you’re not using in the fridge while you work. Roll out each quarter to about 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle the surface the dough lightly with flour. Dip your cookie cutter into flour, then tap out to release excess. Firmly press the cutter into the dough, wiggle it around a little to release the excess, then lightly tap it down on counter to release the cookie.

Place stamped cookie onto a sheet pan you’ve lined with parchment paper. Keep the sheet pan in the fridge while you repeat the above process with the rest of the cookie dough. (Note: You MUST flour and tap out the excess of each mold, EACH time you stamp out a new cookie. If your dough is too soft, place it in the fridge until it hardens back up enough for you to cut it out.)

Allow the cookies to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take the sheet pan out of the fridge and bake on the middle rack for about 14-15 minutes, until the bottoms of cookies are just turning beginning to turn golden. Allow to sit on sheet pan for about 60 seconds before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

 (Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Rollos de los Muerto (Rolls of the Dead)

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I first heard of & learned about Dia de los Muertos when I was in the eighth grade. There was an assembly where a traveling performance group put on a show for us that was supposed to be about a Mexican holiday in October that when translated into English, was called The Day of the Dead.

Basically, it’s a holiday that honors the passing of loved ones. The indigenous peoples who it originates from believe that on October 31st, the gates of Heaven are opened at midnight and the spirits of deceased children will be able to briefly reunite with their families for 24 hours. The spirits of deceased adults come next on November 2nd. Elaborate altars are made to both remember and honor the deceased loved ones with pictures, delicious food, presents and candles.

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I was intrigued by it then and I still am now. I love the idea of a holiday centered around honoring loved ones who have passed away. I love the elaborate, colorful sugar skulls that get decorated and sold. I love the beautiful face makeup designs; works of art in and of themselves , really.

And yes. Of course: I love the food aspect of it too.

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Probably the most well known food from Dia de los Muerto is the Pan De Muerto, translated into English as the bread of the dead. They’re sweet egg breads typically molded into large loaves with shapes of skulls and bones on top.

I made a loaf of Pan De Murerto for the first time two years ago, and posted it on the blog. This year I found myself thinking about it again and how I wanted to give it another go,  this time maybe giving it a different spin.

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So this year, instead of making one big loaf of pan de muerto, I decided to go ahead and make a batch of rollos de los muerto: rolls of the dead. This is a dough that in my research I’ve seen is often flavored with anise. I included a full tablespoon of anise seeds in mine to really make sure the flavor came through.  Although the original recipe for this calls of orange blossom water, I didn’t have any on hand and to be perfectly honest also didn’t feel like buying an entire bottle of the stuff only to end up using one teaspoon’s worth for just one recipe(because that stuff really packs a punch even in small doses). I found that the cheaper and much more readily available option to most people is just going with the option of using the zest from an entire orange. It isn’t the exact same floral flavor as the orange blossom water, but it’s still nonetheless just as yummy.

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Lastly, most pan de muerto just calls for white sugar to be sprinkled on top of the dough to finish. With this batch of rolls, I decided to add on an orange flavored syrup that gets brushed on them at the very end of their baking, THEN sprinkled with white sugar on top once they’re taken out of the oven. The flavor combination of the anise and orange is one that works EXTREMELY well. The dough has that subtle licorice flavor that’s then given a fresh citrusy aftertaste from both the orange zest and the orange syrup. The white sugar gives it a pleasant crunch on the outside to compliment the soft chewiness of the dough inside.

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With shaping, I decided to keep things simple. I rolled out individual balls of dough, then pinched off smaller balls that I split in half to form the crosses. In retrospect I was a bit concerned that they resembled hot cross buns a bit too much. Then I remembered that Hot Cross Buns are made for another holiday that celebrates a resurrection of the dead of sorts. In thinking of it that way, the resemblance seemed kinda ironic.

These really are delicious. The sugar on the top does give a sweetness to them, but they’re not overly sweet. I think they’d still work very well to eat alongside a salad for lunch or even a heavier main course for dinner.

Happy Dio de los Muertos/Halloween, and Fiesta Friday #143, cohosted this week by Judi @ cookingwithauntjuju and Maggie @ Spoon in a Saucepan!!!

Rollos de los Muerto (Rolls of the Dead)

Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

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Ingredients

  • 1 ¼-ounce envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
  • 5⅓ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • teaspoons kosher salt
  • Zest from one large orange
  • ¾ cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon, divided
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus 6 tablespoons melted, divided
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray

For Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • Granulated or coarse ground sugar

Directions

Mix yeast, 1/3 cup  of flour, 1/4 cup warm water in the bottom of a standing mixer bowl with a wooden spoon or spatula. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of white sugar on top. Let it sit uncovered for about 35 minutes, until the mixture is frothy and begins to form bubbles on top.

Whisk eggs, anise seeds, kosher salt, orange zest and 3/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until the mixture starts to look foamy and sugar is dissolved. Then, add this egg mixture to the yeast starter along with the remaining 5 cups of flour. (Note: don’t add the flour all at once, about 1 cup at a time is what you want to aim for).  Using the dough hook attachment, alternate adding the flour with adding the softened butter, beginning and ending with flour until a soft dough forms, about 5 minutes.

Increase speed to medium and and continue to mix until sugar is dissolved and the dough is elastic, 8-10 minutes.

Take the dough out of the ball and lightly grease the bowl with 2 tablespoons melted butter or canola oil. Transfer dough back to bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel. Let rise in warm, draft free place until doubled in size, 2 hours.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and coat the parchment with nonstick cooking spray.

Punch down onto a well floured work surface. Pinch off a piece of dough slightly smaller than a tennis ball and shape into a round. Pinch off a second piece that is about the size of a ping pong ball, the divide this piece in half. Roll each half into a long rope that will extend over the sides of the tennis-ball dough round. Arrange each rope in a criss-cross  shape over the dough and tuck the ends underneath the ball to keep from shrinking. Place the finished round on the parchment paper.

Repeat the previous step with the remaining dough. Brush the rolls with the 6 tablespoons melted butter, then cover them with plastic wrap and a damp towel. Let rise for 45-minutes to an hour. (Note: they may not double in size during the proofing time, that’s okay. Mine doubled in size while baking.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. While dough is proofing, make the glaze: Combine the sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and continue stirring and cooking frequently until it has reduced to a syrup, about 5 minutes. If it bubbles up, just take it off the heat for a few seconds then put it back on. Remove from heat.

Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, then remove from oven. Brush generously with orange syrup then return to the oven for about 5 minutes more. Remove from oven (inner temperature should be 190 Fahrenheit degrees for fully baked rolls), then sprinkle immediately with white sugar so that it sticks. Allow to cool before serving.

   

Champurrado-Mexican Hot Chocolate

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I absolutely love the movie “Chocolat” starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.

I’ll be honest, when I first watched it years ago, it was for one reason and one reason only: so I could moon over the physical perfection that is the The Johnny. (That’s what we call him in my house.) However, once we actually finished it, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the movie itself. It had some of my favorite actors in it (Alfred Molina, Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche), and the plot itself was very creative; a woman and her daughter travel from country to country opening chocolate shops and selling sweets with healing/magical powers to fix the lives of the people that buy them. It’s one of those cute, heartwarming, happy ending films to watch on sad rainy days, or on quiet Friday nights on your lonesome when you have nothing to do.

Not that I’m speaking from my own experience or anything.

I still watch Chocolat on a pretty regular basis, but nowadays, I find my attention caught by more than just the good plot and The Johnny’s smoldering gaze ( which God knows is enough of an incentive all on its own).

I also love watching it for the food. But you guys knew that about me by now, I’m sure.

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Kudos have got to go the director of photography of this movie for filling it with so many gratuitous shots of rich, decadent chocolate. Word of warning: don’t sit down and watch this if you’re hungry and without any access to food. By the time it’s over you WILL be hangry (yes hangry: hungry AND angry. A lethal combination for me).

Juliette Binoche’s character in the movie descends from the Ancient Aztecs, who believed that the cacao bean held magical powers. As such, they would grind it up  and melt it down into a thick, rich drink that became hot chocolate. Aztec hot chocolate is shown throughout the movie to have a very strong effect on everyone who comes to the chocolate shop to try it. They take one sip and this mysterious music starts playing in the background- as if all their dreams were coming true from just drinking this stuff. Overly dramatic? Oh yeah. Justified? I wasn’t sure…until now.

Don’t quote me on it, but I think that today’s Aztec Hot Chocolate has more or less trickled down into what we now know as Champurrado, or Mexican Hot Chocolate. I’d always wanted to try it, and recently all the stars came into alignment in my pantry (i.e., I finally had all the ingredients to make me quit procrastinating).

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Before I get into how Champurrado tastes, let me be clear about one thing: this is NOT what you would typically think of as ‘Americanized’ hot cocoa. For one, the masa harina makes this drink thick, almost to the point of a gravy consistency. Second, the masa gives it a slight corn-y aftertaste and although that may not sound appetizing, for some reason it just really works. Please, for the love of God, don’t try to use any substitutes for the Mexican chocolate. This recipe just doesn’t count at all if you do. You can’t beat that dark, rich flavor that the Mexican chocolate disks give to it. The one thing I would give you a free pass on would be the piloncillo because for a while, I didn’t even know what that stuff was.My mom ‘just happened’ to bring some home one day and since I didn’t know what the heck else to use it for, I decided to use it for my Champurrado. It’s a funny looking cone of solid sugar that you break down and crumble- I softened mine in the microwave for a few second increments.But brown sugar will also work fine.

Once again, this is not American cocoa. Having said that, I have to let you all know that this Champurrado is the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. It’s rich, smooth and creamy; slightly bitter from the chocolate, immediately sweet from the sugar, and the masa harina finally providing a delicate balance between the two in the aftertaste. I’m never going back to my old, misguided Swiss Miss ways, you guys. I’ve seen the light now.

If that doesn’t sell you on this drink, then let this do it’s job:

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Credit to giphy.com

The Johnny.

Drinking Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Those eyes. Sigh.

….Excuse me. I need a minute to myself now.

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Champurrado-Mexican Hot Chocolate

Recipe Courtesy of GOYA®.com

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Instant Corn Masa
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 pkg. (8 oz.) Brown Sugar Cane (Piloncillo), chopped, or 8 oz. brown sugar
  • 2 disks (3 oz. each) Mexican chocolate, like Abuelita, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions

1. Add corn masa to large, heavy sauce pot. Using whisk, slowly add 4 cups water, whisking constantly until smooth and combined. Place saucepot over medium-high heat; bring corn masa mixture to a boil.

2. Add milk, sugar cane, chocolate and cinnamon to pot. Bring milk mixture to boil, whisking constantly, until chocolate is melted and sugar cane is dissolved, 5-7 minutes more.

3. Remove pot from heat. Divide champurrado evenly among serving mugs.

Pan de Muerto- Day of the Dead Bread

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Last night was (as we all know) Halloween. However, it was also the start of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It was something that I hadn’t even heard of until I was in middle school, and a traveling performing arts troupe did a short dramatization for us. To this day, I still remember being intrigued by it, and that started what continues to be a mild fascination with the Day of the Dead.

For those that haven’t heard of it, don’t freak out. It’s not a morbid, gothic thing exactly. In fact, after studying the history behind the holiday itself, you find out that it’s actually a very meaningful part of ancient Hispanic culture.

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So let’s take it back. Way back. Back into time. When the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs around 1521, they tried to force Catholicism upon them in an attempt to try and eradicate their ancient religious rituals. In Catholicism, there are holidays called All Saints Day and All Souls Day that takes place November 1st and 2nd of every year. Although a large part of the Aztec culture was suppressed by the Spaniards, they still managed to preserve bits and pieces of their culture even in the midst of their oppression and cultural suppression. The Day of the Dead was one of those results.

Celebrated from October 31st to November 2nd, it’s a shortened version of the Aztec Mictecacihuatl festival that gives honor and memoriam to loved ones who have passed away. One of the most common practices for the Day of the Dead is to build beautiful altars with flowers, candles, pictures of dead loved ones, as well as various Mexican foods. One of the most important of these foods is the Pan de Muerto- or in English, the Bread of the Dead.

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I’ve been waiting for months now to make this bread, not just because I thought the ingredients sounded great, but also because I think it’s just really cool to look at. The bread’s shape is representative of the Day of the Dead itself, with the dough being shaped into bones that are topped with a skull.

I’ll be honest, this reminds me a lot of the Jewish egg-based Challah bread, with the very notable exception of the anise in the Pan de Muerto that gives it a slight licorice aftertaste, as well as the delicious cinnamon sugar that gets sprinkled on the top just before it goes into the oven. It’s very tender and soft on the inside, and would also be perfect for later use in bred puddings or french toast.

Plus like I said: isn’t it just SO cool to look at?

Oh yeah, and those people in the picture? My great-grandparents, Isaac and Lily-Mae Haynes. They’ve passed away, so in a way I guess this bread is for them. Happy Día de los Muertos!

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Pan de Muerto- Day of the Dead Bread

Recipe Courtesy of “Bake” by Edward Gee

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 1/3 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

1. Put the yeast into a large bowl with the water, stir to dissolve, and let stand for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the milk into a saucepan set over medium heat, bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and add butter, 1/4 cup of the sugar and the salt. Stir until dissolved. Add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture.

2. Add one egg and the flour to the liquid ingredients, mix to combine, then knead until a smooth, silky dough forms. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into four pieces. Set one piece aside. Using the palms of your hands, shape each of the remaining pieces into three ropes of equal length.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper. Weave the three dough ropes into a braid and join the ends to make a round loaf. Take the reserved piece of dough and shape it into 2 bones and a skull. Arrange these on top of the loaf and press lightly. Put on the prepared baking sheet and let rise for 45 minutes, to an hour.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix together the anise, cinnamon, and the remaining sugar in a small bowl. Beat the remaining egg and brush it onto the braided dough (do not brush the skull and bones), then sprinkle with the anise mixture.

6. Bake the bottom of the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden. If it’s browning too quickly, cover with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Remove from the oven and put on a wire rack to cool.