Andreja Brulc's Blog

Typographic Project: Edible Valentine Type: Love & Kisses

Posted in MEXICO, Projects by andrejabrulc on 28/02/2014

This series of typographic cookies was inspired by my research on Mexican pan dulce – the idea is based on a particular variety of pan dulce [‘sweet bread’] called besos [‘kisses’], which are especially popular in Mexico for Valentine’s Day.

Andreja Brulc_besos

The idea was then expanded further into a typographic feast in 5 languages (English, Spanish, Slovene, Italian, German) using the words ‘kisses’ and ‘love’ as the basis for this project (the final result is the last image below). Furthermore, my project of edible type coincided with the Valentine theme set out to celebrate the first anniversary of Type Tasting led by Sarah Hyndman of With Relish – for Type Tasting’s review of my project click here.

Andreja Brulc_kisses

Recipes

4 different kinds of recipes were used for these cookies:

Besos from Tennie CakesBesos are not cookies per se, but pan dulce, a sort of sweet scorn-like breads.

Shortbread from BBCShortbread was shaped into letters by hand. Some letters were further dipped into a melting chocolate to give some colour to the type and sprinkled with icing sugar and chopped up hazelnuts. The recipe for these world’s famous biscuits, which originated in Scotland, is exceptionally good – in my opinion, it is in a high competition with the famous brand, Walkers Shortbread. For European readers – caster sugar, known in the States as ‘superfine’ sugar, is a British term for sugar with small grains that are between granulated and icing sugar. If you cannot find caster sugar, use ordinary white sugar rather than icing sugar. Your food mixer will do the rest!

Andreja Brulc_love_2

Jam-filled butter biscuits from BBC – A classic British recipe for Jammie Dodgers and a perfect one to sandwich ‘red’ jam between the two hearts. Again, my variation of the recipe came out to be more ‘Central European’ in appearance to make the type more diverse when assembled! Traditionally, Jammie Dodgers have a shape (e.g. heart) cut out on the top layer so that the jam is visible through it like in the BBC recipe, but, instead, I decided to make a template of the heart and lettering, placed on the top layer and then sprinkled in icing sugar.

Andreja Brulc_Valentine cookies_4

Andreja Brulc_love_3

Chocolate truffles from BBC – Very simple but incredibly delicious truffles – I had to keep them away from many long fingers before I managed to finish with photographing the project! It is worth using good quality chocolate (70%). For the decoration, the truffles were sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa powder, chopped up hazelnuts and coconut powder.

Andreja Brulc_truffles

The making of edible Valentine type

The cookies were either shaped into type before they were baked, but in most cases they were assembled into type after the baking and then photographed.

Andreja Brulc_poljubAndreja Brulc_ljubezenAndreja Brulc_amorWhen all letters were finally assembled in Photoshop into two words in 5 languages, the final outcome was a very satisfying typographic Valentine feast that fed my family for a few days!

Andreja Brulc_Valentine card

MEXICO Project: Mexican cuisine: Pan dulce (‘Sweet bread’)

Posted in MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 31/10/2013

panaderia_columba_tlacalulaFor a Central European with a sweet tooth, bakeries are one of the first ‘sights’ on the list to be checked out when exploring new things while visiting a foreign country. No matter how rustic or urban, Mexican panaderías (‘bakeries’) are just that – they score 10 out of 10 on my list. The sweet aroma of pan dulce coming out on the street can tempt even those with no sweet tooth into entering their premises! Mexican panaderías are one of the most innovative in the world and a pride of Mexican cuisine.

During my stay in Oaxaca, I was fortunate that my Spanish teacher José Antonio González introduced me to his family of Zapotec origin from Tlacolula in the Oaxaca Valley and particularly to his brother, who runs the panadería Columba with his wife there, baking pan dulce in a traditional adobe oven.panaderia_columba_adobo oven It took him six months to construct his adobe oven, using ancient techniques and materials of clay, straw and earth that keeps the oven warm all the time even if not used. panaderia_columba_demonstrationThis article on pan dulce is dedicated to José in the memory of our many discussions about Oaxacan food tradition as well as Oaxacan culture and history in general in my Spanish class, and, needless to say, to his brother’s passion for the bread making and his love for keeping the tradition alive for posterity!

Pan dulce

Pan dulce (‘sweet bread’), known as Mexican pastry, is a (not too) sweet yeast bread or pastry, baked in many varieties, of different sizes, colours, and flavours. Most of them are topped with the traditional sugar crust pastry (pasta) made from white flour, sugar and margarine (butter). Being extremely cheap even in local terms, pan dulce is a staple food in Mexico and other Latin American countries. It is also popular with Mexican Americans in the United States. It is eaten with coffee, milk or hot chocolate. Pan dulce is typically enjoyed dipped in Mexican hot chocolate, which is darker and not as sweet as regular hot chocolate one finds at home. In Mexico, the tradition of eating sweet pastries for breakfast or mid-afternoon snack, known as merienda, goes back to the 16th century. Pan dulce is considered to be a Mexican cuisine even though its origins are European.

Photo Ana Gilbert

Photo Ana Gilbert

The history of bread in Mexico

The Spanish colonial influence

Wheat was one of the first non-native foods that the Spanish colonialists introduced to Mexico. The grain was not only a Spanish staple food, but it was also a religious necessity – the only grain that the Catholic Church recognised suitable for the making of Eucharist wafer. The first wheat bread produced in Mexico was uninspiring as it came out as a tasteless lump. The indigenous population did not care for it at first, but since they worked on wheat farms that provided bread for the Spaniards, they gradually got used to it, especially since wheat was part of their pay [Palmerin 2012: 3: 869].

According to the story of eating sweet pastries says, an inventive viceroy started a practice that would change how indigenous people perceived bread. He dipped his bread into hot chocolate, a custom that quickly caught on as it tasted better than simple white bread, and people never looked back.

The French influence

A desire for something more delicious was further fulfilled thanks to the French influence that took hold of Mexico at the end of the Viceroyalty of New Spain in 1821. And, when the French bakers started to arrive in Mexico and influenced the art of bread making with their introduction of pan francés (‘French bread’), the taste of bread – crispy rolls, baguettes and sweet pastries ­– finally began to appeal to the Mexicans. By then, Mexico had already been flooded by French bakeries.

It is ironic without saying, however, that the 1st French military intervention in Mexico is called The Pastry War (Guerra de los pasteles) (27 Nov 1838–9 March 1839). In the years following Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, civil disobedience seems to have been the norm in the early days of the new Mexican Republic, as different fractions were competing for control of the country. The properties of many foreign immigrants, including those owned by the French, were looted continuously by bandits and even Mexican soldiers, but their appeals to the Mexican government for compensation fell on deaf ears. According to Christopher Klein, in 1832 a French pastry cook, called Remontel, claimed that Mexican soldiers of the then President Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794–1876) had damaged his establishment in the Tacubaya district of Mexico City. As he was refused compensation, he appealed to the French King Louise-Philippe I (1773–1850; reign: 9 Aug 1830–24 Feb 1848) for assistance. The French government was already on bad terms with Mexico over unpaid Mexican debts that had been incurred during the Texas Revolution of 1836. Also, as we know, the French take their pastry very seriously indeed, so in 1838 the French Prime Minister Louis-Mathieu Molé (in office: 6 Sep 1836–31 Mar 1839) demanded 600 000 pesos in total for all the damage done to the shops owned by the French nationals, including 60 000 pesos for Romontel’s shop, which had been valued at less than 1 000 pesos. [Klein, in History] The amount was extremely high, as, when compared to, an average workman’s pay per day at the time, the wage was only one peso [Wikipedia]! As Mexico, under the President of Anastasio Bustamante (1780–1853), refused to pay the sum, in the spring of 1838 the French navy began a blockade of vital seaports along the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatán peninsula to the Rio Grande. The stalemate dragged on until 27 Nov, when the French fook over the island fortress of San Juan de Ullúa that guarded the port city of Veracruz [Klein, in History]. Consequently, the surreal cause for war as pastry led to three months-long conflict between Mexico and France! As the French nearly took the entire Mexican navy, the Mexican government turned to the former president and ruthless ex-military general, López de Santa Anna, who eventually managed to drive the French forces from Veracruz and back to their fleet. As he chased the invaders, one of his legs was severely wounded by the cannon and had to be eventually amputated [Klein, in History]. British diplomats acted as a mediator in a peace treaty, and as Mexico promised the payment, the French withdrew from Mexico on 9 March 1839. However, the amount was never paid, and that was later used as one of the justifications for the 2nd French intervention in Mexico of 1861. [Aguilar Casas, in INRHRM]

Benito_JuarezThe 2nd French intervention in Mexico under the army of the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian (1832–1867), or better known as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (10 June 1864–19 June 1867), lasted for a short time (1861–1867). The cause for this war, also known as Maximilian Affair or Maximilian Adventure, was again of monetary nature – the suspension of interest payments to foreign countries (Spain, France and Britain) on 17 July 1861 by the President Benito Juárez (18-6–1872; in office five times: 1858–61, 1861–65, 1865–67, 1867–71, 1871–72). Benito Juárez was not only the first indigenous president of Mexico (of Zapotec origin), but is also perceived as the hero of Oaxaca (he was born in San Pablo Guelatao, a small town in the Sierra Norte north of the Oaxaca valley, but was later educated in Oaxaca where he started his political career as a governor of the State of Oaxaca). The French were defeated on 5 May 1862 at the battle of Cinco de Mayo (also known as the Battle of Puebla) but continued fighting in Mexico until 1867. On 19 June Maximilian, I was executed by the forces loyal to Benito Juárez in Querétaro. The execution was famously depicted by Eduard Manet (1868–69, Kunsthalle Mannheim, below; fragments of the earlier but larger painting are at the National Gallery, London; and a third unfinished version at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Edouard_Manet_execution_Maximilian I

However brief the actual control of Mexico by France was, it was enough to leave behind a strong French influence that peaked in the early 1900s during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz – a big sympathiser of anything that was French in origin. He even sought to modernise his country by replacing traditional local dishes with French cuisine!

The formation of unique Mexican pan dulce

The French bakeries certainly left behind their legacy in the art of bread making in Mexico – as it eventually helped to establish the Mexican baking tradition that has become one of the most inventive in the world.

piloncillo_raw sugar caneAs a result, many Mexican panaderías sprouted up throughout Mexico, as skilled panaderos (‘bakers’) went on adopting a variety of French techniques in making the dough. Although much of pan dulce resembles French pastries, their flavour and texture are often different because they contain margarine or lard instead of butter [Palmerin 2012: 869]. However, butter is now more popular than margarine with some recipes at least in home cooking! Mexican panaderos then added Mexican ingredients, such as corn flour, piloncillo (‘raw sugar cane’), chocolate and vanilla as well as native fruits (pineapple, guava) and native vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin).

The Mexican panaderos created new bread designs in playful shapes and in a variety of dough and textures, bearing colourful names usually associated with their appearance – e.g. marranitos (‘piglets’), conchas (‘seashells’), moños or corbatas (‘bowties’ or ‘neckties’), ojo de buey (‘ox eye’), bigotes (‘moustaches’), canastas (‘baskets’), chinos (‘Chinese’), polvorones (‘shortbread’) or espejos (‘mirrors’).

La Virgen de Guadalupe_Teotitlan del Valle

Pan dulce is not only sold daily at panaderías or at bread stalls on local markets, but stalls are also set up for all sorts of events, festivals and celebrations – e.g. above at the celebration of the La Virgin de Guadalupe (12 Dec) in Teotitlán del Valle in the Oaxaca Valley.

Different types of pan dulce

It is estimated that there are between 500 and 2000 types of bread and pastries being produced in Mexico. The most commonly found varieties of pan dulce are the following (for pictures of each type identified by names see Willamette Week or La concha bakery or The Bread Factory):

besosBesos (‘kisses’) – A beso is made of two round domes ‘kissing’ each other through a thin layer of jam (strawberry or pineapple) sandwiched in between and coated in granulated sugar. Besos are popular on holidays such as Valentine’s Day, but they are also eaten, like other pan dulce, at breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Recipe.

churrosChurro (‘fritter’, ‘doughnut’) – A churro is a deep-fried dough pastry, introduced to Mexico by the Spanish but became very popular there, with its local variations of being filled with dulce de leche (‘milk caramel’), in Mexico called cajeta (a confection of thickened syrup made of sweetened caramelised goat’s milk), but also with chocolate (churro con chocolate) and vanilla custard (churro con lechecilla). They also appear as plain (churro naturales), just rolled in sugar and cinnamon. They are best to eat hot, dipped into chocolate. The pastry is piped into hot oil from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle, to make long sticks. My article on churros here. Recipe.

Conchas (‘seashells’) – Conchas are one of the most widely recognised Mexican pan dulces, whose name is taken after its shape of a shell. The concha is a slightly sweet roll with a shell-patterned topping made from the traditional sugar crust pastry (pasta) – a mixture of white flour, sugar and butter (sometimes added with cinnamon or chocolate). Recipe.

La Virgen de Guadalupe_Teotitlan del Valle_cono de nieve_whiteLa Virgen de Guadalupe_Teotitlan del Valle_cono de nieve_yellow Cono de Nieve (‘ice cream cone’) – In my opinion, a translation used by La Concha Bakery should be ‘snow cone’ as the word nieve means ‘snow’, while ‘ice-cream’ is helado in Spanish. As Pera Chapita explains, the cones are a kind of cupcakes, with cake-mix, decorated like ice-cream. But the recipe is not the real thing, as the cone ought to be more like a crispy croissant dough rolled in the shape of a cone and filled, if I believe La Concha Bakery, with Bavarian cream. I was not able to find any further information on this type of pan dulce, nor a ‘real’ recipe. But it seems that cono de nieve is very similar to what is known as Cream Horn – as in the recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen that shows a beautiful demonstration of the cones being made with a flaky or puff pastry filled with whipped cream. The horn shape is made by winding overlapping pastry strips around a conical mould. The pastry can also be moistened and sprinkled with sugar before baking for a sweeter and crisper finish. My Spanish teacher tells me that this type of pastry is known in Oaxaca as barquillo (‘wafer’) – the first photo shows Barquillos con turrón, while the second Barquillos con lechecilla – though the pastry undeniably resembles the process from Natasha’s Kitchen. But not to confuse, there are two types of Spanish turrón, the harder one (better known) and the softer one (meringue) – for this pan dulce, the softer version is used. I tried both from the pan dulce stall at the celebration of the La Virgin de Guadalupe (12 Dec) in Teotitlán del Valle and were extremely delicious. Recipe for pastry from Natasha’s Kitchen; for a custard filling either lechecilla or Bavarian cream; and for a white filling Meringue Buttercream de turrón or if difficult to find the ingredients, any recipe for soft meringue or even munchmallow.

panaderia_columba_cuernosCuernos (‘horns’) – Cuernos are made from a rolled pastry in the shape of a bull’s horn, similar to a French croissant, but cuernos are not as rich. They are also topped with the traditional sugar crust pastry (pasta) – a mixture of white flour, sugar and margarine (butter). In some regions, like in Oaxaca, cuernos are also called Cuernitos dulces con pasta as in the picture from the panadería Columba. Cuernos have a rich tasting dough with elements of vanilla and cinnamon for flavour. Recipe.

Cuernitos (‘little horns’) – They are also known as Mexican wedding cookies. In Oaxaca, these biscuits are presented in fringed white tissue paper and given as favours to wedding guests. In the States, they are often called ‘snowballs’ as they appear in the shape of a ball. The recipe is similar to the Austrian version called kipfel (with walnuts or hazelnuts) or that of the Greek version called kourambiethes (with almonds). Traditionally, the Mexican version uses pecans, but also other nuts (including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios) are used. The biscuits in all versions are heavily powdered in icing sugar. Recipe.

Elote or elotito (‘corn’) – It is a popular pan dulce, which gets its name from the word ‘corn’ because it looks like an ear of corn. It is made of cinnamon-flavoured dough, filled with chocolate or other flavours, and covered with a generous sprinkling of sugar. Recipe.

Empanadas (‘turnovers’) – An empanada is a soft stuffed pastry pocket that typically comes with a variety of fillings depending on the region and season – most common fillings are apple, pineapple, coconut, guava, pumpkin, vanilla custard (lechecilla) and chocolate cream but there are other varieties with other fillings. In Oaxaca, these are also called Empanadas de Corpus Christi, as they are a speciality of the Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi on 7 June, prepared with fillings of lechecilla, pineapple and coconut. Recipes for sweet pastry dough, with chocolate and dulce de leche or apple cinnamon or lechecilla fillings. Recipe for a savoury version with pumpkin, Empanadas de Calabaza, from Mexico in my Kitchen.

Galletas (‘biscuits’) – Panaderías generally make several types of galletas depending on the region, some in bright pink or covered with sprinkles. They are firm and crumbly and very popular indeed.

Molletes (‘cheeks’) – A mollete is a round roll that was originally made in Spain before it came to Mexico. In Mexico, it got transformed into a bolillo, a kind of baguette but shorter in length, which is then opened up to make different types of sandwiches or tortas. A bolillo is the most popular of all traditional Mexican bread. Both are in principle savoury bread, but the sweet mollete is made by spreading butter over the bolillo and then sprinkled with sugar or honey and grilled until crisp. Recipe for bolillo and mollete.

Orejas (‘ears’) – A sweet, crispy and puffy pastry in the shape of an ear, very similar to the French palmiers. As the saying goes: ‘Lend him (or her) your brittle, buttery ear of bread, and you’ll hear whispers of sweet nothings on this special day.’ Oreja de Elephante (‘elephants ears’) is the same puff pastry as the oreja but with added cinnamon and pecans. Recipe.

Piedras (‘rocks’ or ‘stones’) – A pastry made of old bread and is known to be hard as a rock. It is eaten with very hot drinks. Recipe.

Puerquito or cochinito or marranito (‘little pig’ or ‘piggy’) – A cute little biscuit in the shape of a little pig is the basis of any panaderías. Its taste can be compared to gingerbread though neither ginger nor cinnamon is used to make the pastry. The traditional marranitos get their spicy-brown flavour from molasses or treacle (a by-product of the refined brown sugarcane). There are two types of puerquitos: the traditional crunchy type (recipe) and the modern soft type (recipe from Mexico in my Kitchen).

Yoyos (‘yo-yos’) – A pastry named after the yoyo toy and is shaped exactly like it but does not have the string. It has a filling, usually a raspberry jam. Recipe.

Unique breads in Mexico

With the invention of pan dulce in Mexico, other culturally significant sweat bread was created to celebrate occasions and traditions, such as pan de muerto, buñuelos and rosca de reyes – only sold in panaderías a few days before, and during, these occasions. These particular kinds of sweat bread are part of the traditional customs that have been around for many centuries. The stories behind them derive from religious beliefs, predominantly from Roman Catholic Church, though pan de meurto may show some links to the Aztecs tradition.

pan_de_meurto Pan de muerto (‘bread of the dead’) – A pan de muerto is a celebratory bread that is offered (ofrenda) and consumed, either at home or at the graveyard, as part of Día de los muertos celebration (1–2 Nov). It is a sweet egg bread decorated variously either with a cross of bones or skeletons or little figures representing the departed soul (difunctos or difunctas). The latter (as shown in the picture) is very popular in Oaxaca where it is called pan de yema oaxaqueño. The history of the pan de muerto is a complex one. On the one hand, it goes back the conquest years when the Spanish added the bread into the ofrenda as a replacement for the Aztecs rituals of human sacrifice, while, on the other hand, it brings forth the Aztecs tradition of making figurines out of a paste called tzoalli (amaranth mixed with tamale dough). These moulded figures of specific deities, some of which were linked to death, were used in celebrations and ceremonies. Also, the tradition of placing food as offerings on the tombs of the deceased goes back to the Aztecs rituals. More on the history of the pan de muerto soon. Recipes for the pan de muerto from Allrecipes or Mexico in my Kitchen and for pan de yema.

Buñuelo – A buñuelo is a wheat-based yeast dough, a kind of large flat tortilla or fritter. It is thinly rolled, cut into individual pieces and shaped into disks, then deep-fried in order to become crispy and light. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, buñuelo is often sprinkled with icing sugar, or with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar or honey or most famously dipped into hot sugarcane syrup (piloncillo). It is sold at fairs, carnivals, and Christmas events such as Las Posadas. In Oaxaca, it is a tradition that you break the clay plate making a wish after you finish eating the buñuelo. This tradition is said to spring from a pre-Hispanic festivity in which all the dishes were broken at the end of a calendar cycle. Recipe with piloncillo from Mexico in my Kitchen or with cinnamon and sugar from FoodNetwork.

DSC_0401 Rosca de reyes (‘kings’ cake’) – A rosca de reyes is a celebratory bread, which is symbolic in many ways. Its round shape signifies the crown of the Reyes Magos (‘The Three Kings’) as the bread is eaten on the Three Kings Day (6 Jan), twelve days after the birth of Jesus Christ. On the story of rosca de reyes and how it is shared among your family and friends see my article in which I shared my rosca de reyes with José’s family while in Oaxaca. Recipe from Mexico in my Kitchen.

My list of the pan dulce will certainly grow as I ‘waggle through’ my two books on desserts I have proudly acquired while researching this article.

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Sources

Aguilar Casas, Elsa. 2013. “Los pasteles más caros de la historia.” Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de las Revoluciones de México (INEHRM). Article [Accessed 23 Aug 2019].

Flores, Joseluis. 2010. Dulce: Desserts in the Latin-American Tradition. New York: Rizzoli.

Kennedy, Diana. 2010. Oaxaca al gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Klein, Christopher. 2013. “The Pastry War, 175 Years Ago.” History. 27 Nov. Article [Accessed 23 Aug 2019].

La Monarca Bakery. Los Angeles. USA. Website [Accessed 20 Oct 2013].

Palmerin, Stephanie. 2012. “Pan dulce.” In Maria Herrera-Sobek (ed.). Encyclopedia of Latin Folklore (3 volumes). VolABC-CLIO. Source. 3: 868–870 [Accessed 20 Oct 2013].

MEXICO Project: Mexican cuisine: Churro

Posted in MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 29/10/2013

While I was researching my article on pan dulce (‘sweet bread’), also known as Mexican pastry, I noticed that a churro is never mentioned as a type of pan dulce. According to this encyclopedia article, the Mexican churro is considered as a cross between a dessert and a savory food because salt is added while kneading the flour – not being an expert, it seems an odd explanation since salt is added to most of pan dulce recipes I have been looking at. My explanation would be that rather than being baked, churros, like buñuelos, are always deep-fried. Deep-frying food is not what one might consider healthy, but since yesterday was a miserable Sunday afternoon in London (with a severe warnings of the worst possible wind storms since 1987) and since today is a year from my departure (flying over the hurricane Sandy) to Oaxaca where I discovered my ‘perfect’ snack, it seemed like a ‘perfect day’ (in the words of Lou Reed, R.I.P) to indulge myself with extra calories, why not!

churros

The context for churro

A churro, sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut, is a deep-fried dough pastry. Principally, the dough consists of five ingredients: water, oil, four, sugar and salt. The pastry is piped into hot oil from a churrera, a syringe with a star-shaped nozzle, in order to make long sticks. Churros are fried until they become crispy and golden brown.

In Mexico, churros are normally eaten for breakfast dipped in hot chocolate or coffee, but also as a snack throughout the day. Churros can be bought at panaderías (‘bakeries’), which traditionally sell pan dulce, but the most common way of buying them is at the corner of a street, where street vendors fry them freshly and sell them hot.

Origins

There seems to be two different theories with regard to the origin of churros. The first one claims that the Portuguese sailors brought new culinary techniques from the Chinese Ming Dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula, including the dough for youtiao (‘Chinese doughnut’). The Spanish learnt how to make it from their neighbours – it was then modified by adding the sugar and introducing the star design.

The second theory claims that the dough was invented by nomadic Spanish shepherds living in the mountains cut off from the world with no access to bakeries. The churro paste was easy to make and cook in frying pans over the open fire. This theory seems credible as there exists a breed of sheep called the ‘Najavo-Churro, which are descended from the ‘Churra’ sheep of the Iberian Peninsula – the horns of these sheep look similar to churros.

Churros gained popularity because of its simplicity in the making process.

Variations

In Spain, there are two types of churros: one which is thin (and sometimes knotted or curled) and the other which is long and thick (porra). Porra is fried in the shape of a continuous spiral and cut into portions afterwards.

Although introduced to the New World by Spain, churros are very popular in Mexico as well as in other Latin American countries, where they come in many local variations. In Latin America, churros are thick sticks and often filled. The Mexican churro is filled with dulce de leche (‘milk caramel’) – in Mexico it is called cajeta (a confection of thickened syrup made of sweetened caramelised goat’s milk) – but also with chocolate (churro con chocolate) and vanilla custard (churro con lechecilla). Chocolate and vanilla, of course, come from Mexico. It also appears as plain (churro naturales), just rolled in sugar and cinnamon (churro con azúcar y cañela).

Method

Advice

I followed the recipe from Allrecipes – I recommend the recipe as my churros were very delicious. But whatever recipe you decide to follow at the end – some even use butter and eggs, although my Oaxacan friend tells me that these two ingredients are not used there – there are a few things to remember, the information of which you do not normally get from online recipes:

1. The thickness of the churro depends on the width of the nozzle attached to a churrera (‘syringe’). I was rather surprised that my churros came thinner than expected as I used the nozzle for piping icing for cupcakes. See video.

2. Also, I was also hoping that my churros would come out straight like those I remember from Oaxaca. I subsequently read that churros in Spain are thinner, can be knotted, twisted or curled. So, I was doing alright – they were home-made after all.

3. I managed to destroy two disposable pastry bags before I accomplished the task! The first one burst open with a big surprise – luckily, I prevented the dough from falling into a pan full of hot oil on time – in my opinion, the dough should be left to cool down first as my dough must have been too hot.

4. The length of churros should be in relation to your frying pan. If you want them straight, don’t pipe them too long, as they are bound to curl. They are still soft when taken out of the pan for a few seconds and can be straightened before they harden if you can find the method without burning your fingers!

5. Also, fry only a few churros at any time. They will stick together otherwise.

6. I used kitchen scissors to cut each churro before it wiggled like a snake into the hot oil!

7. The recipe is set for 4 servings – a measure of 1890 ml of oil for frying is suggested. Beware, if you change serving to larger than 4 people, the quantity of oil will change too! However, even if the quantity does not change, the amount suggested is too high. The pan I used measures circa 25 cm in diameter, which is by no means a standard size for any domestic deep-frying. For that size, you do not need more than 1 litre of oil (it can then be recycled for 3 deep-frying sessions if sieved back to the bottle when the oil is cooled down). Check Nigella if not sure.

8. The temperature of oil in the frying pan should be set at around 180º C if you have a food thermometer. Nigella says that the temperature should be 170º C, while churros are ready in 30 seconds to be taken out. Allrecipes says 190º C and fry until golden. I judged it on the principle of an eye – I dropped a piece of dough into the oil and waited until it sizzled (at this point, my thermometer read the temperature as 180º C). It took about 1 min each time for churros to become golden brown. You really need to work it out for yourself. Some may come out browner than the other but will still taste good.

churros_ingredients

Ingredients for dough

For 4 servings:

235 ml of water

30 g white sugar

3 g salt

30 ml of vegetable oil

125 g flour

1 litre of oil for frying

Ingredients for coating

100 g sugar

2 g cinnamon

Instructions

1. Place sugar, salt and oil into a non-stick metal pan containing water. Bring to boil, then remove from the heat entirely.

churros_cooking_1

2. Slowly add the flour to the water mixture. It is probably best to sieve the flour first in order to reduce lumpiness – use the whisk to make sure the dough is not lumpy.

churros_cooking_2

The dough should be slightly soft, formed into a ball and sticky to touch.

churros_cooking_3

3. Leave the dough to rest for a while until cool (at least 10 mins) before it is placed into the pastry bag. Choose the width of the nozzle depending whether you prefer churros thinner or thicker.

churros_pipe

4. Heat 1 liter of oil in a frying pan (circa 25 cm in diameter) until the temperature of the oil is around 180 ºC.

churros_frying

5. Pipe the strips of dough into the hot oil using scissors to cut the pieces. Fry until golden brown and crispy.

6. Drain well on the kitchen towel before churros are rolled in cinnamon and sugar mixture.

churros_sugar and cinnamon

¡ Buen provecho!

MEXICO Project: Typographic Mexican cuisine

Posted in Craft, MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 16/01/2013

This typographic stitching artwork, titled Espagueti con chile poblano, was inspired by one of my favourite dishes I had in Mexico. It comes from Angela’s kitchen at Arquetopia. The dish is called Spaghetti with creamy roasted chile poblano sauce (Espagueti con Salsa Cremosa de Chiles Poblano). Her recipe can be found below. Provecho!

Andreja Brulc_Espagueti con chile poblano

Ingredients
1 pack of spaghetti (250g per 2 servings if the main dish)
4 medium-size fresh green chile poblano, without skin and seeded, roasted (picture below with 3 poblanos only)DSC_0258
1 tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil
1 Philadelphia cheese
1/2 cup of milk
3/4 cup of thick (double) cream
1 large onion, finely chopped after cooked with spaghetti
1 large garlic clove or 2 small ones
butter for onions
other herbs and spices to taste (pepper, salt)

Notes
– In Mexico, this dish is traditionally made with spaghetti, but other pasta can be used instead.
– The dish can be served with a grilled chicken breast and salad. In this case, the above ingredients are sufficient for 4 servings.
– Some recipes used chicken stock, while Angela’s recipe uses only salt to taste, added at the end.
– Instead of an ordinary thick (double) cream, you can also use sour cream or cream cheese.


Instructions

1. Add spaghetti to boiling water containing salt, onion and oil. When soft, remove from heat. Drain and set aside until the sauce is ready.
2. Roast the cleaned chillies in a flat pan (comal), so that the shell can be removed when rinsed in water. Remove the seeds. Alternatively, instead of roasting the chillies in the flat pan, place the cleaned peppers directly onto the flame of the burner on the cooker. Then let the skin char slightly making sure you turn them to have an evenly roasted skin. Then place the roasted poblanos into a plastic bag or cover with a kitchen towel and let them sweat with their steam for about 15 minutes to loosen up their skin. Using a knife or your finger, remove the core of the pepper with the seeds and the veins. Clean under running water or with a paper towel.
3. Prepare the sauce by mixing the roasted chillies with milk, cream and Philadelphia cheese and blend until smooth.
4. Separately, fry the onion and garlic in butter in a larger saucepan, and when gold, add the sauce to the pan.
5. Thicken the whole mixture by slowly simmering it for 10 minutes (low heat). Stir frequently.
6. Add the spaghetti to the thicken paste and salt to taste.
7. Served in a dish with cream if leftover.

MEXICO Project: Christmas: Las Posadas and Christmas Eve

Posted in MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 06/01/2013

DSC_0224In Mexico Christmas festivities begin with Las Posadas (16–24 Dec) and end with Candelaria (2 Feb). While everyone can participate in Las Posadas in bigger towns, such as Oaxaca (I witnessed the first posada of the Baslilica de la Soledad), in smaller towns they tend to be by an invitation only. I was lucky to have been invited to the 4th posada by the family of my Spanish teacher José in Tlacolula (a small town in the Oaxaca Valley), as his brother was chosen to host the posada for the night.DSC_0194

We arrived just before the night. The preparations for los posada have been going on for some days if not weeks! While most of the decoration was already swinging in the air projecting beautifully against the sky with a nearly full moon, I was lucky to able to see the making of the last, most vital, decoration – the construction of the wreath – for the front courtyard. Almost the entire family was engaged in the making of the wreath, which was incredibly entertaining and, for me, enriching at the same time. DSC_0201 DSC_0248 DSC_0247 DSC_0236DSC_0254

On the other hand, the rest of the family was busy in the kitchen preparing food and drinks as described below. José’s brother and sister-in-law run a family bakery (Panadería Columba), so many nice goodies were baked in a beautifully build adobe oven during the day for the party of at least 250 pilgrims.

Origin and Meaning of Las Posadas

Las Posadas (Eng. lodging) are a 9-day celebration of candlelight processions with a series of parties in a local neighbourhood representing 9 months of pregnancy of Virgin Mary. The procession re-enacts the Nativity (Navidad), that is, Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus Christ.DSC_0231

The procession has been a tradition in Mexico since 16th century, when the Mexican Catholic church combined its tradition with the December celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli by the Aztecs.

Re-enactment of Las Posadas

The procession of pilgrims signs Para pedir posada often accompanied by musicians. DSC_0269

Pilgrims carry candles and are often dressed taking up the role of Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the angels. Four children, dressed up as angels, carry the Nativity scene. The procession sometimes brings along a donkey (burro) to represent the donkey that brought Mary into Bethlehem. The first posada starts from a church of the local neighbourhood. For the first 8 consecutive nights, a different family – chosen by the lay committee of the local church that rotates every year responsible for yearly religious festivities and feast days – would host a posada. The owner first responds by a song refusing lodging until the procession is finally let in, symbolising the place where Joseph and Mary were allowed to enter. The children thanks to the owner. DSC_0283 DSC_0288 DSC_0290

The participants kneel in front of the elaborately constructed Nativity scene (usually made in clay and handed down from generation to generation), pray the Rosary and sing Christmas carols. DSC_0301 DSC_0297 DSC_0306 DSC_0305

Afterwards, depending on the budget of the host, the pilgrims are indulged by the party FOOD (tortas o media tortas con pasta de frijol y queso, tamales de dulce, buñuelos, pan dulce) and DRINKS (ponche, atole con leche). DSC_0262 DSC_0259 DSC_0267

Children break a piñata (usually in the shape of a star) to obtain treats. For the making of my piñatas as a Mexican Christmas symbol click here. DSC_0313 DSC_0323 DSC_0336

Adults occasionally have a party, but in most cases they leave for home with a plate like mine below. DSC_0339

The Final Posada on Christmas Eve

The last – the 9th – posada culminates on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), when a manger, along with figures of shepherds, is placed into the crib. Once the Posada house is found, baby Jesus is put into the manger after which the families go to midnight mass (Misa de Gallo). Fireworks follow the church service to mark the beginning of Christmas. Afterwards, families go home to have Christmas dinner. Adults open their presents, while children break their piñatas. If a family is not too religious, it feasts first, then go to the Misa de Gallo.

A Mexican Christmas dinner is abundant and varied, with foods that range from tamales to turkey and Mexican hawthorn (tejocote). Traditionally, a stuffed turkey with fruits, roasted and served with mole poblano, is popular. For a full list of dishes for Christmas dinner including Ensalada de Buena Noche and recipes click here.

The Three Kings and Rosca de Reyes

Traditionally Mexican children receive presents on 6 January, i.e. on the Feast of Epiphany, when gifts are given by the Three Kings (Dia de los Santos Reyes). It is a tradition to eat a sweet cake (pan dulce) on Epiphany called Rosca de Reyes. For more information on Dia de los Santos Reyes, click my other post.

Candelaria

Candelaria (2nd February) marks the end of Christmas celebrations in Mexico. It is believed that on this day, Jesus was taken to the temple as a baby and was officially named. Mexicans engage in parties on Candelaria.

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Explanations of Food and Drinks

• Tortas o media tortas con pasta de frijol y queso – Round or half-round buns (bolillos) or elongated buns (teleras) with refried bean paste and cheese.

Tamales de dulce – A paste made from corn flour, lard of pork, carmine (red colour powder), nicuatole (a gelatinous dessert made from ground maize and sugar, traditional in Oaxaca) and raisins (pasas). It is wrapped in a corn husk (totomozle) and then steam-cooked.

Buñuelos – A buñuelo is a kind of large flat tortilla or fritter, prepared with wheat flour and deep-fried in oil. It is sprinkled with icing sugar and served with honey, sugar cane syrup, cinnamon or vanilla. It is a traditional Christmas dessert. In Oaxaca, it is a tradition that you break the clay plate making a wish after you finish eating the buñuelo. This tradition is said to spring from a Prehispanic festivity in which all the dishes were broken at the end of a calendar cycle.

Pan dulcePan dulce is a sweet bread. Recipe. On history, and different varieties, of pan dulce, see my article.

• PoncheA non-alcoholic punch. You boil fruits in water and sugar and serve very hot. Fruits are Mexican hawthorn (tejacotes), sugar cane (caña), apples (manzanas), apricots (chabacanos), guavas (guayabas), raisins (pasas), sugar (azucar), cinnamon (canela).

• Atole con leche – A non-alcoholic corn drink with milk and cinnamon. You first cook hard corn for a while, then take it to the mill, then sieve the paste through muslin, and finally cook it with milk and cinnamon. Delicious!

MEXICO Project: Happy 2013 from Mexico!

Posted in Greetings Cards, Marketing material, MEXICO by andrejabrulc on 31/12/2012

Thank you for following my blog – I wish you a prosperous Happy 2013 and greetings from Mexico!

This ‘Happy 2013’ typographical card consists of food ingredients, all of which are staple foods and native to Mexico. It starts and ends with the essential ingredients of Mexican cuisine – beans as in beans and beans as in chocolate. The ‘typo card’ is my idea of Como agua para chocolate (transl. Like Water for Chocolate), a famous novel published in 1989 by the Mexican novelist and screenwriter Laura Esquivel. If you have not read the book or seen the movie, read or see it in 2013! Only then you can understand Mexican ‘love affair’ with their food!

Feliz 2013! Srečno 2013! Glücklich 2013! Felice 2013!

Happy_2013

HFrijol (bean) – One of the Three Sisters that were the three main native crop plants that originated in Mexico: the other two are maize (corn) and squash. These tasty beans come in or with just about anything. I am hooked!

AChayote (pear squash) – It is a delicious salad ingredient. Definitely absolutely hooked!

PCatarina chile – It is related to the Cascabel chile (rattle chile) group that originates in Mexico. All other chillies, when dried, looked at first quite similar to me, while I fell under the spell of these two species almost immediately as they look so different, interesting and recognisable with their teardrop shape. They are also quite musical – their rattling sound of the seeds inside when shaken surpasses all the maracas on the market, a traditional Mexican toy that has unfortunately almost disappeared (thanks to China!) and therefore hard to find. The chilli is used to make tamales, marinades, stews and soups. Tamales are a must when in Mexico!

PTomatillo ( Mexican tomato) – It is an essential ingredient to prepare green moles (sauces) together with the poblano chile peppers. One of my favourite dishes – Angela’s Espagueti con chile poblano, our chef at Arquetopia. I was spoiled rotten!

YChile de arbol – This species of chilli literally translates as a ‘tree chilli‘, as the bush on which it grows resembles a small tree. The chilli is a very narrow and curved that starts out green and matures to bright red colour. Unlike many chillies, this one remains bright red even after drying. The fresh version has the same name. So, definitely another chilli pepper that I can easily recognise – and I better as it is so so so hot! They are tiny – and the smaller the chilli pepper grows to, the hotter is its burning sensation. I managed to get them into my eyes when taking photos – of course, naturally, I ‘cried’! FYI, wash your eyes with warm water as soon as you can.

2Habañero chile – These chillies – the hottest chilli peppers found in Mexico – are the dreaded and deadly Yucatán killer, known to the Mayas as the ‘crying tongue’. They are very small (2–6 cms long) and lantern-shaped. They range from light green when unripe to bright orange when ripe. They are grown on the Yucatán peninsula only and are thus an essential ingredient of Yucatán food. When researching this chilli, I found the following warning:

The peppers are actually so hot and dangerous that precautionary measures should be taken when handling them, including nylon or latex gloves and goggles to prevent getting capsaicin in your eyes. Capsaicin is the chemical used in Pepper Spray. When cooking with these, be conservative in the amounts used. Habanero chilies are rated 100,000–350,000 on the Scoville scale.

Another account tells me that some chillies [habañero are part of it] are so pungent that a farmer needs to wear gloves to avoid the skin on their hands from blistering. Blimey! An exaggeration or what! But I only now understand my agony of 10 years ago when I was in Yucatán – my food must have contained this chilli! I am now absolutely sure. The sensation of the heat in my mouth felt as if I was burning in hell! I had to drink 5 bottles of cccerveza afterwards, and yet I was still in agony! The only positive outcome of that experience is that I now feel I am a true veteran, as I can eat anything containing chillies, but nothing will ever surpass that unique experience of Tolumn!

0Aguacate (avocado) – Well, do I need to say more…! Our favourite party dish of all generations – guacamole dip – with tortilla chips, accompanied by a bottle of cerveza! Scrummy! I will never forget the experience of the best-flavoured avocado I ever tasted in my life – the very last one and freshly picked from a tree by the mother of my Spanish teacher in her garden in Tlacolula. The most generous and delicious gift ever given to me, as the experience of that avocado melting on my tongue like butter, made me feel I was double in heaven!

1Calabacín (squash or courgette) – Leaving in a boring land of northern Europe where exotic fruits and vegetables have a long way to travel to, to my pleasure, squash can grow quite well in our climate, so no wonder why courgettes find their way on my plate quite often (yeah, I am a bit of a courgette addict!).

3Maíz (maize or corn) – A daily staple food to make tortillas, the Mexican ‘bread’. It comes in three colours: white, yellow and blue.

! Granos de cacao (cocoa beans) – Essential: CHOCOLATE, yes, with capital letters! ‘I can resist everything but ???‘ Perhaps my new year’s resolution, but I shall say no more!

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