The arrival of October brings about the first of a long string of holidays, all beginning with the ever-so popular Halloween. But did you know that there’s another holiday that also begins on the same day? It’s called Dia De Los Muertos, a popular three-day Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of those who have passed away. Those who celebrate this holiday traditionally build small altars for their loved ones, either at their home or at a local cemetery. These altars are constructed and adorned with vibrant flowers and family pictures, and even the favorite meals, drinks, or desserts of those commemorated. The tone of this holiday can take many forms for different people, but most importantly it is a time to celebrate the lives of their dearly departed.
Being of Mexican descent, I am quite familiar with this holiday, even though my immediate family doesn’t always celebrate it. When I was little, we took many trips to Mexico to visit my mother’s side of the family and I actually remember being there during this holiday. I was able to see many of the shrines in the local cemetery, all of which were wonderfully dressed with candles, flowers, and food. Many of the meals prepared for this holiday are very traditional, much like those my grandmother Ramona would make, so I found it especially fun to try to re-create some of my family recipes for this upcoming holiday. Preparing this recipe was actually a bittersweet experience for me, as my grandmother recently passed away. But I found a lovely sense of comfort in making it in her honor.
In the next two weeks I will be sharing two more recipes with you that are perfect for Día De Los Muertos, the first of which being this very popular hot drink called atole. During the colder months my grandmother would make this from time to time, so it naturally awakens many pleasant memories. It is traditionally made from masa (corn flour), water or milk, piloncillo, and other flavors, like vanilla, chocolate, etc. You may or may not be familiar with piloncillo, but it’s basically pure, unrefined sugar cane. It’s honestly quite difficult to source, so I used Zulka’s brown sugar which worked perfectly.
I’m not sure if you have heard about Zulka before, but I absolutely love their sugar. Using the highest quality sugar is very important to me as a baker, and Zulka has some of the best you can find. Their practices and cultivation methods are also impressive; they offer 100% pure, freshly harvested, never refined, non-GMO sugar. That’s about everything I want my sugar to be.
Now, this drink just resonates with comfort to me, but I realize that a lot of people probably haven’t tried it before. So just to give you an idea, this drink is served hot and the texture is slightly thick, almost like an eggnog. Its flavor is a lovely mash up of corn, vanilla, and brown sugar. I add a little bit of cinnamon for garnish to provide some extra flavor, but it tastes just as good without it. Stay tuned for the next two recipes in celebration of Día De Los Muertos!
ATOLE DE VAINILLA
4 Cups Milk
1/4 Cup Maseca
1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar, or more to taste
5 stick of cinnamon, divided
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod
1-2 Pinches Kosher Salt
Equipment: 3 quart pan, whisk, fine mesh sieve
A dash of Cinnamon and/or 4 cinnamon sticks, for garnish
In a 3 quart pot add the milk, maseca, and sugar, whisking until no lumps remain. Add in 1 cinnamon stick, seeds from vanilla bean pod, and salt.
Set pot to medium heat and bring to a boil while whisking constantly. Once boiling, continue whisking until mixture has slightly thickened, about 2- 3 minutes.
Remove pot from the heat and pour the atole through a fine mesh sieve before serving.
Garnish each cup with a cinnamon stick and a light dusting of cinnamon.