Thursday, November 3, 2011

Obsession Worthy - Sugar Skulls

This week was the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition where one's family comes together to celebrate those who have passed on.  Traditionally altars are made in honor of lost loved ones, as well as offerings of their favorite dishes, and iconic sugar skulls are made for each relative.  November 1st is the Día de los Inocentes (The Day of the Innocents), and November 2nd is the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  People encourage visits from their lost loved ones by visiting cemeteries, decorating graves with offerings, orange marigolds - Flor de Muerto.  Traditions vary from town to town, but the celebrations are always in respect for life.

image via Zanzibar Trading Co.

The holiday is thought to be traced to an Aztec Festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, and fell in the ninth month of the Aztec Calendar.  This ancient festival was believed to be celebrated for an entire month, starting at the beginning of August.  It is believed that traditions in celebrating the deaths of family members and ancestors has continued for 2,500-3,000 years.

Sugar Skulls are given to the living and to the dead, made of chocolate or of sugar, and are inscribed with the name of the recipient.  These skulls are the icon of the of The Day of the Dead, and they are thought to have good luck.  Traditional Sugar Skulls are decorated with feathers, glitter, foil, icing, and are not meant to be eaten, but are a sweet offering none the less.

image via Alkemia

Ok, ok, so we are slightly obsessed with these delicious candy skulls:

Sugar Skull $15.99

Small Sugar Skulls - $4.50

Angelitos - $5

Sugar Skull - $14 

Or you can make your own:

Sugar Skull Mold - $13 

Order Skulls Pre Made - $10.99

Panna Cotta Calavera:

Calavera Panna Cotta

4 cups (1l) heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons (90ml) cold water

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

(If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing.)

Lightly oil our large sugar skull molds with a neutral-tasting oil.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared sugar skull molds, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours but I let them stand at least four hours. (Judy told me American refrigerators are colder than European ones. )

Run a sharp knife around the edge of each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish as desired.  

And, of course, a cocktail to go with your Day of the Dead festivities:

La Picosita 

3 strips of fresh red bell pepper (1-1/2 inch X 1-1/2 inch, skins on)
3/4 ounce honey syrup
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1-1/2 ounce Milagro Silver Tequila
Pinch cayenne pepper/cumin spice mix
1 slice charred red bell pepper

To make the honey syrup, combine 2 parts honey with 1 part warm water. Stir thoroughly until combined. Measure out 3/4 ounce. Store unused portion in refrigerator.

To make the spice mix, combine equal parts ground cayenne pepper and ground cumin.

To char the red bell pepper, grill a halved red bell pepper on a lightly-greased grill top until the skin begins to turn black in spots. Allow to cool, slice pepper lengthwise, removing seeds and cut into long strips, approximately 1 inch wide.

Crush the fresh red bell pepper with honey syrup and lemon juice, preferably in a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a cocktail shaker. Add tequila and ice, and shake vigorously.

Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a pinch of spice mix and a slice of charred red bell pepper, and serve.

Recipe modifies from a Rosa Mexicano Recipe


The Day of the Dead is such a festive holiday - we hope to one day be able to travel to Mexico to experience it first hand.  Until then, we will be making our own Calaveras here in Brooklyn.


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