I am not a cook. I can say that without flinching or getting an anxiety attack. I am not. I can do a variety of things; cooking however is not one of them. A lot of my cooking is based on watching other people cook, learning from the experts as I like to say. I can’t give you a recipe to make salsa, but I can show you. “I can show you”, is a motto that I have been taught on numerous occasions. No one taught me how to cook, I just learned by watching others. I can get by with simple step by step recipes, but I cannot cook for the life of me. Part of it has to do with lack of patience, and other half has to do with pure laziness. Do not ask me for the perfect recipe for the greatest salsa because I do not have one. I don’t have the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. I don’t even know how to make pie crust from scratch. I consider a lot of family and friends, the bakers, the chefs, the experts that can cook, etc. They can whip up a pie at a moments notice. They can make a variety of different meals that would put some minute meals to shame. To say that I am a bit jealous, I will admit to it. I would love to be able to make something without a recipe, or just be able to make something from nothing.
For the past couple of years I have grown an interest of knowing more about my culture. Whether it be stories about my family or knowing more about my culture itself. Being of Mexican descent, I want to know everything. Everything in my culture is a story, with a purpose and place, which I find absolutely fascinating. Cooking is a big part of my culture, especially in my family. Every one in my family cooks; from my Abuelita (grandma) to my Tios (Uncles), Tias (Aunts), and primos (cousins). I am always fascinated by how simple ingredients can be transformed into epic feasts. My Mom has often stated “There is no reason to go hungry. If you have rice, beans, and tortillas, you are set”. She’s right. A lot of our meals have consisted of simple ingredients that make up these amazing meals. Most of the times we do not need a special holiday to make these delicious feasts, but on the day that there is a holiday they become these emotional and elaborate works of art. When I was growing up I always had a fascination with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I loved the idea of having a day to celebrate with your ancestors that have passed on. Eating all the things they loved, celebrating life, discussing stories of the past, and my personal favorite eating “Pan de Muerto” (bread of the dead). It sounds a little morbid, “Pan de Muerto”, but I assure you it’s absolutely delicious.
While I love all aspects of pan dulce (sweet bread), Pan de Muerto has a different meaning on this day. While breaking bread with your family members you would share a piece with your ancestors and continue this celebration of life and death. Pan de muerto would be the center piece that adorned your alter, the bread you would break and share with each family member. We have usually purchased a large pan de muerto (to share) or bought tiny individual ones to place on our alters to consume. This year I wanted to do something different. I have always depended on going to a panaderia (bakery) to purchase bread, but what if I made the bread myself? What if I put together all the ingredients and made it myself? People thought I was crazy. Honestly, I thought I was crazy. I’ve never cooked with yeast. I couldn’t tell you about kneading anything of that matter. Making pan de muerto, when I could very well just go to the local panaderia and buy it? Like are you crazy?!?
Considering that all my baking consisted of following a box recipe, I knew I had my work cut out for me. I mean, I wasn’t expecting perfection. Edible, yes. Perfection, no. I wanted to see if I could honestly pull this off. I can follow basic instructions. I can follow directions. After scouring the internet, I stubbled upon a recipe by Dariela of Mami Talks (www.mamitalks.com). Something about her recipe sounded like I was talking to a relative who was giving me instruction. I have the disadvantage of having a majority of my family members living in Mexico, so asking them for a recipe is harder with translating, language barriers, measurement differences, temperature changes, etc. Or sometimes they’ve never made it themselves, which is why the internet is amazing! After gathering the ingredients in the recipe, I started the grueling process of making the bread. Let me just state, it was not an easy process. Its a process that takes a lot of patience, which I often times do not have. A lot of waiting around for dough to rise, then kneading, letting dough rest, etc.
I give props to every baker I know. Especially the bakers in panaderias. There were times in the process, I would get frustrated. Was all this work, really worth it? Do they not have little canisters of pan de muerto that I can pop in the oven? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE!?!?! You know all my little dramatics rolled into one bread. When the bread was ready to pop in the oven, I did the sign of the cross and prayed it didn’t burn. I could have taken the easy way out. I could have complained about driving 3 minutes to the local panaderia. I could have picked the perfect pan and went on to do my alter. But I didn’t feel close to my culture that way. If I had done that, I wouldn’t feel the flour in my hands, watch the dough rising from the bowl. All these processes I would have missed by doing what I normally do, depending on someone else to do something for me. I have been so dependent of everyone to save me from myself. Even simple cooking, I would rather have someone else do.
It may not have been the prettiest pan de muerto, but it sure was yummy. All that anxiety, all that complaining, proved that I could do it. It may not have been a recipe passed down from generation to generation; I may not have perfected the art of pan dulce. After making this recipe, I felt like I could cook anything. More importantly, I didn’t feel dependent of having someone else clean up my mistakes.
I made this and it was delicious!
Shout Out to Dariela of Mami Talks for your amazing recipe of Pan de Muerto. I cannot wait to make this next year and share this with my family.