Dia de los Reyes

Dia de los Reyes, Three Kings day  or Epiphany is the finale to the Christmas season.  January 6th is a feast day for many European and Latin American cultures. My mother hung on to her Mexican culture heavily during  our childhood but strangely we did not celebrate Dia de Los Reyes. As far as I was concerned it was only another day to attend mass. She did explain the significance of it but that was the full extent of celebrating Kings day.

The main factor for embracing my Mexican roots of late is I miss my family terribly and now that I have 6 kids I want them to know who and where I came from. It has heavily influenced my baking in the last year or two. I want to re-create certain tastes and smells but also investigate ones I would of missed out on by growing up in an  immigrant family trying to integrate to their new environment.

“Rosca de Reyes” or Three Kings Bread is a ring shaped bread adorned with colourful candied fruit and sugary topping. Inside is hidden a plastic figurine of baby Jesus. The tradition is who ever finds the figurine in the bread becomes the guardian who will take care of them until February 2nd and then treat those who they shared the bread with to a traditional fiesta usually with tamales.

I first tried making the Rosca de Reyes over 10 years ago when I first started baking and although it looked great it taste rubbery due to my inexperience working with bread . This is my 3rd attempt and I am fairly pleased. I also feel I could do it better next time.

In my usual fashion I researched loads of traditional recipes until I found one that I really felt I could work with. It is a fusion of a couple of recipes (Fany Gerson’s from My Sweet Mexico www.mysweetmexico.com and Mexico in my Kitchen www.mexicoinmykitchen.com). Next time I would change a couple of things such as  not using bread flour and using plain flour. I felt the bread or strong flour caused a crack on top and I would add anise seeds to my dough for added flavour. I sprinkled a cinnamon-sugar topping which worked great. I went all out with the candied fruit. I found some beautiful South African ones in Fallon and Byrne www.fallonandbyrne.com (gourmet food hall in Dublin) which made it an expensive treat but it is a celebratory bread.

¡Feliz Dia de Los Reyes!

Thanksgiving baking

Thanksgiving is the one American holiday I insist on my family celebrating together here in Ireland. When I first moved to Ireland in the early 1990’s it was almost impossible to get a hold of pumpkin pie filling, Karo syrup for pecan pie. I relied on stocking up on ingredients when visiting my family back home and one year out of desperation talked my sister into posting two cans of pumpkin purée that probably cost $1.50 each for about 20 dollars. Luckily baking for Thanksgiving is no longer such a challenge.  I don’t use canned pumpkin purée anymore with the availabilty of fresh pumpkins this time of year. I steam our Halloween pumpkins, puree and freeze them so I can enjoy pumpkin through out the year. Pumpkin purée is easily found in Tesco and even occasionally Aldi sells it. Fallon and Byrne usually stocks Karo syrup and much to my surprise I found out they are selling cartons of  Egg Nog! Mind you it’s €8.00 a carton but it’s a special occasion.

I don’t mess with the classics ! Deserts are always pumpkin pie and pecan pie either a big one or loads of little mini ones. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of my holiday baking so mince pies always make their holiday première in my house. Chocolate brownies and rocky road are usually made for the kids. This year I’ve made an alternative gluten free pastry for some of the the pies.  I was skeptical that it would taste as nice but I found a really good recipe that is light and easy to work with. I did a a taste test with my gluten loving husband and he couldn’t tell it was gluten free.

  Pumpkin Pies one of the seasonal pies I sell at Naas farmer’s Market, Co.Kildare. www.naasfarmersmarket.ie

Freshly steamed pumpkin puree which I bought at Kennedy’s pumpkin patch in Co. Meath

Gingerbread cake with salted caramel topping.
  Pecan pie- my favourite of the holiday classics   Mince pies- I use a super rich short paste.

 First time I’ve been able to buy Egg-Nog in Ireland. I’m so excited can’t wait to add some Captain Morgan’s spiced Rum to this.

Dia de Muertos

November the 2nd, Dia de Muertos is celebrated predominately in Mexico but has made it’s mark across the globe. Living in Ireland the last 20 years, I have seen the remembrance day of the dead grow in popularity over the past decade. I try to keep my Hispanic roots alive by familiarizing  my 6 children with Mexican celebrations and holidays.

I’ve started a few days early but this year I made “Day of the dead cookies.” I made two batches: one a very traditional Mexican recipe from corn masa (Masca brand) and another from a gluten free self raising flour (Doves farm brand) and egg free recipe. Although the first recipe was also gluten free it is a very acquired taste as it is pure corn flour.  My children are my official tasters but also brutally honest and the Masca version did not get the thumb’s up. I preferred the Masca ones as they were not as sweet and tasted more authentic.

The stamps I ordered on-line with Amazon. They are pretty fiddly to use without breaking the cookies. Dip the stamp in flour and roll the dough between two sheets of baking paper. Also stamp the cookie before using the other side which is the cutter. Take care when pulling out the stamp. To decorate I made basic icing with icing sugar, lemon juice and water. I piped the colours on with a paper piping bag for the fine details.

Sounds painful but they were fun!

day of dead cookie 2             day of dead cookie 1

Pan muerto

I also made mini Pan Muertos to celebrate Dia de Muertos. I used the same recipe as I did for my Pan Dulce (Conchas) except I did not put on the sugar paste topping and topped them rolled out dough that is the bone decoration and  brushed butter and cinnamon-sugar topping once cooked and cooled. My bones could of turned out better but I had been baking for about 12 hours that day and was eager to get them in the oven. They were a big hit  at my local market where I sell my goods at on Saturday mornings  in Naas Farmers Market in Naas Co. Kildare http://www.naasfarmersmarket.ie/.

pan muerto 1          pan muerto 2

Biscochitos

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For people who have never heard of this rum-anise shortbread it’s hard to explain the cultural significance they have to people from New Mexico. Although my father is a native New Mexican, growing up in Texas I never tasted these little golden gems that melt in your mouth, until I was in my mid thirties. I spent 3 years in New Mexico and suddenly they were everywhere. especially at Christmas time. These were one of the first things I felt challenged to bake and get right. I read a lot of recipes and asked loads of people for advice. Although there are slight variations in the recipes most are quite similar. They are traditionally  made from lard, sugar,anise, and some type of booze typically brandy,rum or sweet wine. Any recipe that omits the booze I dismiss. The lard can be substituted with butter or shortening but I have settled on 1/2 lard 1/2 shortening.

When I mentioned to my father that I had made biscochitos for the first time his face lit up and he reminisced about his own mother making them.Every year I make hundreds of these for gifts for teachers, colleagues,neighbours and get great feedback from them!

The recipe I use now  was modified from San Felipe de Niri, parish cookbook. This is my mom’s parish and if you are ever in Albuquerque New Mexico please visit this historical landmark as it one of the oldest building in the region being founded in 1706.

Depending on what size cookie cutter you use depends on how many you will get. I used a 3.5cm flower cookie cutter and made 156 of them. I don’t know if I would go much bigger as they are quite rich.

You need to have an assembly line set up to make it fairly easy. This is a great recipe for the family as you can assign jobs to people and everyone feels involved. I do this every-year with my two daughters around the holidays.

IMG_5231   IMG_5234

Biscochitos recipe

Preheat oven to 170 C

Ingredients

720g plain flour

3tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

454g lard or shortening ( I did 1/2 of each)

300g caster sugar

2tsp anise seed

2 eggs

120 ml brandy or rum

50g sugar & 1 Tbsp Cinnamon combined together

Method

Sift flour with baking powder and salt

Cream shortening with sugar and anise seed, using mixer on medium speed

Beat eggs until light and fluffy

Add eggs to creamed mixture

Add flour mixture

Use alcohol to bind dough (only use enough liquid to form stiff dough, drink any remaining alcohol)

Knead slighly and roll out,cut out with cookie cutter

Bake 10-13 minutes until golden brown

While still hot carefully roll in sugar/cinnamon mixture

Macaron mini tower

mini mac 2I have been making macarons for 2 years on a regular basis and and always enjoy the challenge. The results are sometimes unreliable because I prefer to make the French meringue method versus the Italian. The difference between the two meringue’s is the French method uses a method of beating sugar into egg whites and then folding in a mixture of almond flour and icing sugar.  The Italian method uses boiled sugar syrup into egg whites before folding into the almond flour/ icing sugar mixture. I learned how to do the French method in Dublin at The Baking Academy and the Italian method at the La Cuisine Paris in Paris, France. Although the Italian method has more reliable results I prefer the texture of the macaron shell with the French method.  Plus I come from the school of thought if ain’t broke don’t fix it!

mac shells                                       rasberry ripple filling

At this stage I have made hundreds of macarons and still hold my breath a bit as I pull them out of the oven. I usually know before they go into the oven if things are going to work out. The main problems I encounter are the shells being too runny, too lumpy or the heat of the oven altering the colour of the shells. The shells being too runny usually results due to over mixing the egg whites with the almond flour mixture. The shells being too lumpy or grainy is from under mixing the egg whites with almond flour mixture. Humidity can also reek havoc on your macaron shells resulting in cracked and lumpy shells. The colour changes are due to the oven being too hot and not using premium powdered colourings. I buy all my colouring in powder form from France. Gel and liquids are a macaron no-no as the shells hate any additional liquid.

I took a macaron break for a few weeks and have been concentrating on yeast breads but this week I was back making macarons for a school function and I forgot how much I love making them. It is a challenge. Whenever you buy a handmade macaron appreciate the effort and skill put into to it. Of course you can buy frozen or machine made macaron for a fraction of the cost of handmade one, but when you taste the difference you will never want to buy a mass produced one again.

Conchas- Pan dulce

conchas 3

One of the reasons I decided to take a bread class in Dublin a couple of months ago was I am determined to make my own Mexican sweet bread. I haven’t had the real thing in over 10 years but it is one of those flavours and smells you will never forget. I remember the fist time I had one of these, we bought them from  a lady who was selling them after mass outside the church. She also sold menudo, which my mom would bring an empty large Folgers coffee tin to fill up with the menudo. At the time I didn’t appreciate the menudo (which I love now) but I couldn’t wait until we got home to have some the lovely sweet bread she bought. Americans who live in any state bordering Mexico have panaderias and little Mexican grocery shops that sell these and a multitude of other beautifully crafted Mexican sweet breads but these are non existent in Ireland -until now!

The Bread has a sweet paste top on it which cracks when baked. It is scored to resemble shells. It is either plain white or they use pretty bright colours such as pink and yellow or chocolate topping. I decided to make the three different toppings; plain,coloured and chocolate. I spent several hours pouring over recipes on the internet, pinterest to find a  recipe that seemed authentic.I mutated a couple of different recipes from blogs http://www.wildyeastblog.com/conchas-de-colores-naturales/ and www.misrecetasfavoritas2.blogspot.com/. It was different from some of the other ones I had read as it told you to refrigerate the dough after proving for 8 hours up to 24 hours. I didn’t want to make them in a mixer for the first time as it’s important to me to feel the dough by hand if I’ve never made it before. This is the reason I have no photos of the process as my hands were very sticky. It was a great arm work out but will taking out the Kenwood next time around.

I’ll be making these on a weekly basis now as I love the taste and the smell in my kitchen brought me back to my childhood.

Dacquois au cafe

I have been wanting to make this recipe for months since I found it on Little French bakery blog.http://littlefrenchbakery.com/blog/dacquoise-au-cafe-almond-merengue-with-coffee-butter-cream

I love Almond meringue hence why I love macarons. I’ve been making macarons on a weekly basis so I needed a little break but since my husband requested home-made custard the other night with our apple crumble, I gladly obliged but I had egg whites screaming make me into Dacquois.

It’s made with French butter-cream, which I’ve only made once while taking a course at La Cuisine Paris. It’s a bit tricky as you are pouring boiled sugar syrup into whipped eggs and slowly adding butter once cooled. My Kenwood Classic was struggling a bit but it turned out lovely and silky, well worth the effort. Left over butter-cream inspired me into making some fairy cakes to top off with the remains.

Dacquoise

Bread baking with The Baking Academy of Ireland

I spent a wonderful 6 hours Sunday on a bread course. In the past I had inconsistent results with my traditional bread making so I decided to get some professional help at The Baking Academy of Ireland in Palmerstown, Dublin 20. I have taken a couple of classes there in the past and found the standard to be on a very professional level without being too intimating and to top it off you get an amazing lunch thrown in for the price too.

We made traditional pan bread, party brot and a plaited bread. They explained all the science of bread making and after a demonstration then we were let loose to make our own bread. These were the results ….

plaited breadun cooked panBread basket