Food is a central part of Día de los muertos. Pan de muerto is a sweet, soft bread, coated with sugar and made fragrant with the beautiful aroma of orange blossom water. Even if you won't be rapping your knuckles on stranger's doors on behalf of your calaverita, this is a festive and curious bread that's worth trying.
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In Chile, legend has it that a woman who sold fried dough in a Santiago square during colonial times was surprised by a strong gust of wind that made her skirt fly up. The big reveal: her underpants were torn. Today, the pastries she sold are still prepared in Chile. They're called calzones rotos (torn ladies' underwear) to her—and her mother's—eternal shame.
The origins of Joe Froggers date back to Marblehead, Massachusetts some two hundred years ago. Legend has it that Joseph Brown, a freed slave and Revolutionary War veteran, operated a tavern called Black Joe's where his wife, Lucretia, or "Auntie Crese" to regulars, baked up molasses cookies the size of the lily pads in the pond nearby (hence the frog connection). Sailors prized these chewy cookies for their ability to stay fresh during long sea voyages. I'm sure the fact that they're made with rum didn't hurt either.
First popularized in the 1920s, these no-bake cakes are typically made by sandwiching whipped cream between layers of wafer cookies or ladyfingers. While it feels almost un-American to knock the traditional 'Nilla wafers, I've never been especially keen on them, so I was glad to discover Trader Joe's makes their own house brand "Ultimate Vanilla Wafers" flecked with Madagascar vanilla beans.
The crust is shortbread crumbs and ground almonds, which are complemented by a sweet almond liqueur-flavored mascarpone filling. The crowning touch: an Amaretto and cherry glaze that lightly coats a generous pile of fresh cherries.
I've made bread pudding with everything from sliced white to croissants, but much prefer challah; it absorbs the custard nicely while retaining its shape so the pudding isn't a mushy mess. In this recipe, the custard is made with sweetened condensed milk and a generous amount of espresso powder, accentuated with floral cardamom, spicy cinnamon, and the perfume of almond extract.
These roasted peaches with haloumi are a lovely iteration of the salty-sweet dessert theme. The ripe peaches are bathed in Riesling syrup, the Riesling's floral notes accentuating their delicate perfume. As they roast, the peaches release deep blush-hued juices that remind me of a summer sunset. A light seasoning of salt and black pepper on the fruit perks up the syrup and makes the peaches pop.
This is a bit of a mash-up of recipes. It begins with torta chilena, a Napoleon-like Chilean dessert that features layers of puff pastry glued together with rich dulce de leche, but takes a spin from there. When I was five or six, a Peruvian friend of my mother's brought her edition of the dessert to a dinner party. It was a stack of puff pastry rounds and the classic dulce de leche, but, in addition to the toffee-hued goo, there was golden pineapple jam between the flaky tiers.
Most of the oatmeal cookies I've had are heavy on cinnamon and raisins. That's all well and good, but the oats are almost impossible to detect. To remedy this, my recipe skips over the cinnamon, and toasts the oats in a dry skillet to enhance their oatiness. For extra nutty flavor, I brown the butter, use whole-wheat flour, and throw in some Grape-Nuts pebbles.
All you need to start these doughnuts is a roll of biscuit dough, which means no waiting for yeasted dough to rise and not much to clean up. Punch out the doughnut holes, heat up some oil, and within minutes you'll have warm, crisp, homemade (no one will know, unless the pop! of the biscuit tin sells you out) doughnuts.