Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a very special celebration. If you follow us on Facebook you might have seen some sneak peak photos. And if you’ve been following us for a couple of years you might have read, In Honor of our Grandmother, Jesusita. If you haven’t read it we invite you to read it to understand what the celebration is all about and to understand the differences between Halloween and Día de Los Muertos.
The celebration occurs on November 2 and it is a day we honor the memory of the dead.
Although the celebration occurs November 2, I decided to celebrate a little early and get my daughter really involved. Over the years she has really enjoyed helping me set up an altar for our grandma and learning all about this special day. I love that she now loves this special day just as much as I do. So when I had the idea to dress her in sugar skull makeup and have her be a part of the festivities she was very excited.
Now that our Muy Bueno cookbook is published I have not been able to stop thinking about our grandma. I felt her presence while we tirelessly wrote our cookbook. I know she was watching over us and it is with great admiration that I honor her on this special day. I am still in disbelief that we wrote a cookbook and it’s all because of her, the matriarch of our familia who inspired us.
I was trying to think of all the things that remind me of grandma to place on her altar and it made me very emotional as I shopped at a little Latin grocery store. While shopping I found all the items and food I had envisioned for the altar. I saw pan dulce (sweet bread), Mexican candies, veladoras (religious candles), and felt at peace surrounded by items that reminded me of my childhood and of grandma.
I knew I needed to buy all these goodies to let grandma know I was thinking of her and to welcome her spirit. As my children and I shopped in that little store I told them all about Soza’s Grocery, the little tiendita (store) we owned when I was younger and all the sweet memories I have of grandma. My daughter always loves when I tell her stories of my childhood and was all ears.
I also wanted to make a very special dish for our grandma. Last year I made Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), which is a very traditional dish seen at Día de Los Muertos celebrations.
This year I wanted to make Marranitos (little pigs), or cochinitos, or puerquitos, as they are called in some Mexican-American communities. They were our grandma’s favorite sweet bread and remind me so much of her. We never made them at home growing up. We had a panaderia (Mexican bakery) nearby, so we never had the need to make them.
Don’t have molasses?
- Substitute using dark corn syrup, honey, or maple syrup
Marranitos are often called “Gingerbread Pigs,” although they only have a pinch of ginger in them. In fact, traditional marranitos get their delicious spicy-brown flavor from molasses. They are rich and oh so gratifying, their cake-like texture is reminiscent of shortbread, very lightly spiced, and deeply flavored from the traditional dark unrefined sugar known as piloncillo.
Marranitos are perfect to accompany a hot cup of coffee or Champurrado (Mexican Hot Chocolate).
I bookmarked this Puerquitos recipe on Girlichef and knew I had to make them. With our scheduled photo shoot fast approaching I knew I wouldn’t have time to make them so I asked my dear foodie friend, Karen to help me out. She is such a doll! She came right over and picked up the piggy cookie cutter my mom bought me in Juarez, Mexico and made the marranitos with a few adaptations for me in her home for the photo shoot.
The photo shoot was very spiritual. My daughter was trembling on that chilly Colorado day but never complained. I was very proud of her. I felt at peace after it was all over, as if a huge weight had been lifted. If you’ve never celebrated Día de Los Muertos I highly recommend it. It’s an indescribable and peaceful feeling honoring the memory of those we have lost.
Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. ~George Eliot
Marranitos / Cochinitos / Puerquitos (Mexican Pig-Shaped Cookies)
- 1¼ cups packed grated piloncillo, or dark brown sugar
- ¼ cups butter or shortening, at room temperature
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste or Mexican vanilla extract
- 1½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¾ cup molasses
- ¼ cup honey
- 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, depending on altitude
- 1 large egg, beaten
- Beat piloncillo and butter together in a large bowl until combined (they won't really cream together, just beat as best as you can). Add the egg, milk, and vanilla bean paste and beat again until smooth. Add baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, molasses, and honey. Beat until well combined.
- Beat in 3 cups of the flour. Gradually add remaining flour, switching from mixer to a wooden spoon once the dough starts to become too stiff (so that you don't burn out your mixer). The dough will seem a bit crumbly, but once you've stirred in as much of the flour as you can, use your hands to quickly knead in the rest of the flour. You're looking for a dough that you're able to roll out.
- Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and turn the dough out onto it. Pull the dough together into a large disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F and line a couple of sheet trays with parchment paper or a Silpat.
- Cut dough in half and wrap one halfback in plastic wrap, set aside (or refrigerate for now). Roll another half of dough out on a lightly floured surface to about ¼" thickness. Use a large pig-shaped cookie cutter (dip in a bit of flour) to cut out pig-shaped cookies. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Re-roll dough and repeat. Repeat with another half of dough when ready.
- Brush a thin coat of the beaten egg over the dough before you put it into the oven.
- Slide into a preheated oven and bake in the middle rack for 10 to 15 minutes or until cookies just start to turn golden around the edges and are just cooked through.
- Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Keep them covered so they remain soft.