For more than 30 years, Mexico City chef Margarita Carrillo Arronte has been studying the cuisine of her home country, analyzing the historical and cultural influences that subtly (and not-so-subtly) changed how Mexicans eat.
Much of her work in recent years has been on a new 700-recipe cookbook simply called “Mexico: The Cookbook” (Phaidon, $49.95). Carrillo, who helped lobby UNESCO to recognize Mexican food as a cultural institution, will only be making six U.S. stops on her book tour, including an appearance this weekend at the Texas Book Festival. (Her demonstration is set for 12:30 p.m. Sunday in the Central Market Cooking Tent.)
Carrillo says that outsiders’ perception of Mexican food has changed greatly in the past 10 or 20 years. “Many people now know that authentic Mexican food is not Tex-Mex,” Carrillo says, but they don’t realize that truly traditional Mexican food is as diverse as the foods of Europe. “Tex-Mex isn’t bad, it’s just different. There are 31 regions of Mexican food,” each with different cooking techniques or flavor profiles that depend on the kind of ingredients that grow or are raised there.
Traditionally, rabbit, duck, turkey, venison and wild boar were among the most popular meats, but with the Spanish came cattle, chickens, hens and the concept of frying food in oil.
The Spanish also introduced wheat, which eventually replaced masa in Pan de Muertos, the Day of the Dead bread. Although most Day of the Dead bread is now made with wheat flour, the shapes can vary from region to region. This “bones and tear” shape is found in Central Mexico, Carrillo says.
Day of the Dead Bread
1 cup milk
4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 tsp. active dry (fast-action) yeast
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1 to 2 tsp. orange blossom water, to taste
3/4 cup melted butter, plus more for greasing and brushing
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of sugar
Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, then remove from heat and let cool. Set aside.
Put the flour into a large bowl and make a well. Sprinkle in the sugar and yeast and pour in the milk. Close the well by flicking flour over the milk and let it sit for 1 hour.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the melted butter, and shape into a ball. Transfer to a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes. Add the butter and knead again for 10 minutes.
Return to the bowl and cover. Let rise for 2 hours, until doubled in size.
Grease two baking sheets with butter. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Take two of those pieces and roll them into tight balls and then press them gently to flatten a bit. Cover and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
After 1 hour, take the remaining piece of dough and divide it into 10 little pieces. Roll two of these pieces into small balls and 8 of these pieces into long, thin logs.
To make the glaze, combine all the ingredients and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl and mix well. Brush the loaves gently with the glaze. Take four of the logs and drape them in an X shape over one of the balls. Repeat for the other disk of dough.
Brush these with egg. Take a little ball of dough and place it on the top of one disk of dough, where the X meets. Press down gently so it sticks. Repeat for the other little ball of dough.
Glaze the dough balls and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. While they are still warm, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Makes 3 loaves.
— From “Mexico: The Cookbook” by Margarita Carrillo Arronte