Day of the Dead focuses on gatherings of family and friends who pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration occurs on November 1st and 2nd in connection with the Catholic holiday of All Saints Day which occurs on November 1st and All Souls Day which occurs on November 2nd. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar and chocolate skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and visiting graves with these as gifts.
Many cultures and countries celebrate Day of the Dead,
but in Mexico and parts of the U.S and Canada it is tied to an historic
Meso-American holiday that originated with the Aztecs 3000 years ago or
earlier. When the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico
500 years ago, they found the natives practicing this ritual that seemed
to mock death. It was a ritual the Spaniards tried unsuccessfully to
eradicate. Although the ceremony has since merged with Catholic
theology, it still maintains the basic principles the Aztecs intended, a
view that death is the continuation of life. Life was a dream and only
in death does one become truly awake.
Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead,
it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People
go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and
build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, as
well as photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to
encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers
and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a
humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about
Skulls are a major symbol of the cycle of death and rebirth. The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual to honor the dead and exalt the sphere of death and rebirth.
Although sugar skulls are more common, chocolate skulls
and coffins have become de rigueur. Celebrate Dia de los Muertos with
three solid chocolate skulls sparkling with black salt eyes, in 3
chocolate flavors: Barcelona, Red Fire & Blanca. Day of the Dead Chocolate Skulls from Vosges.
Want to make your own? Mexican Chocolate Skulls
sells skull molds. Their chocolate molds can be made with tempered
chocolate, candy coating wafers, melted chocolate chips. Their mold
designs were inspired by the famous Mexican woodcut artist, Jose
Guadalupe Posada (1852 -1913). Here's a link to recipes using candy coating wafers, chocolate chips or tempered chocolate with these molds.
Mexican hot chocolate
is one of my favorites. In Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead (and other
times), the many chocolate shops serve hot chocolate that is a mix of
cocoa beans, cinnamon sticks, almond and sugar ground together into a
paste, then grated down and mixed with steaming milk. You can make a
similar version easily at home. As always use the very best chocolate.
Day of the Dead Hot Chocolate
2 teaspoons good-quality ground cocoa
1 teaspoon sugar, plus extra to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground almonds. You can add more if you want a thicker texture
1 cup whole milk
Mix all ingredients, except milk, together in an empty, clean glass jar. Shake until completely combined.
Heat milk in a pan and addchocolate mix. Bring to boil and reduce heat.
Simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly; use small whisk to froth milk. Serve hot.
And, for the Bakers out there, Sunset Magazine has a wonderful Pasilla Chile Chocolate Cake recipe for The Day of the Dead.
Pasilla Chile Chocolate Cake
1/2 ounces dried pasilla chiles (chile negro) or 2 1/2
ounces dried ancho chiles plus 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (see notes)
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sweet butter, room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
5 large eggs, separated
2 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar or finely crushed piloncillo sugar (see notes)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp Mexican vanilla or 1 Tbsp coffee-flavored liqueur such as Kahlúa
Lay chiles insingle layer on 12- by 15-inch baking sheet. Bake in 400° oven just until pliable, about 2 minutes. Wearing rubber gloves,
break off stems, shake out seeds, and break chiles into small pieces,
dropping into a small bowl; discard stems and seeds. Cover chiles with
warm water and let soak until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain chiles and put
inblender with 1/3 cup water; whirl until smooth, adding 1 more
tablespoon water as needed to make thick paste. Push purée through a
fine strainer; discard residue. You need 1/3 cup chile purée. If using
ancho chiles, stir cayenne into the chile purée.
2. Line bottom of 9-inch cake pan (sides at least 1 1/2 in. tall) with parchment.
In large bowl over saucepan of simmering water (water shouldn't
touch bottom of bowl), combine chocolate and butter. Stir occasionally
just until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 8 minutes.
Remove from over water and whisk in 1/3 cup chile purée, the egg yolks,
vanilla, and flour until mixture is blended.
4. Pour brown sugar
into small bowl and stir or whisk to break up lumps and loosen. In large bowl, with electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites and
cream of tartar until very frothy and foamy. Gradually add brown sugar
to whites, beating until stiff, moist peaks form. With whisk, fold third of beaten whites into chocolate mixture until well
incorporated. Then fold in remaining whites just until blended. Scrape
batter into prepared pan.
5. Bake cake in 425° regular or 400°
convection oven until set and center barely jiggles when pan
is gently shaken, about 15 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack for about
15 minutes. Run a knife between cake and pan rim, then invert onto
serving platter. Lift off pan and peel off parchment. Let cake cool
about 30 minutes, then chill until firm and cold, at least 4 hours;
cover cake once completely chilled.
6. For best texture, let cake
come to room temperature before serving, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Sift
powdered sugar lightly over cake (for pattern, lay stencil on cake
before sifting sugar, then carefully lift off).
7. In bowl, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Stir in vanilla. Cut
cake into wedges and serve each with dollop of whipped cream.
Dried long, dark, skinny chiles labeled pasilla or chile negro give
this dark chocolate cake a subtle fruit flavor with a hot finish. If
these are not available, use dark, blocky chiles labeled ancho, which
are sweet and fruity with little heat, and add cayenne to boost
spiciness. Both pasilla and ancho chiles are available in Hispanic
markets. To use piloncillo sugar (also available in Hispanic markets),
put it in a heavy zip-lock plastic bag, cover it with a towel, and pound
it with a mallet or hammer until finely crushed. You can make this cake
up to 2 days ahead; chill airtight.
Want to organize a Chocolatada Day of the Dead party?
Check out this post on The Holy Enchilada.