Tagged comida mexicana

Pan de Dulce: Conchas

After living in upstate New York for almost two years, I have begun to see the Phoenix area as the Mexican food outside of Mexico promised land. I could find almost any ingredient or dish easily, most within just miles of where I lived.

Sure, I had to go clear across town if I wanted to eat crickets (frankly I only did this once as I’m far too lazy to drive 45 minutes for something that tastes like spicy potato chips). All the other basics of Mexican cuisine were right within reach. A dozen kinds of dry chiles, flaky rolls of cinnamon, pillow sized bags of jamaica, oregano, bolillos, stacks of tortillas both corn and flour still warm…

As much as I missed them all, I didn’t miss them as much as I did conchas, a rather simple sweet brioche bun with a streusel topping called costra, or crust. Never mind the word costra can also refer to a scab, that is far less appetizing. I could find a perfect sugar topped concha in almost any neighborhood in Phoenix. I can’t find one here within a 2 hour drive.

The Concha

 

conchas_readytobake.jpg
Conchans resting before baking.

 

The concha is a French brioche bun, with egg, butter and milk. Many of the baked goods and desserts of Mexico have a greater degree of French than Spanish influence, a shift which began in the 1820’s after the overthrow of Spanish rule in Mexico, when a new Mexican identity began to develop.

Part of this identity is owed to the influx of European immigrants during this time. It didn’t hurt to cement French influence in Mexican food to have had a French appointed Emperor to the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867. Drink a German Mexican beer and listen to a Polish Mexican polka while you think about this crash course in Mexican history. I could go on, but the recipe itself is long enough reading.

Head to Eater to read more on the topic of the concha.

Advice for the recipe: 

Being a sweet dough, the rise on this particular dough will be slow and should not be forced to do otherwise. It is the slow rise which will produce a tight and bouncy crumb in the bun.

If you are unsure of your yeast, bloom before mixing at both the starter and dough steps. Otherwise, mix as indicated following a straight dough mixing method, and using liquids slightly warmer than body temperature.

Any rising times indicated on this recipe, or for any other, should be completely disregarded if they do not match where the dough needs to be. Temperature of the ingredients, of the room, humidity, and elevation all will have an affect on how quickly dough rises. Ignore the clock and look instead at how far along the dough is.

Like any other brioche dough, the concha dough will have some stick to it when first mixed.

To make things easier, prepare the starter in the same bowl the rest of the dough will be mixed in.

The costra, or streusel if you will, should be fairly dry and crumbly, to prevent it melting off during the baking process. It should only have enough moisture to hold it together when clumped.

If using a stamp to score the costra, do so against a flat surface before placing on the bun, and avoid scoring more than halfway to avoid breaking. It is preferable to score too deeply, rather than not deeply enough, as then it will not separate when baking.

Unfortunately conchas do not keep well for long. Bakeries producing them bake them throughout the day, as they do harden quickly. Keeping them in a paper bag, or wrapped in parchment or wax paper will help slightly. Warming them gently in a microwave or oven also helps, as well as a nice dunk in coffee or hot chocolate. Cómo se dice, sopeadito. 

 

concha_crumb.jpg
Tight crumb inside the bun and a costra not properly scored.

 

Conchas

  • Servings: 14
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Starter

  • 115 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 g sugar
  • 2 g yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 fl. oz. water, 100-110ºF

Dough

  • 385 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 125 g granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 fl oz milk, 100-110ºF
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 120 g unsalted butter, diced, room temperature

Costra

  • 120 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 115 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 115 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Using a paddle attachment, mix the ingredients for the starter until a smooth thick dough forms. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, approximately 2 hours.

Once the starter is ready, add flour, yeast and sugar to the bowl. Using a dough hook, mix at slow speed while incorporating the eggs and milk into the dough. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Add salt, and continue to mix at medium speed, while incorporating butter pieces into the dough. Mix until the dough is smooth and soft but still has some stick to it.

Turn out the dough and form into a smooth ball. Oil the bowl, coat the dough ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise for approximately 4 hours in a warm place, or until the dough has risen to slightly more than double its bulk.

While the dough is rising, mix together the costra with a paddle attachment until it can be clumped together.

When the dough is ready, divide into 14 even pieces of approx. 71 grams each. Working on a lightly floured surface, shape each portion smooth. Place on parchment or silicone mat lined baking trays, allowing as much space as possible between each portion. Flatten the portions to prevent the conchas from becoming too round while rising and baking. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place while shaping the costras.

Divide the topping into 14 even pieces of approximately 25 grams each. Cut a quart sized plastic bag open. Place a portion inside the cut open bag, and using a tortilla press, the undersize of a sauté pan, or hands, press each disk evenly to slightly thinner than 1/8″. Score with a concha stamp, or with the tip of a sharp paring knife into desired pattern.

Place a costra over each bun, pressing carefully to shape them.

Allow the conchas to rise until doubled, appriximately 1 1/2 hours.

Bake at 350ºF for approximately 18 minutes, or until the bun sounds hollow when tapped a the bottom.

Celebration Food: Bacalao a la Vizcaina Estilo Mexicano

It’s hard to say there is any one food which heavily represents Mexican Christmas tradition. Like everything else in Mexican cuisine, this is heavily dependent on region and class.

Tamales are hugely important, but so are pozole and turkey. In some central and souther areas, Spanish dishes such as paella and bacalao are preferred and eaten on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), as well as New Year’s Eve.

A small box of dry salted cox opens up a Basque style dish, Bacalao a la VizcaÍna to a spicier Mexican influence.

A few notes on the recipe:

Do not use salt in this recipe. Even with 24 hours of soaking in milk, the bacalao will retain enough salt to season all other ingredients. If it seems wasteful to soak the fish in milk, half can be replaced with cold water.

 

bacalao.jpg

 

Bacalao a la Vizcaína Estilo Mexicano

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 1 lb bacalao (dry salted cod), skinless, without spines
  • Milk as needed
  • 4 small waxy potatoes
  • 2-3 red bell peppers
  • 2-4 dry chile colorados or guajillos, cleaned
  • 1 tsp dry Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 dry thyme
  • 14-oz can whole plum tomatoes, unseasoned
  • 1 yellow onion, small diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 manzanilla olives, with pit or pimento stuffed
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Finely chopped cilantro and parsley, to taste

 

Rinse the bacalao well with cold water, removing any salt still attached. Soak in milk for 24 hours, changing the liquid twice. Drain the fish, and pat dry, pressing slightly to remove excess liquid. Cut into 3-4″ pieces.

Cover unpeeled potatoes with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until the skin can be peeled back. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel with the back of a knife and cut into large dice.

Broil red bell peppers until skin begins to turn black. Place in a bowl and cover. Rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and clean, cutting into 1/4″ by 2″ batons. Reserve any juice from the peppers.

Clean the chiles, removing stems and seeds. Cover with cold water, adding a small splash of distilled white vinegar. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to rest until chiles are completely softened, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Keep the chiles submerged.

Puree canned tomatoes, softened chiles, dry oregano and thyme together until completely smooth. Pass through a fine mesh strainer, pushing through with the back of a spoon.

Place a large skillet over medium high heat. Coat well with olive oil. Working in batches, fry the bacalao on both sides until lightly browned. Remove and set aside. Lower heat lightly, add more oil as necessary, and add the diced onion, cooking until soft and transparent. Add minced garlic, cooking until fragrant, stirring regularly. Add the tomato and chile puree and cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly.

Return the bacalao to the pan. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add potatoes, red bell peppers, olives and rinsed capers to the pan. Stir well, and cover. Continue to simmer until the balacao and potatoes flake easily.

Serve garnished with finely chopped cilantro and parsley to taste.

Pickled Jalapeños, Or How to Use Many Jars

Did I mention before I have a jar hoarding problem?

I have a jar hoarding problem. Fortunately, I also have a jam and pickling problem, and a giving jams and pickles away problem, so things generally even out.

The jar count for the last few months has been this:

Pineapple marmalade: 3 8-oz jars

Pineapple orange marmalade (to be blogged about soonish): 6 8-oz jars

Blackberry and orange marmalade (delicious yet needs work before blogging): 4 8-oz jars 

Cajeta (goat milk caramel): 9 8-oz jars

[Psychologist analysis of my work would suggest an unhealthy obsession with thick sticky substances, fruit which may be employed as a weapon in case of emergency, and cup measures.]

And finally,

Jalapeños curtidos, also known as escabeche de jalapeños, or pickled japaleños: 2 16-oz and 6 12 to 14-oz jars.

Jar total: 31 jars.

This mix uses plenty of carrots and cauliflower with the jalapeños, which greedily such up the heat from the peppers, leaving them the least spicy of the three. Tender summer squash and zucchini work equally well.

The method used here, or just barely cooking the vegetables before pickling serves a few purposes. First, cooking until completely pickled before canning results in mushy pickles. No one likes mushy pickles. Second, fruit and vegetables canned raw float, using up more jar space and liquid than they should. Third, it just tastes better this way.

If you would like skip the canning process but still make a lot of pickles, head to the Phoenix New Times archives for my recipe skipping the process.

Escabeche de jalapeños - Pickled Jalapeños

  • 6 or 7 16-oz canning jars and lids
  • 2 lbs jalapeños
  • 1 lb carrots
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 quart water, preferably distilled or filtered
  • 1 quart distilled white vinegar
  • 1/3 c kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp cracked black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 heaping tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 heaping tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 heaping tsp dry thyme

 

Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water. Sanitize the jars by placing them on a baking tray in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 350ºF. Heat until jars are completely dry, approximately 10 minutes. Turn off the oven, leaving the jars inside. In the meantime, place the lids in a small pot, cover well with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Wash and dry the vegetables well. Cut the stems off the jalapeños, and cut into quarters lengthwise, leaving the seeds intact. Peel the carrots, cutting into thick rounds on the bias (thick = a bit more than 1/8″, but no one is actually measuring here). Trim the cauliflower into florets no bigger than 1″ all around. Be sure to keep the vegetables separate when cut.

Fill a canning pot with enough water to cover submerged pint jars with at least 1″ of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil.

Place the water, vinegar and spices into a large pot. Bring to a boil, and cook at a strong simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cut carrots to the pot. When the liquid comes back to a simmer, add the cut cauliflower. Bring the liquid to a simmer once again, and add the cut jalapeños. Stir the pot occasionally. Turn off the heat when the jalapeños turn dull green.

Pack the pickled vegetables well into the hot sterilized jars, covering with them fully with pickling liquid and leaving 1/2″ clear in the jar. Poke out any air bubbles with a clean skewer or knife.

Seal the jars. Place on a canning rack and submerge into the boiling hot water bath. Process at high heat for 16 minutes. Turn off the heat, and allow the bath to cool slightly before removing the jars. Leave the jars to rest on a flat surface overnight. Refrigerate any jars which did not seal properly.

 

 

Cajeta – Goat Milk Caramel

The first time I sold a jar of cajeta I had the kind of cultural disconnect I hadn’t experienced in some time. The customer, after sampling every one of the products I had made and had for sale at the farmers market, discussing their history within Mexican cuisine and their exact ingredients, asked a very simple question:

What do you do with it?

What do you mean, what do you do with cajeta? You eat it with a spoon! I’m sure there are an endless number of possible uses for a goat milk caramel with the thick chewy consistency of peanut butter, but really, there is no single better way than to simply use a spoon.

Everything about making cajeta depends on the quality of the goat milk used. Ideally, it would be made with raw goat milk, but getting a hold of it can be difficult. It should be easier to find a gently pasteurized non-homogenized milk, which yields a higher volume of spoon-ready cajeta.

Traditionally, cajeta is made with goat milk, but if it is not readily available, there is nothing wrong with substituting a high quality cow milk. The authenticity police does not need to know what you do in the privacy of your kitchen.

The second most important factor in making cajeta is vigilance. A pot of milk set to boil and caramelizing sugar cannot be trusted and will turn on you faster than an ungrateful spoiled house cat. I speak from experience. You cannot update your Facebook status while you wait, get that package the UPS guy left at the door, go fold the laundry, or grab a quick snack. You will wait in front of that pot until the milk is at a steady and dependable simmer. You will not blink once the sugar has turned into liquid amber until milk has been added.

And you will not forget to stir.

 

Cajeta - Goat Milk Caramel

  • 1/2 gallon goat milk
  • 300 g (1 1/2 c) + 100 g (1/2 c) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

Note: Be sure to use stainless steel or copper pots for this recipe, as aluminum will stain the milk during the process.

Using a stainless steel stock pot, preferable 4 to 6 quarts in size, bring the goat milk to a steady medium simmer. Remove 1/2 cup of the warm milk, and whisk in the corn starch and baking soda until completely dissolved. Stir back into the pot, along with 300 grams (1 1/2 cups) of granulated sugar and 1/2 tsp of sea salt. Whisk until dissolved.

Place the remaining 100 grams (1/2 c) granulated sugar in a 2 quart stainless steel pot. Cook over medium heat until dissolved into a rich dark amber caramel. Remove the pot from the burner and very carefully laddle one cup of the sweet warm milk over the caramel, stirring as you do so. Once the bubbling has subsided add more warm milk, and return to a low heat. Cook, while stirring, until all the caramel has been dissolved into the milk. Pour the caramel milk back into the stock pot.

Continue to cook the milk at a steady medium simmer, stirring occasionally. As the milk reduces, it will be necessary to lower the cooking temperature to maintain the same rate of simmer. Allow the milk to reduce slowly. Continue to stir regularly, to prevent scorching and thickening of the milk against the walls of the stock pot.

The cajeta should reduce to between 1/4 to 1/3 of the original volume, depending on the quality of the milk used. When ready, the cajeta will stick well to a clean metal spoon with minimal drip.

Carefully pour the cajeta into sterilized 4 or 8 ounce canning jars while still hot and seal. Keep for up to 6 months, unopened, and 1 month, refrigerated, after opening.

Tortillas de Manteca

There was a time in Mexico’s northern states when the use of rendered lamb and beef fat to make flour tortillas was as common as the use of pork lard. The fat of one animal is just as good as another, even if the taste may be slightly different.

Tortillas made with tallow, manteca de res or sebo in Spanish, are indistinguishable from those made with lard, until they are tasted. Tallow gives them a richer and somehow warmer flavor than lard.

As the flavor is unique, the type of tortilla is produces should be as well. Tortillas de manteca, also referred to as gorditas de harina, are a smaller and thicker tortilla with a higher ratio of fat to flour, as the name implies. The result is a flaky, richly flavored and golden tortilla easily eaten on its own.

Due to their thickness, these tortillas are cooked at a lower heat than their thinner counterparts, to make sure they are cooked completely through. If that sign of the perfectly made tortilla does not appear, those pillowy air pockets separating one face from another, do not worry. This recipe produces them in much smaller quantities.

If a less flaky tortilla is desired, add more water to the dough, approximately one or two tablespoons, or enough to make the dough just barely stick to a clean finger. The remainder of the recipe would be worked the same.

For a primer on flour tortilla making, visit an earlier post: The Tortilla Ratio.

Tortillas de Manteca

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 125 g (2/3 c) tallow, room temperature
  • 240 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Scant 1/3 c water, warm

Working with a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the tallow until very creamy. Switch to a dough hook. Add dry ingredients and mix at low speed until the dough takes on a sandy appearance. Slowly add the warm water with the mixer running, and continue to mix until the dough comes together into a smooth ball.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic, and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat a heavy cast iron or non-stick skillet over low heat. Divide the dough into 10 portions, rolling each into a smooth ball. Working on a lightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin, press each portion to an approximately 4″ circle. Cook on each side for approximately 4 to 5 minutes, or until toasted to a medium golden tone.

Keep wrapped in a clean kitchen towel to maintain warm.

If a less flaky tortilla is desired, add more water to the dough, approximately one or two tablespoons, or enough to make the dough just barely stick to a clean finger. The remainder of the recipe would be worked the same.

Sebo y Manteca de Res – Suet and Tallow

While lard has enjoyed a revival in the last few years in this country (Praise the Lard t-shirt, anyone?), rendered beef fat, or tallow, remains mostly in obscurity. Unless you’re really into grass fed lip and body balms.

I blame poor marketing.

Suet, or sebo in Spanish, the large fat deposits near the kidneys, is no harder to find than leaf lard, and the process of rendering is the same. The one place where tallow may not stack up agains lard is in versatility. It can be decidedly beefy in taste and smell and not always as appropriate for pastry applications. Unless of course, you are very talented and turn it into cheesecake.

 

If you’ve rendered leaf lard, then the process for turning suet into tallow will be very familiar. My main warning remains:

Do not for any reason think it is a good idea to cut the suet using a food processor, unless you want to end up with an off-putting pink sludge. I have seen this. It is not pleasant.

Tallow can be referred to as sebo in Spanish, or simply manteca de res.

Manteca de Res - Tallow

  • 5 pounds suet
  • Cold water, as needed

Be sure to remove any blood and blood vessels before cutting and rendering. It is unlikely any large pieces of meat will be attached to the fat, as a good butcher would remove these. Any small pieces remaining can be cooked into cracklins at the end of the rendering process.

Working with a very sharp knife, cut the suet into 1/2″ cubes. It will cut more easily if slightly frozen, preventing the fat from becoming too soft.

Place the cut suet in a large thick-bottom pot large enough to accommodate everything in a not too deep of a layer. Add enough cold water to the pot to cover 1″ of the fat.

Cook over low-medium heat. Skim off any impurities. Filter the rendered tallow through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Five pounds of suet should result in approximately half a gallon of tallow.

When the last bit of fat has been rendered, return any bits of fat and cook meat that remain to the pot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crunchy.

Lenten Recipes: Capirotada

To say there is a definitive version of the dish capirotada would be to blatantly lie. There are as many variations of this lenten sweet bread pudding as there are ingredients in it. Ingredients such as buttered toasted bread, brown sugar syrup, dried fruits, garlic, onions, cilantro and tomato…. Wait, what? Yes, and all topped with grated salty cheese.

These recipes, combining savory and sweet ingredients in a bread pudding go back to very early versions of the dish, 4th century or so, where day old bread was softened with stock, honey combined with meats and baked. In Mexico, the native tomato was added, as well as day old corn tortillas.

Early in the 20th century, the dish took on a sweeter characteristic, yet it seems as if some regions of Mexico forgot to remove some of the more savory ingredients. I recommend you do, unless you really like your desserts to end with the delightful taste of white onions.

capirotada
Capirotada.

 

 

 

Capirotada is consumed on Fridays during Lent, the toasted sweet bread a consolation price for missing out on beef for the day. There is however, no reason to leave this dessert for just those Lenten Fridays. This particular recipe gets rid of the typical layered look of the dish for a more jumbled tossed together appearance. There is nothing more disappointing than scooping out a hefty portion of capirotada and finding a large gap in the middle,  created by the curved shape of the bread slices. The ingredients are tossed in the syrup, rather than drizzled on top while layering, so the syrup is more evenly soaked in, rather than accumulating at the bottom.

Capirotada

  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 500 g (2 1/2 cup packed) brown sugar, or 3 piloncillo cones
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 stick Mexican cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 or 2 cloves
  • 5 ot 6 bolillos, or 1 baguette, day old
  • 1 ripe plantain
  • Approx. 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 each: raisins, golden raisins, diced prunes, diced dry figs, chopped roasted almonds
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • Parchment paper, as needed

Place the brown sugar, spices and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook at a strong simmer until a light syrup consistency is achieved. Test swiping a clean finger across the back of a spoon dipped into the syrup; there should be no drip across this line.

Cut the bread into 1/2″ slices. Place on parchment paper lined or nonstick baking sheets and brush with softened butter. Bake at 400ºF until golden. When cool enough to handle, brush the underside with more butter.

Cut the ends of the plantain and score the skin lengthwise to aid in peeling. Cut into thick rounds, then cut into half rounds. Heat the canola oil with a large dollop of butter until foaming. Cook the plantains for a minute or two on each side, or until they are lightly golden. Remove from the heat.

Tear the bread into large chunks and place in a large bowl along with the dried fruits and nuts. Toss together to combine. When the syrup is ready, strain 2/3 of the syrup over the bread mixture. Mix well, adding syrup if it appears too dry. Mix very well. Reserve any remaining syrup for garnishing.

Lightly oil the bottom of a large baking dish and line with parchment paper. Butter the paper and all sides well. Pour the bread mixture into the dish, pressing down slightly if needed. Top with the fried plantains. Bake at 400ºF for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bread begins to crisp again.

Serve warm with a drizzle of the brown sugar syrup and sweetened condensed milk, if desired.