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Building A Day of the Dead Altar    Making Sugar Skulls

Dias de los Muertos

the Mexican Day(s) of the Dead


Traditional Recipes from Mexico for you to enjoy and for your altar.  Simply click on the recipe heading below to view the full ingredients list and preparation instructions!


Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead)


Making Tamales


Chicken in Pipian Sauce

Blue Corn Enchiladas


Horchata, Agua de Tamarindo & Agua de Jamaica



(coming soon!)



Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead)

Pan de muertos (Bread of the Dead) represent the souls of the dead. The essence or soul of the bread is consumed by the dead when they visit their loved ones.

Most of the bread loaves are shaped as ovals (said to be the shape of one's soul), though each loaf may vary with different ingredients and decorations. In some parts of Mexico, the bread may be shaped as humans or animals.


1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (half a stick) margarine or butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar


Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.

In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.

Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, but save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.

Flour a pastry board or work surface very well and place the dough in center. Knead until smooth. Return to large bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into "ropes."

On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form 2 "bones." Cross and lay them atop braided loaf.

Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.

When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture, except on cross bones.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Makes 8 to 10 servings.



Steps to making a tamale

Fast food Mexican food?  Not Tamales.  Tamales take time. 

If you complete the process by scratch, it begins with dried corn and ends with a masa-stuffed corn husk. Soaking, spreading, simmering and steaming are parts of the labor-intensive process of tamale making. Follow these steps by chef Gabriel Pompa of La Perla Cafe in Glendale and treat yourself to several dozen of your favorite tamales:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the corn husks so they are completely submerged. Let the husks soak for one to two hours. Use a plate to weight the husks down if they float to the surface of the pot. The husks should be very pliable.


Soak dried corn kernels in the caustic lime sold at Mexican food markets. Use 1 ounce of lime for every 10 pounds of corn. After several hours, and after the kernels are plump, drain the water and wash the corn extremely well. The lime will leave a bitter taste on the corn if not washed thoroughly. Allow the soaked corn to drip-dry, then grind it into small pieces in a meat grinder or food processor.

Masa (Tamale dough) from scratch

Art by Patrick Murillo

The Arizona Republic

1 pound lard
3 pounds finished fresh corn mixture (see instructions in Tamale-making Steps on Page G3)
1 cup chicken or pork stock
21/2 tablespoons salt

Beat the lard in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until very fluffy and fully aerated, about 3 minutes. It may take longer if your mixer is not powerful. (A heavy-duty machine such as a KitchenAid is best.) The best alternative to a weak mixer is not a spoon, but your bare hand. Whip and beat the lard with a rapid folding motion until you feel the lard is fluffy and full of air. It should be as light as butter creamed for the lightest butter cake.

Still mixing on medium speed, begin adding the fresh corn mixture a handful at a time. If mixture seems too stiff, add stock a little at a time, up to 1 cup. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. When all the masa has been incorporated, the mixture should be very light and delicate, the texture of buttercream frosting. Beat in salt.

When the dough has reached the light and fluffy stage, beat in 1/2 cup of the cooled red chile (from accompanying chile recipe) and mix thoroughly to color the dough evenly.

To test the readiness of the dough, drop a teaspoon of it into a glass of water. If it doesn't float, continue to beat. If it does float, the mixture is ready to be spread onto corn husks, but can hold if other ingredients, such as the filling, need to be prepared. Makes enough masa to make 45-50 tamales.


To cut out several steps, buy fresh, dry masa flour at Mexican markets. You also can find it in the Hispanic food aisle of most grocery stores. Follow the package instructions to create masa dough, then follow the remaining steps. For even more convenience, you can buy fresh, tamale-ready masa dough at specialty stores.


Once masa and filling of choice have been prepared (some filling recipes are on Page G4), drain the corn husks and select the largest ones. Use the masa as glue to combine two of the smaller husks. A husk at least 12 inches wide is needed for a 6-inch-tall tamale.

Place the husks, smooth side up, on a flat surface. Use a tablespoon tilted at a 45-degree angle to spread the masa almost all the way to the sides of the husk and near the top. Leave most of the lower half of the husk uncovered.

Spoon a tablespoon or two of the cooled meat or vegetable mixture in a narrow band across the masa. Leave at least a 11/2-inch border on the pointy end of the husk, and a three-fourths-inch border along the other sides.

Begin by tucking one edge of the husk and rolling. Tuck and roll. Repeat tucking and rolling until there are no husks remaining. Fold the empty bottom half of the husk up against the rest of the roll.

Tie tamales with a string of corn husk, or use the masa to glue the tamale to prevent it from unraveling.


Place the tamale, flap side down, in the steamer basket of a pasta, vegetable or tamale cooker. Fill the bottom of the steamer; the water level should be below the rack. Then stack tamales on top of one another. If the tamales extend over the top of the pot, cover with a wet corn husk and damp rag.

Steam the tamales for 1 to 11/4 hours or until the masa seems fairly firm inside the husk. Replenish boiling water if necessary.

The tamales are done when the husk peels away easily.

Chicken in Pipian Sauce


2 chickens, cut into parts
6 cups water
2 carrots, cut in half lengthwise
1 onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 celery stalk
2 parsley sprigs
4 teaspoons salt
4 black peppercorns

1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup blanched almonds
1 tablespoon corn oil or lard
2 teaspoons powdered chicken bouillon
6 guero (yellow) chiles, chopped
3/4 cup olives
2 teaspoons capers

Cook the chicken with the water, vegetables and seasonings in a large saucepan until tender. Strain, reserving the broth. Skin and bone the chicken, and set aside.
To make the sauce, toast the sesame seeds lightly in a skillet, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant. Puree the sesame seeds with the almonds and 2 cups of the chicken broth.
Heat oil or lard in a skillet, add the blended sesame-seed-almond mixture, and cook for 5 to 8 min., until thickened.  Add 2 to 3 more cups of the broth and chicken bouillon and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add the chiles, olives, capers and chicken. Simmer for 10 minutes, and serve hot.
Makes 8 servings.


Blue Corn Enchiladas


12 blue corn tortillas

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 cups red chile sauce

1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

1 medium onion, minced

4 eggs, fried

Shredded lettuce, for garnish


Soften each tortilla in oil in a skillet for 3 seconds; drain.

Spoon a thin layer of red chile sauce on each of 4 oven-proof plates. Layer remaining chile sauce, cheeses and onion proportionately on 3 tortillas on each prepared plate. Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes, or until cheese melts.

Top each with 1 egg; garnish with shredded lettuce. Serve immediately.  Makes 4 servings.


Mexican Drinks


10 cups water
2 sticks canela (Mexican cinnamon)
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup long grain rice

Combine water, canela sticks, almonds and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Add rice and reduce temperature to keep water at a low simmer; cook for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and allow mixture to cool.

Remove canela sticks. Pour cooled mixture into blender and puree. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into pitcher. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, pour in glasses over ice. Makes 10 servings.

Agua de Tamarindo (Tamarind Water)

TAMARIND - Tamarind is made from the exotic bean shaped fruit of the tamarind tree.  This exotic drink may taste a little bitter to new consumers, but traditional tamarind drinkers like the very distinctive flavor.

6 tamarind pods (available at Latino food markets)
1/2 cup sugar
8 cups water

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat. Stir to break up the tamarind a little and steep for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture and refrigerate. Makes about 8 servings.

Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Flower Water)

JAMAICA (pronounced hah-MY'-kay) - is a refreshing tea made from the hibiscus flower.
1 cup jamaica (dried hibiscus flowers, available in Latino food markets)
8 cups water
3/4 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Let mixture steep for 30 minutes. Strain and refrigerate.

Makes about 8 servings.