Pan Tumaca

We go to this Catalonian restaurant quite a bit — La Bocaria. It is fabulous in all ways: ambiance, staff, to the menu, the sangria. The prices generally are not what I would call fabulous, although there are a handful of affordable nutritious dishes that will fill your belly without breaking your wallet (although we don’t usually get them). We go there primarily for the sangria, and on very special occasions, the lechon. We love the dimly-lit, old-fashioned feel of the place, and Oscar is always happy to see us and seats us in our usual spot. On days when we are not too hungry and only want something to munch on while enjoying our refreshing fortified beverage, we order pan tumaca (this is my strategy for saving money). They always bring a small portion of it when we order the drinks, but the two tiny slices just tease my taste buds and I have to order another portion.

The first time we tried it we were baffled over what exactly was on the bread. The bite of the garlic was intensely clear. We could tell there was tomato in some form, but that was not so obvious.  It was almost jelly-like, but thin and not sweet. Finally we asked the waiter if he knew what it was. Just like the secret to the sangria, he gave it to us straight and simple. I wonder if the owners know he gives away their prized recipes…. perhaps its not that big of a secret,but in our household this allows us to transform lame bread into a masterpiece we don’t want to stop eating.

This is also where Hec took me the night he proposed. !

Pan Tumaca

Ingredients:

  • Bread, generally something dense and crusty, although whatever you have will work.
  • Garlic cloves, peeled. One per large slice of bread.
  • Ripe tomato, cut in half and seeded
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions:
1. Toast the bread
2. Rub the peeled garlic clove over the bread. It will dissappear as you rub.
3. Rub the tomato flesh on the bread until it turns pinkish.
4. Drizzle with olive oil, as much as you want.
5. Salt to taste.

This is a great appetizer, and great for when you have guests. Let them do it themselves (unless you want to keep the secret to yourself). They’ll enjoy it.

Wow Bao! Steamed Asian Buns with Sweet Red Bean Paste!

I’ve taken quite a nice long break from writing here. But I just want you all to know I haven’t been slacking in the kitchen. Just tonight Hec and I were impressed that we have rarely repeated recipes and are still quite active in the kitchen since I’ve gotten a job. But I just haven’t found the time to take photos or process with my friends about the creations we’ve been making. The working world is rought, I tell you. Mom…I don’t know how you worked all day, got home at 5:30 and started cooking right away. Its a hard life.

In Chicago there is a restaurant called Wow Bao. They serve “hot asian buns”, a term we donned upon a friend who literally had hot asian buns (you all know who I’m talking about).

I think about these buns often (the ones you eat, that is). Last Friday when I saw an advertisement for a new dim sum restaurant here in Guate, on Sunday we went for brunch. This item was on the top of my list to order. And after trying them, in their sweet, soft, chewy goodness, we thought how hard could they be to make. So we went home, searched our food blogs, and mixed up a batch. The mix was actually improvised, based upon my favorite bun mixture, but I forgot the egg. However I was startled by how they almost exactly resembled the buns we had in the morning. I think the real trick is to steam them.

We filled them with sweet bean paste, mainly because we had beans, and that is one of Hec’s favorite asian desserts. Some we didn’t put anything in, and they were delicious alone. If filled, I prefer them with a savory filling. Be creative, use whatever you want!

Wow Bao Buns with Sweet Bean Paste

Dough:
1 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1.5 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons sugar
3.25-4 cups flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 teaspoon baking powder

Sweet Bean Paste:
3/4 cup red or black beans, cooked and pureed
1/4 cup brown sugar
Directions:

1. Mix water (warmed), butter (melted), sugar, and salt until all disolved. Add 2 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon instant yeast, and 1 teaspoon baking power. Mix until smooth. Add one more cup of flour and combine. Slowly add a tablespoon at a time, .25 t0 .75 cups of the flour. After just barely sticky, begin kneading the dough, about 10 minutes. Add just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to your hands. Let rise in a warm place, covered, for about 2 hours.

2. Knead in remaining 1 teaspoon baking powder slowly, for about 3 minutes. Cut into 12 pieces. Roll into balls and flatten into disks about 5-6 inches in diameter, thinner on the edges and thicker in the center.

3. Place a tablespoon or two of your desired filling in the center, and make it into a little bag, pinching together the seams to seal.

4. Bring water to a boil. Arrange the rolls on squares of parchment paper and place in the steam basked about .5 inch apart. I only fit 4 buns in the steamer at a time. Carefully place the lid on the steamer and seal it well.

5. Steam for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, careful not to drip. Place the hot asian buns on a clean dish towel to mop up any condensation. Serve hot! Enjoy!!

Dia de Todos Los Santos, Part 1: Pan de Muerto and Hec’s first Jack-O-Lantern

Dia Santo 1 - Jacko Lit

Well…Halloween has come and gone, but I still have quite a few thoughts floating around in my head regarding the Guatemalan version of the holiday. Perhaps many of you have already thrown your beautifully carved Jack-O-Lanterns in with the compost. Or they have been nabbed by the neighborhood kids and smashed in another’s yard. And maybe you have painstakingly removed all the cotton cobwebs and spooky scare crows from the porches and windows and replaced them with wreathes, strings of lights, and candle sticks. Even here in Guatemala the Halloween decorations were stripped down by November 2nd, and yesterday afternoon the city crews strung garland letters of “JOY” and “NAVIDAD” across the main roadways, and positioned sleighs with reindeer in the grassy boulevards. Even my local grocery store rapidly strung lights from the rafters and placed artificial trees in the produce section complete with empty ribbon-trimmed boxes beneath. It’s always surprising how quickly the holiday season comes.

I think its quite a shame that immediately following Dia de Todo los Santos (All Saint’s Day), which is a fairly significant holiday in Guatemala, that every remembrance is swept away and immediately replaced with glitter, pine, and advertisements for holiday deals on the new trendy toy. All that is left from the holiday before are the shredded remains of tissue paper and balsa wood kites stranded up in trees and telephone wires; or if you frequently pass a cemetery on your daily commute it may appear particularly bright and colorful compared to the week before. Other than that, Guatemala, along with the rest of western civilization, is flooded with the sounds of rum pum pum pum, silver bells, and for some strange reason the awful. awful. awful. version of Last Christmas by Wham that seems to repeat every 50 minutes on all radio stations through out the world from November 1st until January 2nd. Its not clear to me why, however, because I know not one person who admits to liking it. But it sure is catchy. Just writing about it I’ve got it stuck in my head. Now look what I’ve done…

Dia Santos 1- Jacko Drawing

Anyway. I’ve got some lovely things to say about Dia de Todos los Santos here in Guatemala. First, this year Hec made his first ever Jack-o-Lantern. Isn’t it cute? He is named Ayotillo (little squash, in Spanish). Hec carved him a few weeks ago and we’ve enjoyed it’s warm glow in our apartment for quite some time. And of course we roasted the pumpkin seeds, seasoned with paprika salt and pepper.

Dia Santo 1 - Jacko y Beto

This time of year also offers so delicacies that are not available any other time. One of these is a special pan dulce (sweet bread) that I really really enjoy. It is only offered in the months of October and part of November here in Guate. It’s called Pan de Muerto, literally “Bread of the Dead”. I haven’t researched it’s history, and perhaps that would have been rather interesting to talk about here, but honestly I’m more interested in how it looks, feels, and tastes. The loaves are large round mounds, criss-crossed with rope-like shapes, and topped with a knob-like ball of dough, and dusted off with powdered sugar. The texture is light and fluffy with sometimes very large air bubbles in the center, but when you dive in it is unexpectedly smooth and chewy. It is only slightly sweet with a strong eggy taste. I love it, and I buy it from San Martin, my favorite bakery in Guatemala. We bought one to share with my Suegros this year, and after that tease of a taste I needed more. But seeing that they are 30Q a pop, and being compelled by my fascination with discovering the secrets behind my favorite foods, I decided I would research the recipe and try to make it myself!

I’ll be honest right out. It did not turn out a thing like the Pan de Muerto from San Martin. It was a dense loaf (which is not necessarily bad, but not what I was aiming for here either), and it was rather flat-tasting. I will go ahead and post the recipe I used, which I’m guessing reflects more accuratly the Mexican Pan de Muerto than the Guatemalan, and I have made some adjustments in salt and sugar which I hope will correct for the bland taste I encountered. No promises here, though.

Even though I found the recipe to be quite a failure, I wanted to show my pictures of how the pan dulce of the “autumn” season looks because I think, if anything at all, this recipe was a visual success. Additionally I feel obligated to bring it to your attention in case you would find yourself in these parts around the season, or if you come across a Guatemalan bakery which by chance might serve this bread in October and November (I know there is one in Chicago).

This recipe made for loves the size of half a volley ball. And I was not crazy about it, so I used the loaves to make bread pudding with almonds and crystallized ginger (which turned out to be a huge success). However, for those of you looking for a new holiday tradition, who are adventurous in the kitchen and aren’t easily upset by less than perfect results, I hope my adjustments of sugar and salt serve you well and make it more palatable overall. But for the real thing, I would just recommend visiting me here in Guate some time in the fall and I’ll treat you to a loaf from San Martin!

Pan de Muerto - Up Close

Pan de Muerto, adapted from here.

Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons aniseed or 5 star anise
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 4 1/2 cups flour, plus flour for dusting work surface
  • Vegetable oil for coating bowl
  • 1/3 cup sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

  • Steep the aniseed in 1/4 cup water for 10 minutes.
  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, warm water, and 1 tablespoon of the 3/4 cup sugar. Let sit until foamy, 10 minutes.
  • Beat together 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks, reserving the 3 whites on the side for later.
  • Add the beaten eggs and yolks, salt, the remaining sugar, aniseed with water, nutmeg, and melted butter. Stir well until evenly combined. By hand or with the beater of an electric mixer, mix in flour. Transfer to a lightly floured board or counter and knead the dough for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. Place the dough in a large oil-coated bowl. Cover with a lightly moistened tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
  • Punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured counter. Pinch off about 2 cups of dough and set aside for decoration.
  • Divide the remaining dough into 2 pieces and shape into round loaves and place both loaves on a greased baking sheet.
  • Make and egg wash by beating together remaining egg whites with 1 tablespoon water. Divide remaining 2 cups dough into 6 pieces. With four of these pieces roll a snake-like shape. Gently pretty two of these pieces on each loaf making a large X which crossing at the top of the loaf and use the egg wash as a glue. With the remaining two pieces of dough, roll them into balls and place them on the top of each loaf where the snake-like pieces cross. Apparently this is supposed to appear as a skull and cross bones.
  • Cover the assembled dough with a damp towel and set aside to rise until the loaves hold a fingerprint when pressed, about 50 minutes. Don’t throw away the egg wash yet!
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the risen loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Bake until golden about 30 minutes. Cool on a rack