The Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Olvera Street were full of calaveras, marigolds and alters over the weekend, the events kicking off the El Día de los Muertos festivities just over a week ahead of time. The Mexican holiday, which falls on November 2nd, may very well take top billing over Halloween when it comes to dead-obsessed autumnal festivities--and with its tamales, sweet breads and other treats, the eating trumps a pillowcase full of commercially-produced, sickly sweet candy any day.
Atole--the spiced, corn-thickened drink served on the Day of the Dead--is too good to only drink a few mugs of one day out of the year, so a cooking class at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach was the perfect and opportunity to learn to make the drink, as well as the anise and orange-scented pan de muerto. Read on for more photos and a recipe for atole.
The class was taught, in Spanish, by Gilberto Gaytan, head chef at Lola's Mexican Cuisine, located on Long Beach's vintage store-laded Retro Row. With help and, thankfully, translations from Lola's daughter-in-law, Brenda Rivera, Chef Gaytan led the class through making these Día de los Muertos classics.
From: Chef Gilberto Gaytan of Lola's Mexican Cuisine.
½ cup masa harina
5 cups milk
2 cones piloncillo (Mexican-style raw sugar)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1 stick
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a large heavy-bottomed pan with just a enough water to keep the sugar from scorching, melt the piloncillo over a low flame.
2. Put the masa harina in a bowl and whisk in the milk, little by little. Add the milk mixture to the melted piloncillo and bring to boil.
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3. Keeping the mixture at a simmer, stir constantly for about five minutes. Stir in the vanilla and serve in mugs.
Variations: add your choice of diced fruit to the atole before serving. Or, for champurrado, melt one disk of Mexican chocolate, chopped, into the drink during the five minutes of stirring.