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.

Brenda Rivera and Gilberto Gaytan of Lola's; Credit: Jennifer Banash

Brenda Rivera and Gilberto Gaytan of Lola's; Credit: Jennifer Banash

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.

Credit: Jennifer Banash

Credit: Jennifer Banash


From: Chef Gilberto Gaytan of Lola's Mexican Cuisine.

Serves: 6

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.

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.

Pan de Muerto; Credit: Jennifer Banash

Pan de Muerto; Credit: Jennifer Banash

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