This week’s obsession: Halloween & Dia de Los Muertos
This week concludes my spooky photo series, and next week will kick off my official holiday mode baking, and I have to admit that I am SO excited. But while I can still let the spookiness of Halloween linger I definitely will. This is why I started learning all about a celebration that takes place shortly after Halloween and allows some of the themes of Halloween to continue.
To start with I’m not really going to explain all of the intricacies of the origins of Halloween (and if you listen to Max Denison, you’ll believe that “Halloween was just invented by the candy companies,” anyway.) (Ok seriously, SOMEONE please tell me that you get that movie reference!!), but the history of Halloween in a nutshell is that in the Celtic region on All Hallow’s Eve, the belief was that the spirits of the dead could return to walk the earth. Humans, in an effort to ward off these spirits, would don spooky costumes (usually animal skins - which makes me a little more comfortable with my last minute [half assed] decision to wear a cat costume this year. It’s more traditional, right?? At least that's what I'm telling myself) to keep themselves safe, and they would also light sacred bonfires for ritual crop and animal sacrifices.
The Celts celebrated their new year on Nov. 1, so this celebration was also a ceremony marking the end of the year and summer season (we all know how I feel about Kissing the Summer Goodbye), and a way to start off the new year with their new sacred fire. They would extinguish their hearth fires at the beginning of the ceremony, and at the end would re-light their fires from the sacred bonfire for the new year. Super cool, right? (Kinda makes me wanna go light some sh!t on fire, just for old times' sake ;)
But the more I started getting exposed to other cultures and their traditions, the more I realized that there are other harvest time festivities that could continue the fun celebrations and spooky themes surrounding Halloween (and honestly, the more I delved into them, the more I started to appreciate the absolute beauty of these celebrations and traditions, whether they were tied to my favorite holiday via spookiness or not).
Dia de los Muertos is a festival generally observed in Latin America (but starting to permeate into other places, which I am so happy about!!), that is all about honoring the dead, not mourning or fearing them. And I really think they got it right with all the color and exuberance mixed in with the skeletons and skulls. On Dia de los Muertos, it is believed that the dead can rejoin their family for 24 hours, so the living will honor their deceased family by building altars at their tombs, and decorating them with flowers (usually the Mexican marigold), cooking the deceased person’s favorite foods (including spicy dark chocolate, one of my favorite styles of chocolate!), lighting candles to assist the spirit on their way back to their family, and using skeletons and skulls decorations called calacas and calaveras.
Because these two holidays have such a close timeframe, I decided to commemorate both of them this week. I ended up making two different recipes of cookies to correspond with each of them.
My Halloween themed cookies are Brown Sugar Cookies (basically a regular sugar cookie but made with brown sugar instead of white sugar to provide a deeper flavor. I chose to make witch hats, black cats (it used to be believed that witches could disguise themselves as black cat which is where all of the superstition started, and why they are now associated with Halloween), and I attempted some love ghosts. #WhatAConcept
For my Dia de los Muertos cookies, I chose to make a cinnamon cookie dough (Confession: I definitely went against my better judgement and ate the dough raw - I couldn’t stop!) and cut out skull-ish shapes. (Another confession: I didn’t have a skull shaped cookie cutter and I didn’t want to freehand cut each cookie sooooo this cutter is from my beach themed set and is supposed to be a flip flop, but I squished them a little bit to have more of a skull shaped outline #MacGuyveredIt)
However, the best part of all of this was the multitude of colors that I got to use for the decorations. I have to admit that it was a bit downhill after that because I attempted to pipe some of the skull decorations that I so admire at this festival, but I just don’t have the patience to let all of the elements dry before I move on to the next part of the design and I absolutely ruin everything I just worked on. #MyOwnWorstEnemy By the end I was so frustrated with the amount of time that these skulls were taking that I opted for a very simple pattern on the round cinnamon cookies. I covered them with a smear of cream cheese frosting (because when you have the option to use cream cheese frosting with cookies, you absolutely must!) and then I piped small dots with cream cheese frosting and some royal icing.
My takeaway from these cookie decorations and tip of the week is this : HAVE. PATIENCE. Of which, I do not. But if you’re going to have good looking sugar cookies, you really need to be able to wait for the royal icing to dry before you start working on or around it. I will say that because I am unable to wait for it to dry, I was able to make the cool spiral designs in the eyes of some of my calaveras cookies. (When you pipe on top of wet royal icing, whatever you pipe on top settles down into the first layer of royal icing.) However, I’m trying to “know thyself” a little better and my first step is to admit that (aside from having zero patience) I’m not very skilled at decorating cookies with royal icing. But I also know that if I want to get better, I really need to practice more and learn the ability to wait for the icing to dry. So I will definitely attempt cookies again to get more experience with these techniques, and hopefully by next Halloween and Dia de los Muertos I will have much better cookies to show you. In the meantime, I’m going to get rid of all the evidence by downing as many of these babies as possible, and then feeding the rest of them to my lovely book club ladies this week!
Did you do any celebrating or treat making for Halloween and/or Dia de los Muertos? Send me photos and comment below to share your traditions!
Happy eating, y’all!
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