Andean All Saints' Day Bread
In Bolivia, the spirits of the dead are coaxed into visiting the living during a three-day ceremony centered on Taque Santun Arupa (Todos Santos or All Saints' Day). Every family puts tanta wawas—small figures made of bread to represent family members who have passed away—on a commemorative altar in the house. Llamas and horses, suns and moons, and ladders to heaven are other popular shapes.
Some Andean bakers give their bread a distinctive flavor by boiling the water to be used for the dough with chamomile, mint, and a sprinkling of anise seed—you could use one or two herbal tea bags.
The information about the traditional Bolivian observance of Taque Santun Arupa and most of the T'ant'a Wawas in the photograph were shared with us by our friends Marty de Montaño and José Moñtano. This recipe is adapted from their own.
1 package dry yeast, or 1 tablespoon bulk yeast
3 teaspoons sugar
1 cup lukewarm water, flavored or plain (see Headnote), or more as needed
2 cups white bread flour
1 cup quinoa flour (available at health-food stores) or whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
6 tablespoons lard, preferably home-rendered,
or solid vegetable shortening, melted and cooled to lukewarm
Whole cloves or raisins and slivered almonds, for decorating
1/4 teaspoon annatto (achiote) seeds (optional)
2 tablespoons water
In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in 1 cup lukewarm water. Place the bread flour in a large mixing bowl. When the yeast begins to bubble, make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture. Gradually mix the flour into the yeast until well combined. Cover with a slightly damp clean kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and add the quinoa flour, the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, the salt, egg, and 4 tablespoons of the melted lard. Mix well. If the dough seems dry, gradually add just enough lukewarm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to obtain a soft, smooth dough. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until it becomes elastic and no longer sticks to your hands. Place it in a clean bowl, cover it with a clean damp kitchen towel, and allow it to rise until doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 6 to 8 pieces, depending on the size of the figures you want to make. Shape the dough into the forms you choose, using cloves or raisins for eyes, and perhaps a slivered almond for the mouth. Place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
If you like, mix the annatto seeds with the remaining 2 tablespoons lard. Place the mixture in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and melt, pressing on the seeds with a wooden spoon until they tint the lard. Strain and brush the tinted lard on the figures' faces to color them. Prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg and water together in a small bowl, and brush it lightly over the T'ant'a Wawas—but not over the faces if you have tinted them with the lard.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Transfer the T'ant'a Wawas to a wire rack and allow to cool.
NOTE: This dough may also be divided in half and baked in 2 lightly greased 4 x 8-inch loaf pans. It is wonderful toasted for breakfast.
Also see: Pan de Muerto, "Bread of the Dead"
Spirit of the Earth
Native American Cooking from Latin America
by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs
Introduction by Carolyn Margolis
Cultural Essays by Michael D. Coe and Jack Weatherford
Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang
November 2001, Hardcover, $40
Recipe reprinted by permission.
Spirit of the Earth
This page created January 2002