There is a theme with some Day of the Dead treats to be a bit literal – and usually that involves some form of bones! Pan de muerto is demarcated with a crisscross of bones on the top and ossi dei morti literally look like white, powdery bones! Spanish “saints bones” (huesos de santo) follow this trend, and are a bone-like, tubular marzipan with an egg yolk filling (sometimes squash). Maybe that filling is supposed to resemble bone marrow (cool! gross!)? Spain Recipes, Blue Jellybeans and The Spruce have recipes to DIY your own saints’ bones. These cookies originate from Madrid and have a history that stretches all the way back to the 17th century! Along with panellets and buñuelos, you’ll find these typical treats in many Spanish bakeries.
From Spain Recipes: Some accounts attribute their origin to 17th century Madrid, a theory that’s supported by their mention in Francisco Martínez Montiño’s cookbook, Arte de Cozina, Pastelería, Vizcochería y Conservería (The Art of Cooking, Pastries, Cakes and Preserves). Written in 1611, the book states that these sweets were “made to commemorate all the Saints and all the dead at the beginning of November”.
It’s that time of year – Halloween, Day of the Dead and All Saint’s Day are right around the corner – which means it is time for special holiday treats! Like in Latin America, All Saints’ and All Souls Day in Italy (especially in Sicily) is not a morbid affair, it is an occasion to celebrate your family and ancestors. It also used to be one of the few days a year children in Italy would get presents, said to be brought by their dead ancestors. Italy is big on treats for Ognissanti – All Saint’s Day – and we have previously featured Torrone dei Morti and Ossi dei Morti, classic Italian treats. One of the most common treats you will find in Italian bakeries this time of year, along with fanciful marzipan shapes – Frutto Martorana– is pan dei morti (bread of the dead). Though it sounds similar to Latin American Pan de Muerto, these two holiday treats are very different. Italian Pan dei Morti is a cocoa biscotti-like cookie filled with fruits and nuts. You can check out recipes for Pan dei Morti at Linda’s Italian Table and Passion and Cooking (seen below).
Somehow in the past week of posting downtime, it has gone from a balmy 80 degrees to a cool, blustery, fall-like 45! Moreover, that Halloween chill is in the air and we are seeing pumpkins everywhere! Accordingly, we’re going to start featuring some seasonal treats. First up are the classic Sicilian treats for All Saints’ and Souls’ Day (Nov 1 and 2), the famous fruit-shaped marzipan confections called frutta martorana. These almond-paste candies can be found year round in Sicily, but they are particularly popular this time of year, when artisans around the island take pride in making the most realistic fruit shapes possible. In Sicily, children traditionally received these marzipan fruits and other gifts on November 2nd. Check out this video of an assortment of martorana from Toronto. If you want to make your own, the recipe is not that complicated, but the key is in the intricate design and details!
Pan de Muerto!
We don’t have any Mexican bakeries near us anymore, unfortunately, so we have to turn to making our own treats for Dia de los Muertos. Key among these is the sweet Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), with its signature crossed bone pattern and flavors of anise and orange blossom water. Today is All Souls’ Day so there is still time to enjoy this bread – but really – why not make it all year long? Bon Appetit has a new recipe for Pan de Muerto that begs that exact question (plus an instructional video on how to shape the bread). It’s not too late, why not give it a try?
When I was researching recipes for Dia de Los Muertos cookies, I came across some perplexing information about a popular holiday cookie – the pabassina. These raisin and almond cookies are originally Sardinian, and are indeed eaten on All Saints’ Day, but somehow have hopped across the Atlantic to become popular in Mexican Dia de Los Muertos celebrations as well. Since they are eaten on the same holiday, and Mexico does indeed have an Italian population, I guess the connection is not so mysterious, but I can’t find anything about their specific history. Apparently, I am not the only one who noticed this odd lack of historical context. Regardless, they seem pretty tasty. Here is a recipe for pabassinas from an Italian website, and another from Saveur. Do you have any ideas about the unexpected migratory path of the Pabassina?
Pańska skórka – from Wikipedia
We are most familiar with Latin American traditions for Dia de Los Muertos / All Saints’ Day, but the holiday is also celebrated in Europe (with some similarities and differences). All Saints’ Day is a national holiday in Poland, where it is known as Wszystkich Świętych. One of the most popular treats for All Saints’ Day in Warsaw is pańska skórka which translates to “The Lord’s Crust.” Pańska skórka is a pink-and-white nougat, similar in texture to Turkish Delight, and is sold in and around cemeteries during the week of All Saints’ Day where families go to light candles (znicze) in cemeteries in honor of the deceased. In Krakow a similar candy is called Miodek Turecki, or “Turkish honey.”
The arrival of torrone, the delicious honey and nougat confection, means the holiday season is coming in Spain and Italy. We have had torrone many times before, but we have never seen the kind of torrone we recently encountered in Naples, which was sold by the slice, covered in chocolate, and at first glance, even looked like ice cream cake. Turns out this is “Torrone dei Morti” or “Torrone morbido”- “dead torrone” which is a traditional All Saints’ Day dessert with a base of cocoa. Neapolitan pastry shops were filled with this version of torrone at the end of October, in any number of nut, chocolate and fruit varieties. Our favorite was the gianduja, or hazelnut and chocolate blend, as seen below. Getting a slice of torrone will run you less than 1€ a slice, so you have every incentive to try many varieties. When we were in Naples we didn’t realize that this version of torrone was season-specific, so we don’t know if it will be on display at other times of the year. We hope it is! We looked for a recipe in English – and we finally found one – but Google Translate can help you out with some of the Italian versions.
Cross-Section of Gianduja Torrone in Napoli
Panellets for All Saint’s Day – by Xaf
In the Catalonia region of Spain, All Saints’ Day (called Dia de Tots Sants in Catalan), is celebrated as La Castanyada. La Castanyada, true to the inclusion of chestnut in the name (castanyas means chestnuts), is celebrated in Catalonia by roasting and eating chestnuts and having a festive meal to celebrate the autumn season and honor ancestors that passed. One of the typical foods for La Castanyada are Panellets: round almond and potato cookies covered in pine nuts (who would have thought of that combination?). For more information on how to make panellets for yourself – check out this recipe.