I absolutely adore the harvest season holidays: Halloween and El Dia de Muertos (The Day of the Dead) always play a huge part of my life in Ireland. We decorate the house, I make a spooky party for my little Irish niece and nephew and I go crazy with the trick or treat bowl, so the few kids that knock on our door (we live in a very settled old area) go home with real treats, not just shop bought ones!
Growing up, Halloween was way cooler than El Dia de Muertos, but I am very glad that this ancient Mexican tradition is enjoying a revival in all our schools and within the education curriculum in Mexico. It's an important part of our heritage and part of what make us what we are. I've written before about The Day of the Dead and its significance in Mexican culture. It's one of my favourite times of the year!
Building the altar, making all the crafts and food and decorating it really gets my immediate Irish family involved. It is also such a joy to see the faces of the kids (big and small) when they actually come to see it. At the beginning I feared it would creep people out, but I was really wrong and the majority of the people get its significance and how it has managed to become a deeply spiritual feast, specially for families!
This year, with Picado's big window, the shop front is nice and bright, I'm going the whole hog! Full scale traditional altar with all the works. We'll also have a bunch of workshops to show poeple how to make one at home: from paper flower making, to sugar craft skulls and cookie decorations, mask making, Day of the Dead bread and even a themed dinner for the day of the dead itself!
These little cookies are my favourite. It's a recipe I adapted from the back of a packet of Masa-harina a few years ago. I used a stunning hazelnut coffee I got from Wall and Keogh, the tea shop located right next to us on South Richmond Street, and of course masa-harina from our shop. After 2 or 3 goes at making these to perfect them, I realised I had ran out of coffee! I went back to Wall and Keogh and they were out of the Hazelnut one, but tried a Cinnamon Rolls flavour instead. I was a bit sceptical (after all it did sound a bit dodgy) but when it went into the cookies, the flavour was immensly better!
These babies are gluten free and they don't taste like cardboard! (which is a huge achievement), they contain no nuts and they are really easy to make! You can eat them plain, or decorate them with your children as a nice afternoon project, eitherway they are delicious!
In a bowl, combine masa-harina, baking powder, coffee and salt and mix them well. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl with the electric mixer until they're light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and vanilla essence beating at low speed until it's all incorporated. Make sure the egg is at room temperature so it doesn't curdle the mix!
Follow by adding the dry ingredients and incorporate well. I used the electric mixer for the first couple of minutes at low speed and then took over with my hands. Bring everything together until you have a smooth-ish ball. The texture will always feel a little coarse, like kneading sand, don't worry about it, this is a combination of the masa and the ground coffee. Wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to rest. If you are in a hurry, put it 10 minutes in the freezer, then another 10 in the fridge.
Take the dough out of the fridge and divide it into two to make the rolling of it easier. Roll in gently over a lightly floured (with masa-harina of course) surface and make sure you rub a bit of masa-harina too on the rolling pin. This dough is fragile, don't worry if it breaks, smooth it up with your hands again. Roll it to about 3 centimeters thick. Remember these cookies have a good amount of baking powder, so they will rise. Use your favourite cookie cutter to cut your cookies, mine is obviously this amazing skull shaped ones with a cool stamp on them.
Transfer the cookies carefully into a non-stick baking sheet and bake in a hot over at 180º degrees Celcius for 10 to 12 minutes. You want them slightly golden brown. Take them out of the oven and into a cooling rack. At this point, the cookies are quite fragile, so be gentle with them or they might break. Let them cool down completely and you'll see them getting firmer. If you are decorating them, make sure they are completely cold.
There you have it, the tastiest gluten free cookies you'll find this harvest season, a lovely way to mark the Mexican Day of the Dead and a very grown up treat. Enjoy them with a nice glass of milk or a tasty cup of coffee.