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Baking from My Sweet Mexico

When you think desserts, Mexico is probably not the first country that comes to mind for memorable ones. So when I got My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson and started looking through it, I was excited and inspired. Not only does she discuss (sometimes at length) the ingredients and why they're used, but the history of many Mexican desserts. From pre-Colombian influences to convent sweets and candies to modern takes on the the classics, it's all there.

My biggest problem was where to start. I ended up making 2 recipes

Cubiletes de Requeson (Individual Cheese Pies) and Empanadas de Jitomate (Tomato Jam Empanadas)

Cubiletes des Requeson
Requeson (and yes there is an accent over the "o" but I can't get it on my laptop) is a grainy, lightly salted cheese, very similar to ricotta. Since I have ready access to Mexican markets I was able to find requeson without too much difficult. Ricotta is a reasonable substitute.The Cubiletes use the same empanada dough as they Empanadas de Jitomate and it's an easy, very forgiving dough, slightly sweet and surprisingly flakey.

Roll 2/3 of the dough and line the cups of 2 muffin tins with it. The filling is made with requeson, a little flour, a little sugar, some sour cream, lime zest and vanilla extract. The recipe said to use a blender, mine is a vintage (i.e. '60s model) Osterizer and the mixture was a bit to heavy for it. Next time I'll use the food processor. Fill the lined muffin cups. Roll out the remaining dough and any scraps, cut out more rounds, put on top of the filled muffin cups and seal. Egg wash, sprinkle with sugar and then bake. Cool for a few mintues in the pan than finish cooling on a rack.

The recipe is sound but I encountered a few problems on my end. I elected to use on older set of Teflon coated metal muffin tins than my flexible (made out of silpat-like material) muffin cups. Cups in the metal tin were a bit to shallow and I couldn't get all the filling into them that should have gone in. The flexible muffin cups are deeper and would have been perfect but I wasn't sure how much support the dough was going to need. This was definitely a live and learn, next time I'll use the flexible pan. The little pies did not brown as much as I would have liked. I baked them in a conventional oven and I may have some temperature issues.

All in all, however, these little pies are really quite good. I like them alot and will definitely make them again. I liked them because they are not overly sweet and have nice hints of citrus and vanilla. If I correct for my own errors, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Empanadas de Jitomate

All I have to say is ...OH...MY...GOD. Not only is this easy, it's absolutely delicious.

As indicated above the empanada dough is an easy combination of flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter and crema (or heavey cream). Easy to roll, easy to manipulate and easy to cut and shape.

In the recipe header Fany said when she first encountered this recipe (outside of Monterrey) she ate the tomato jam with a spoon it was so good. I was skeptical, but as of this afternoon I became a believer. The tomato jam couldn't be simpler and is addictively good. Halved cherry tomatoes, sugar and about 55 minutes on the range top and that's it.

Roll the dough, cut large circles, fill, seal, egg wash, sugar and bake. Since I had the problem with the Cubiletes not browning I used the convection setting this time around and got nice browning. These things are way delicious.

We get so used to tomatoes as a savory dish that when they are this sweet it's a pleasant surprise.

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  1. Thanks for the review! I look forward to buying her book and trying the yummy recipes.

    1. Thanks for the review. I have the book and it's an interesting read indeed. I'm glad you tried the Empanada de Jitomate; I never would have tried that recipe on my own!

      1 Reply
      1. re: emily

        I was going to the farmers market on Saturday and figured I would find some great cherry tomatoes. I did, and they became the tomato jam for the filling. It was, indeed, very, very good and I can see how it would be addictive.

        I think after making it the first time that I would cook it a few minutes less than I did, and that I would puree it. Cherry tomato skins are not as offensive as regular tomato skins but I think the filling would be a little easier to eat if it was smoother and less chunky.

        This dessert is easy and unique.

      2. Ooh... I just put this on hold at the library! Your pictures are amazing! Just went on our 2nd annual family taco crawl, and I was severely depressed when the dessert place didn't have any sweets besides paletas! Can't wait to see what other sweets Mexico has to offer!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Katie Nell

          Probably different than what you might expect :-)

          There are a lot of ice creams in this book, along with breads and pastries. I was surprised by the number of candy recipes. This is the season, you can candy a whole pumpkin if you'd like :-). I think my next recipe will be the Pan de Muerto for Dia de Los Muertos.

          There are also a surprising number of beverage recipes in the book. What I really find of value in the book is her explanation of ingredients and the historical background for many of the dishes. So far, I'm really enjoying this book.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            This book is really, really fascinating! I spent probably 3 hours last night perusing it! The first thing I'm going to make is the chocolate tablets... I love the idea of making my own, although I'm not sure what a good source would be for the cacao beans. I would like someone else to make me the opera cake, because that's a little too effort intensive, even for me who bakes a lot! :-) Some of the candies look really great too... I'm particularly intrigued by the one made with pinto beans and rolled in cinnamon and sugar. I'll also probably be making the Concho Blanco for my father-in-law at some point... do they make these in different flavors and are they called something else too? I've seen pink, tan, and green ones too, I think.

        2. Oooohh...I wish we weren't out of cherry tomato season or I'd jump on that. Sounds amazing.


          1. NOB (North of the Border) we have Halloween. In Mexico they have Dia de los Muertos. Nov. 1st/2nd, or All Souls Day. It's the time of year when the veil between this world and the next is the thinnest allowing the departed the opportunity to most easily come back to visit. Families clean up everything in preparation, from their homes to their burial sites. And they cook. They cook the specialties and favorites for the returning souls. The first day of Muertos is usually devoted to the children and those who left this world too early, so you see sweets and less complicated preparations. The second day is when the adults and older souls return. From cigarettes, tequila and mezcal to full blown moles and tamales, Mexican cooks pull out all the stops to create a delicioius feast.

            Pan de Muertos, it seems, is almost always part of the feast. It's an buttery, egg bread with a fine, somewhat dense crumb. I'm most used to anise as the flavoring, but some parts of Mexico use orange flower water and still others sesame seeds.

            So I decided to make the Pan de Muertos recipes today. As with most Mexican recipes, it's not hard, but it IS time consuming. In fact, it took me the entire day to make this bread. It was, however, very much worth the time and effort. I made the anise version since that is what I am most familiar with. It is a stickly dough but not particularly difficult to work with. The recipe calls for 15 mintues of kneading on a stand mixer and cautions not to add additional flour until the full kneading time has elapsed. Only then, if the dough is too sticky should more flour be added, and I did have to add a couple extra tablespoons.

            There are a couple of things I'd do a little differently next time, and there definitely will be a next time. The recipe starts by dissolving the yeast in milk (or orange flower water if doing the orange version). Next time I will bring the temperature of the milk up to about 90-95*. I think this would facilitate the dissolving as well as yeast development. I don't think I got the rise that this bread is capable of. The recipe calls for flattening the dough balls once the loaf has been shaped. I think perhaps I got a little over zealous in flattening and went a little too far. Next time I won't flattern the loaf as much.

            The directions for this recipe are quite detailed. It is also featured in the current issue of Fine Cooking magazine (Nov. 2010, the one with the pumpkin cake on the cover) and there is a pictoral of the whole recipe in that. If you've got a whole Sunday to spare, make this bread, it really is that good.

            2 Replies
            1. re: DiningDiva

              DiningDiva, is the decoration significant? It looks like a middle big top-knot-dot and "ropes" down the sides? I just love Day of the Dead designs, all the applications in foods and decoration.

              1. re: blue room

                Yes, the "ropes" are supposed to be "bones". I had nice definition on them until the final proofing and the, poof, they disappeared. Not sure if the topknot has any significance. The ones on mine above were a bit too big.

            2. This weekend I decided to try the recipe for Huachibolas of Cream Cheese Morning Rolls. Wow, these were really good. They're more bread-like than flakey pastry. The recipe has similarities to the Pan de Muerto I made last weekend but uses fewer eggs and less butter and dissolved the yeast in warm water. I got great rise out of this recipe. There are a couple of changes I'd make for the next time

              1) The recipe says to roll the dough and cut 4" x 4" squares. I think 3" x 3" would be sufficient. With the larger square I didn't get the recipe yield and I thought the dough to filling ratio was a bit off. I think the smaller square will yield the correct number of rolls as well as take care of the dough to filling ratio.

              2) The recipes calls for an egg wash right before baking. Now, I'll admit, I brushed them pretty heavily, perhaps using too much egg. The crust has nuances of that overcooked egg yolk flavor. So I really recommend only brushing the rolls lightly with the egg wash, or using slightly beaten egg whites, or some milk or cream instead of the yolk. I don't think the final product would be adversely affected by that change.

              I think this recipe really lends itself to infinite flavor variations to the dough and/or cream cheese filling. Lime and orange came to my mind as I was making these.

              2 Replies
              1. re: DiningDiva

                DD: Thanks a lot for these fabulous posts. You've gotten me interested in Mexican baking. Keep up the good work. Photos are great, too.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  I made the Cubiletes de Requeson this weekend - excellent! They're all gone ! The lime zest flavored the cheese so delicately. I used a regular muffin tin, well buttered, and ended up with enough ingredients for 13 cakes, so I made the last one in a small pyrex cup. They came out of the cups easily after briefly cooling. In order to get them to a golden brown color, I ended up baking them for about 10 minutes longer than the recipe called for and that was just right.

                  ¡Gracias otra vez, D.D.!

              2. Just did the first recipe that I think is a dud...Jamoncillo de Leche. It translates as milk fudge which is really not a good description but, as they say, it is what it is.

                The recipe uses evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, butter and flavoring. You cook and stir for 30 minutes until it thickens and comes away from the sides of the pan. The instructions on this recipe were not particularly clear, nor were they particularly helpful. Does the timing start when the mixture is put on on the heat or when it comes to a boil. To what stage should it be cooked; there are none of the typical candy temperatures given that would be a guideline for knowing when the candy is ready. It would have been very helpful to me to know to what temperature I should cook the mixture to avoid over or under cooking. As it was, I think I overcooked it, but franky, I'm not sure.

                My finished candy set up and is smooth, but it is still somewhat sticky 7 hours later. The jamoncillo I am used to is not sticky, it really is more fudge like in texture. But my biggest problem, however, is with the final flavor of the jamoncillo. Ick. For me it had too much of an overpowering taste of sweetened condensed milk and was reallly, really sweet. I had a small piece and ended up tossing it because it was too sweet.

                I've made enough candy over the years to know that almost anything can throw a batch off. There was not, however, enough promise in this failure to warrant further experimentation. I really like jamoncillo, just not this particular recipe :-)

                3 Replies
                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I just made a batch of the Cubiletes de Requeson - the first recipe that Dining Diva referred to - in mini muffin pans and they came out beautifully. I've made them in regular muffin pans before, but wanted something a bit daintier for a baby shower. The yield was 30 with some leftover filling and they still took about 30 minutes to brown lightly. Labor intensive but worth it.

                  1. re: janeh


                    And I made the Empanadas de Jitomate for a Xmas party I went to yesterday. They were a HUGE (one guy even ate 3 of them himself!). Everyone was pleasantly surprised with the tomato jam filling and noone could believe I made the dough from scratch.

                    There are definitely some real gems in this cookbook

                  2. re: DiningDiva

                    I don't really understand why she included this recipe for Jamoncillo de Leche. She admits it won't give a great result, but just wanted to supply an easy recipe. This recipe sounds much better:

                  3. I made the Dulce de Frijol (bean candy) for my brother for Christmas. I gave him ‘Dinners Around the World’ for our handmade Christmas exchange. I’ll make him 4 dinners (Mexican, Chinese, Thai, and Italian) throughout the year, and I also made a sweet treat from each country for him and put them in a 4-tier tiffin box. I made the Dulce de Frijol for the Mexican treat. They were very good, and the beans not really distinguishable, but I would not make them again, as I did not think they were worth the fuss. She says to cook the mixture over medium low heat, stirring continuously for approximately 45 minutes, until it forms a thick paste and you can see the bottom of the pan. At medium low heat, there was no movement to the mixture so I didn’t think there would be enough reduction to create a “paste”. So, I turned up the heat to a little bit over medium heat and got quite a bit of movement then… still, it took at least an hour and a half to reduce enough to form into balls. Definitely a little too high maintenance for the end product!

                    I also made the Concho Blanco for my father-in-law… it’s one of his favorites. This was also a “high maintenance” recipe, but one that I felt was worth it and would make again. I haven’t had these a ton, so I don’t have much to compare to, but fresh out of the oven, I thought they were very fragrant and very, very good. I really loved the texture of the finished bread, and really, even the dough was lovely. I had a bit of trouble with the topping as written. I could not get it to hold together at all, so I ended up adding extra fat (about 4 T. extra). My father-in-law was very excited and appreciative, but of course, I asked for honest feedback. He said the bread portion was perfect, but he said the topping was a little too crunchy… he said it was still excellent tasting, just not like his mom used to make or like he’s had in Mexican bakeries. Of course, this could be because of the added fat, but I’m not sure what I should have added to get the more crumbly-textured topping. At any rate, both he and I still considered it a success!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Katie Nell

                      Katie, you conchas look perfect in the picture.

                      Try the Huachiboles, I've had pretty good success with those. Most of the doughs are pretty easy to work with, forgiving and yield a good product.

                      I've also found that the instructions on some of the recipes seem to lack enough clarity. I made the pan de muerto and it did not specify whether the yeast needed to be proofed in tepid/lukewarm liquid or not. I didn't, it did, and I didn't get the "poof" out of the dough I think it was capable of producing. By and large I think the recipes are pretty solid, but probably work best if you rely on previous baking experience.

                      1. re: Katie Nell

                        If you have a Mexican market near you, try to find an imported butter (if that is the fat you were referring to as I am unfamiliar with the recipe). The taste is vastly different.

                        Also, when a Mexican recipe calls for sour cream (like the op's did) look for "crema". It really makes a difference. A poplar brand here is called Lala. (I do not care for crema but it is more authentic if you can find it)

                      2. I made the Polvorones. The recipe calls for clarifying 3 sticks of butter, mixing it with the sugar, chilling and then whipping it. Add to that flour and almond flour. I didn't follow her directions for clarifying, which were to melt the butter over low heat and then heat for 5 minutes, skim the surface, and then let the milk solids fall to the bottom. I couldn't skim most of the foam at this stage, so I let it slowly cook over med. heat for about 10 minutes until the foam had coagulated (?) more.

                        I must say the cookies were excellent. Light, crisp and crumbly. Ree Drummond reviewed these during her stint judging for the Piglet over at food52. Her picture is very representative of how mine turned out:

                        1. I am so happy to find this thread! I just found the book at my library and was really excited thumbing through it. I knew CH would have a good discussion about it.

                          Many of the candies look good, but this summer weather is not candy friendly.

                          Any other experiences? I'm very tempted to purchase this book!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: meatn3

                            I just made the alegrîas and they're cooling as I write. I've had these frequently in Mexico and always thought that they were made from sesame seeds and was intrigued to find that they're made with amaranth. Popping/puffing the amaranth seeds was a bit of a challenge, but with a cool result. The preliminary results are in - tasty and authentic!

                          2. I made palanquetas
                            It was a pretty solid brittle recipe I suppose - came out good.

                            Also made the crepas de cajeta. The caramel sauce was amazing. My first crepes though - slightly eggy but I will try again one day. Maybe it's my giant American jumbo eggs.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Siegal

                              Don't think so, the author lives in NYC and the cookbook was written and tested in the U.S., so the eggs would have been the same. Now, if you used jumbo eggs instead of large, then, yeah, that could've been the problem

                            2. I made the chocoflan. It's amazing. I had made before with another recipe, and the layers did not separate properly. This was lovely and delicious. I highly recommend it! It's quite a large cake.

                              The recipe should have noted that it requires a deep pan. I used a big, deep pyrex casserole type dish. Definitely not a regular cake pan. I have seen people online complaining about this. I then had a hard time finding anything to use for a water bath because of the diameter of the casserole, so I used an even bigger steel bowl.

                              Secondly, it cooks for about twice as long as she specifies.

                              Third, to unmold, put the cold pan in a bowl of hot water. I used the same outer bowl I baked it in. Do NOT fool yourself that you can do this with a knife. Dip the container in the hot water, and it will soften righht up and fall out.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: willownt

                                I would agree that the baking times in the book are often more a "suggestion" rather than a definite hard and fast time :-)

                              2. I made the rice pudding yesterday. Took her suggestion to use whole milk only if I wanted it less creamy (or more specially I did not want it with a side of guilt).
                                Also used basmati rice and did it with the vanilla bean variation.
                                Came out better then my usual rice pudding where I seem to always underestimate the milk.
                                Can't wait to make something else