Celebrating Día de los Muertos: Chocolate Skull Cake

We’re devoting the entire week to the celebration of Día de los Muertos – a Mexican holiday honoring deceased loved ones which has spread throughout the Americas with widespread Mexican migration –  and honoring some of the traditional foods prepared in Mexico for the three-day celebration. We’ve asked several Mexican chefs and food bloggers to share with us their favorite recipes central to Dia de los Muertos and today, award-winning blogger Vianney Rodriguez shares with us the importance of chocolate to this treasured holiday.

On Día de los Muertos the ancient Aztec holiday in which the living celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones, chocolate plays a key role. It was believed the great serpent-god Quetzalcóatl had bestowed cacao as a gift to the human world and Xocóatl, the Nahuatl word for chocolate, was figured prominently in many religious ceremonies. Chocolate was served cold often with a frothy top of foam that was created by pouring the melted chocolate mixture vertically from one vessel to another, back and forth until the froth was formed.  This foam was believed to hold the chocolate’s fundamental essence and was served during Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.  It was in this way that chocolate was a way of paying the highest form of reverence to their deceased.

Chocolate remains an integram part of Día de los Muertos celebrations today, pressed into sugar skull molds which are used to adorn the altars or gravestone of the family’s deceased. Each mold represents a family member and their name is inscribed onto the forehead of the mold.  Smaller molds are used to represent children and each skull is decorated with bright chocolate candies in such a way that creates a connection that is joyful instead of mournful.

Our family celebrates this yearly tradition with a weeklong celebration of honoring our loved ones with a family altar. We showcase favorite family photos of our departed, papel picado, candy skulls, flowers and personal mementos. During this festive week, we also recreate their favorite meals as a way to honor their memory with our children.  This  celebration always  fills my heart with great joy as I honor my departed all while introducing my children to loved ones they were not fortunate to meet.

As my children grow, I hope that our way of celebrating life and death will continue. It will become a way for them to cope with any future loss. Our altar may continue to grow with addition of family members but there is hope that as adults, they will learn to celebrate death as part of life, knowing that each year on Dia de Los Muertos our departed will return to shower us with love.

While preparing our family’s altar this year I wanted to bring a bit of our past into the present with chocolate. The Aztecs consumed their chocolate laced with spices. After the Spanish conquistadores arrived they began to add milk and sugar to their chocolate for the enjoyment of having something sweet after dinner.  Using my skull cake pan I decided to bake a chocolate cake and adorn it with Cempasúchil (marigolds) that my daughters had made to resemble the calavera that is prominently used in Dia de Los Muertos.

Celebrating Día de los Muertos: Chocolate Skull Cake chocoalte skull cake 2 food NBC Latino News

Chocolate skull cake is a fun, sweet way to honor deceased loved ones this Día de los Muertos. (Photo/Courtesy Vianney Rodriguez)

Chocolate Skull Cake

6 eggs separated

2 cups light brown sugar

2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa

2 tsp baking powder

2/3 cups milk

2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350

Lightly grease and dust with cocoa powder 2 cake pans (9inch). (Skull pan)

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl combine milk and vanilla.

Beat the 6 eggs whites until stiff.

Reduce speed and gradually add the brown sugar to beaten egg whites.

After sugar dissolves add yolks and beat for three minutes.

On medium low-speed, alternate flour and milk mixture to eggs until blended.

Pour equally into prepared cakes pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes.

Serve with sweet whipped topping or ice cream

Celebrating Día de los Muertos: Chocolate Skull Cake vianney rodriguez food NBC Latino News

Vianney Rodriguez writes about Tejano food and Mexican culture on her award-winning blog, Sweet Life. She was recently named “Best Latina Food Blogger”  by Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) and is known for mixing up a mean margarita.

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