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  • Kahlo's Eyes

Tantawawa, a sweet bread offering

Having been born in the U.S. my references for Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, were most often with the customs of Mexico. As a young adult I became aware that different Latin American countries celebrate the day as well. Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Difuntos or Dia de Todos los Santos Difuntos, as it is called in Peru, is also a two-day celebration. It begins on November 1, known as Dia de Todos los Santos Vivos (All Living Saints Day). It continues through November 2, which is the actual Dia de los Santos Difuntos (Day of the Dead Saints), and it is the day when relatives visit their departed at the cemeteries in which they were laid to rest. On that day, it is typical for people to visit the graves of their dead, and like in other parts of Latin America, clean up the grave and place favorite dishes, beverages, and sweet bread called Tantawawa, as an offering on and around the grave for the deceased. People will sometimes also bring their guitars or a small radio to play their favorite music or sing them a song or three.

Throughout Latin America, prior to any sustained contact with Europeans, many Indigenous peoples had ways of celebrating their deceased loved ones, as death was not seen as an ending but a changing of being. Celebrating the lives of our loved ones was a way for us to still commune with our dead and our ancestors. When conquistadors came, and Catholicism became interwined with Indigenous belief systems, the All Saints Day of Europe became part of the celebrations throughout Mesoamerica but the core of the communing with our dead remained, and remains for many, still today.

I have always found it fascinating the way in which Native traditions and forms of celebration became interwoven with Catholic traditions in Latin America. In Peru, this is no different. The introduction of sweet breads, of course, also came with European traditions using flour and sugar. Our version of sweet bread is called Tantawawa, as I mentioned above, which in Quechua means "baby bread." In this case, it is a sweet bread made in the form of a child or baby. It can also be made to look like llamas, ladders, braids, baskets, birds, or horses. Each of the shapes have different meanings and serve a different purpose for the dead (please see "Dia de los Difuntos" link above for more detail).

In the past, Kahlo and I have purchased pan de muerto from local bakeries here in the Boston-area. This year I wanted us to create a new tradition together. After researching quite a few variations of Peruvian Tantawawa, we landed on one we thought we would prefer, then tweaked it for our own palates. We both LOVE anise, and decided to use that as our main flavoring agent for the bread. As this was also our first time making the bread, we kept this recipe and decorations simple but hope to get more elaborate as we gain more experience with the dough! So, without further ado, here is our recipe for Tantawawa! We hope next Day of the Dead you'll give this a shot. Why note stat practicing early? Buen provecho, amig@s!


Krysia & Kahlo's Tantawawa -- 2 Loaves


  • 1 package yeast

  • 3/4 cup milk

  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cane sugar

  • 1 cup water, reduced to 3/4 cup (see preparation below)

  • 2 teaspoons anise seeds

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 6 cups all purpose flour

  • 1 orange, zest (optional)

  • 2 plus 1 eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 4 ounces lard or 1 stick of butter, room temperature


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.

  2. In a small bowl, add the yeast, I tablespoon of sugar and milk. Mix well and set aside to allow for yeast to bubble up.

  3. In a small sauce pan, add 1 cup of water, cinnamon stick, and 2 teaspoons of anise seeds. Bring to boil, then simmer and let steep for 3 minutes. Strain tea, reserving the seeds to incorporate in the dough, if desired. Otherwise, discard. You should end up with about 3/4 cup of tea. Allow to cool down.

  4. In a large mixing bowl, add flour, 1 cup of sugar, and pinch salt. Mix well.

  5. If adding orange zest, incorporate to dry ingredients.

  6. Add 2 eggs and anise/cinnamon tea (and seeds, if desired) to flour and begin to mix.

  7. Add yeast mixture and vanilla to bowl. Mix until mostly incorporated.

  8. Add lard (or butter) and mix until incorporated.

  9. Remove from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 10 minutes. The dough should feel soft but not sticky. If it is too dense and dry, add a bit more water by wetting your hands and incorporating slowly that way. If it feels too wet, add a bit of flour little by little until it comes together.

  10. Place dough in a bowl in a warm area, covered with a damp towel and leave until it has doubled in size (1-2 hours).

  11. Once it has risen, cut your dough in half. From each half, cut off enough dough to create about 2 inch-sized balls to to be used or decoration.

  12. Roll out large ball into oblong shapes. about 1/4 of an inch. Create a head-like shape at the top by pinching in where the neck should be. Using a knife, cut out arms (shown below). Using scissors, you can cut little triangles snips to create a textured surface (see below). Roll out long skinny tubes of dough to use as a necklace, facial features, and/or hair. Get creative! We made one a Mother holding a baby (see below)!

  13. In a small bowl or cup, mix last egg and teaspoon of sugar and mix. Using a pastry brush, brush egg mixture over the surface of your dough. You can use candied sprinkles, raisins, candied balls, etc. to decorate. You can even color different dough components or paint with food coloring.

  14. Bake for about 20-30 minutes. Let cool.

Note:: Serve with some hot chocolate or coffee and you will not be sorry! Keeps well for 3 days.


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