I was surprised by a request to go to market to buy t’antawawas, bread babies. First, I had no idea what they were, and secondly, I had no idea where to find them.
My professor, Eric Rayner, wanted to set up a display in his office, partially to educate his students about the Day of the dead which includes the Día de todos los santos, All Saints Day, and also the following day, Día de todas las almas, All Souls day.
The traditions surrounding these traditional Christian days have become lost in the horrors of Halloween in the United States. Though rooted in spirituality, Halloween has become a celebration of the fearful part of the vigil, awaiting All Saints Day. The latter is almost forgotten, though, except in some congregations. Instead we have been adopting a version of the Mexican Day of the Dead. The days are celebrated differently in Peru.
“This is a custom and part of the religiosity of our Andean Culture, which comes down to us from our ancestors. The bread babies symbolize the soulds and the figure of the ladder is the path to heaven. They are part of the offerings that are taken to the cemetery to share with our family remembering our loved ones.”
Intrigued by the idea of having T’antawawas as part of my own celebration, I went looking for inspiration for a recipe for the Bread Babies and Bread Horses. I wanted something traditional, and something that could be shared with my college classes.
There were also considerations about how to bake a bread baby so it achieved the lovely glossy finish, with the deep caramel tones and decorate it effectively. Looking online, I realized that some of the recipes are carefully held secrets.
“In her land, he family is well known for continuing the tradition of the t’antawawas. “My grandfather (abuelito) is known in all the bakeries of our town. He is well respected. Not even we can equal him. He does not want to share his recipe with us…and that little secret is what we are missing.” Kelley Cayetano, baker.
Having no abuelito of my own to ask for a family recipe, I had to rely on the patrimony of Google.
After reading several accounts of the dough, I decided the dough must be almost like a brioche, rich with eggs and butter. I looked for a recipe that seemed to reflect the flavors that people described. I also did not have access to the herbs, and wanted something rich, so to the anise tea I added allspice and cloves.
I expected the dough to rise more quickly, and because the day was cold, I allowed my dough to rest for closer to 4 hours before baking. (I am not a sculptor. I should have asked the neighborhood children to come and help!)
As the bread baked, the house filled with the smell of … ham. The richness of the butter, cloves, anise and allspice left a wonderful earthy aroma in the air. When my girlfriend came while I was baking, she asked if I was making ham. There was no meat in my house at that time, it was the bread!
This is the recipe I used, modified a bit. It is found on Peru Gastronomia.com
Pan Wawa (T’antawawa), Bread Babies
• 1.25 kilos all purpose flour
• 5 eggs and 1 for egg wash
325 gr sugar
• 10 gr salt
• 5 gr cinnamon
• 65 gr powdered milk
• 40 gr dried yeast
• 1.5 cups chamomile, muña, lemon verbena, verbena, anise or fennel (I used allspice and cloves as well)
• 1 tbsp vanilla
• 1/2 kilo butter or ¼ butter and ¼ vegetable shortening
• 200 gr extra flour for rolling out the dough
• Colored sprinkles
• 40 gr sesame seeds
Make a tea of the herbs and water. Add the powdered milk. Add the yeast and let rest for 5 minutes. Mix in the eggs, softened butter salt and cinnamon. Continue to mix dough, adding the flour until it is incorporated. Add the sesame seeds to the dough.
Divide the dough into 500 gram portions, forming the baby. Extra dough may be used to create designs, or the dough may be snipped to create arms and legs.
Cover with a cloth and let rest for 2 hours. Make an egg wash with 1 egg and a tablespoon of water, brush the dough with the mixture. Decorate as you like with colored sprinkles , raisins, or sesame seeds.
Cook at 350F for 45 minutes. You can decorate the baby with a traditional ceramic face.