Spirit of the Harvest: Andean All Saints' Day Bread (T'ant'a Wawas)

January 20, 2010

Spirit of the Harvest: Andean All Saints' Day Bread (T'ant'a Wawas)

Renowned food author Beverly Cox, winner of the James Beard cookbook award, a Julia Child award and a IACP cookbook award, and food editor for Native Peoples Magazine, contributes a monthly column and weekly recipes to TankaBar.com. The Spirit of the Harvest columns are published the second Wednesday of every month. Recipes from Beverly run on intervening Wednesdays.

In Bolivia, the spirits of the dead are coaxed into visiting the living during a three-day ceremony centered on Taque Santun Arupa (Todos Santos or All Saints' Day). Every family puts tanta wawas -- small figures made of bread to represent family members who have passed away -- on a commemorative altar in the house. Llamas and horses, suns and moons, and ladders to heaven are other popular shapes.

Some Andean bakers give their bread a distinctive flavor by boiling the water to be used for the dough with chamomile, mint, and a sprinkling of anise seed -- you could use one or two herbal tea bags.

The information about the traditional Bolivian observance of Taque Santun Arupa and most of the T'ant'a Wawas in the photograph were shared with us by our friends Marty de Montano and Jose Montano. This recipe is adapted from their own.


1 package dry yeast, or 1 tablespoon bulk yeast

3 teaspoons sugar

1 cup lukewarm water, flavored or plain (see Headnote), or more as needed

2 cups white bread flour

1 cup quinoa flour (available at health-food stores) or whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

6 tablespoons lard, preferably home-rendered, or solid vegetable shortening, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Whole cloves or raisins and slivered almonds, for decorating

1/4 teaspoon annatto (achiote) seeds (optional)
Egg Wash: 1 egg, 2 tablespoons water


In a small bowl dissolve the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in 1 cup lukewarm water. Place the bread flour in a large mixing bowl. When the yeast begins to bubble, make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture. Gradually mix the flour into the yeast until well combined. Cover with a slightly damp clean kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Punch down the dough and add the quinoa flour, the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, the salt, egg, and 4 tablespoons of the melted lard. Mix well. If the dough seems dry, gradually add just enough lukewarm water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to obtain a soft, smooth dough. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until it becomes elastic and no longer sticks to your hands. Place it in a clean bowl, cover it with a clean damp kitchen towel, and allow it to rise until doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 6 to 8 pieces, depending on the size of the figures you want to make. Shape the dough into the forms you choose, using cloves or raisins for eyes, and perhaps a slivered almond for the mouth. Place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

If you like, mix the annatto seeds with the remaining 2 tablespoons lard. Place the mixture in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and melt, pressing on the seeds with a wooden spoon until they tint the lard. Strain and brush the tinted lard on the figures' faces to color them. Prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg and water together in a small bowl, and brush it lightly over the T'ant'a Wawas -- but not over the faces if you have tinted them with the lard.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Transfer the T'ant'a Wawas to a wire rack and allow to cool.

NOTE: This dough may also be divided in half and baked in 2 lightly greased 4 x 8-inch loaf pans. It is wonderful toasted for breakfast.

Beverly Cox is the food editor of Native Peoples Magazine and a former food editor and director of food styling for Cook's Magazine. She holds a Grand Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and apprenticed with Gaston LeNotre.

Beverly has written 13 cookbooks, including Spirit of the Harvest, North American Indian Cooking, winner of the James Beard and IACP cookbook awards in 1992, and Spirit of the West, Cooking from Ranch House and Range, winner of a Julia Child award in 1997, and Spirit of the Earth, Native Cooking from Latin America, an IACP cookbook award finalist in 2002, all co-authored with food photographer Martin Jacobs. Their most recent book is Eating Cuban, 120 Authentic Recipes from the Streets of Havana to American Shores.

Beverly and her husband, Gordon Black, an architect turned rancher, live on the historic Eagle Rock Ranch in Northern Colorado where her great grandfather homesteaded in 1872. Beverly teaches hands-on cooking classes for small groups who want to combine cooking with the experience of visiting a working cattle ranch.

You can contact Beverly at BeverlyCox@TankaBar.com

For more information about Beverly's cookbooks featuring Native American recipes:

Body, Mind and Spirit: Native Cooking of the Americas

Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking

Spirit of the Earth: Native Cooking from Latin America

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