Mucho Mango Tart and the Nectar of Independence
The real story of Mexican independence, and a dessert that celebrates the resilience of the Mexican spirit.
Think Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day? Think Again!
Mexico actually celebrates its independence on September 16. On this date in 1810, a priest named Miguel Hidalgo, now considered to be the father of the Mexican nation, gave a rousing speech in which he championed the underclasses and the native Mexicans and called for a revolt against Spanish and aristocratic domination of the people of Mexico. This famous speech is called the Grito de Dolores, the "cry of Dolores," named for the town of Dolores in which Hidalgo gave his impassioned speech.
Sadly, barely six months later, Hidalgo was arrested and executed. It would be another ten years before Mexico would finally achieve independence from Spain in September of 1821.
Cajeta de Leche: the Sweet Taste of Independence
Cajeta de Leche (pronounced "Cah-hay-tah day Lay-chay") is a delicious, authentically Mexican caramel sauce that originates from the town of Celaya in the state of Guanajuato, smack dab in the center of Mexico - the very same part of Mexico where Hidalgo was from and where he delivered his famous Grito de Dolores speech.
Legend has it that Cajeta was born during the struggle for Mexican independence, and was a favorite ration among the soldiers. Unlike European caramel which is simply melted and browned sugar, Cajeta is sweetened goat's milk, simmered and reduced to decadent brown perfection. In Celaya, heavy copper kettles are still used to make Cajeta, just as they were during the war for independence.
When you make Cajeta, remember the Father of Mexico, the Grito de Dolores, and the real story of Mexican independence.
So... what happened on Cinco De Mayo?
Sadly, throughout history, after revolution usually comes ...chaos. After the brave struggle to rise up and overthrow those in power, there is often a time of confusion where no one is quite sure who is in charge. Time and again, into this vacuum step all the wrong people. And all too often, the brave revolutionaries who sacrificed so much for their independence end up right back in the same sad situation they started from.
After the revolution in Mexico, there were about 50 years of chaos. During this time, the French Emperor Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) had an idea. Now that Spain didn't control Mexico anymore, maybe France could!
In 1862, French troops landed in Veracruz and marched toward Puebla to begin their conquest of Mexico. The Mexicans defeated them at Puebla on May 5, "Cinco de Mayo" in Spanish.
Maximilian and Carlota: The French Try Again
A couple years later, Napoleon III decided to try again with a new plan. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I offered up his younger brother Maximilian to become the new Emperor of Mexico.
So Maximilian and his lovely wife Carlota, accompanied by the French army, came over from Europe to rule Mexico for the French. They arrived on May 28, 1864, and Maximilian declared himself Emperor of Mexico.
This didn't work out very well for anyone. As you might imagine, most Mexicans did not like this plan, and from the moment Maximilian arrived, they plotted to get rid of him.
After a short time, Napoleon III changed his mind and pulled his army out, leaving Maximilian high and dry, with little protection from unhappy Mexicans.
Empress Carlota went back to Europe to try to find another European power to help her husband, but by now no one was interested. Deeply upset and worried, she had an emotional breakdown - some say she went insane - and she never went back to Mexico.
The Mexicans finally succeeded in overthrowing Maximilian, and he was executed on June 19, 1867, a mere three years after his arrival.
The one good thing that Mexico got out of this whole tragic affair was a little taste of French food. Like the rest of the world, they liked it, and bits of French influence can still be seen in Mexican cooking today.
French PUFF PASTRY
Good puff pastry has only a few ingredients: butter, flour, water and salt.
When made properly, it bakes into a delicious, golden, puffy pastry with between 73-81 layers of buttery, flaky goodness in every bite (yes, really!). It takes quite a bit of effort to make it yourself, but the good news is that you can buy excellent ready-made French puff pastry in the freezer section of the grocery store! Look for one with just the simple the ingredients listed above, such as DuFour.
Although Mangoes originated from Asia, they are a popular part of Mexican cuisine. For our Mucho Mango Tart, we used Ataulfo mangoes, a variety that originates in Chiapas, Mexico (though the recipe will work with whatever type of mangoes you find).
As always in the final class of the session, the kids assembled their keepsake recipe books to take home.