December 12 is dedicated to the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the Catholic Church calendar. In previous years, I wrote posts with detailed information about the history behind her apparitions; click on the highlighted text for 2018’s “Our Lady of Guadalupe – The Miracle Continues” and 2019’s “The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.” In a nutshell: In early December of the year 1531, merely a decade after the fall of the Aztec empire under Spanish rule, a Mexican native who had converted to Catholicism, baptized with the name of Juan Diego, had witnessed three Marian apparitions. Then, on December 12, he was graced with the fourth and last apparition to him. As proof, as instructed by the Lady, he collected some Castillian roses growing out of place and season in Tepeyac Hill, the site of the encounters, just outside Mexico City. When Juan Diego had an audience before the clergy, he unfolded the robe where he had wrapped the flowers. The roses fell to the ground to reveal that an image of the virgin had been miraculously stamped on his humble cloth, called tilma (native men’s robe, from the Nahuatl name tilmàtli). The lady had requested a chapel dedicated to her to be built on the site of the apparitions, in the Tepeyac. Since 1531, the request has been fulfilled with five structures erected in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe in that site, including: two shrines, a chapel, and two Basilicas. The current “Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe” was consecrated in 1976, and still holds the original image of the Virgin on Juan Diego’s tilma, receiving between 17 and 20 million visitors every year. The major pilgrimage to the Basilica occurs every year during the first days of the month of December; people come from all around the world, travel from every corner of the country – and even walk for hours from Mexico City and other towns around the region – hoping to arrive on time for the early morning service on December 12, after jovially singing the “Mañanitas” (Happy birthday Mexican song).
There is always a plethora of stands selling prayer candles and other religious items, as well as, of course, all sorts of food and refreshments. One of the most traditional treats sold outside the Basilica is a corn based sweet patty, cooked over a grill. Several patties are wrapped in bright coloured tissue paper, so they can be enjoyed still warm, out of the paper packet, or brought home without getting soggy. They have become so ubiquitous outside the Basilica, as well as many other old churches in Mexico, that hey are known as “gorditas de atrio” (Atrium* Patties). This year, though, due to COVID19, the Basilica has closed its doors until the end of the weekend. Catholic leaders have pointed out that there is no need to lionize the Virgin’s Feast as a public holiday, and have implored people to safely honour the “Patroness of the Americas” from home. It will be another somber time for many Mexicans, but the pandemic seems to continue to grow out of control and has become a civil duty to comply with social distancing measures.
Making a batch of gorditas de atrio at home, and eating them out of a tissue paper wrapper, could offer some comfort during these trying times, providing the feeling of being in an old church’s atrium or, especially on this day, even just outside the “Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe” itself.
Atrium Patties – Gorditas de Atrio
1 cup corn flour, preferably white (masa harina, for tortillas or tamales, not corn starch)
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ cup sugar
2 egg yolks (save egg whites for another application)
1 tbsp lard, or butter
1 tbsp honey
½ tsp cinnamon
Sift together corn flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar, onto a bowl (photo below, left); mix with a spatula, and incorporate lard (or butter) to a grainy consistency (photo below, right):
Add egg yolks (photo below, left) and continue mixing, then add honey and cinnamon (photo below, right):
Incorporate well to form a paste, while gradually adding milk (photo below left). Mix with the spatula, then finish by kneading into a ball (photo below, right):
The dough should feel moist and malleable. Transfer dough to a working surface; flatten the ball then slice into eight wedges; work with one wedge at a time, dividing into four to five portions (makes 32-36 patties). Roll each portion into a ball, then flatten into a patty, approximately 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter:
Cook in batches on a dry skillet (no oil) over medium to low heat, flipping once until fully cooked and browned on both sides:
The wrapping is optional, but it will keep the patties fresh for a longer time, and is also a convenient packing and lovely presentation if sharing with friends. Bundle batches of six to eight patties in double layers of tissue paper (about 10-inch squares); wrap patties into a cylinder and twist paper ends to keep closed:
These patties smelled and tasted very similar to the ones I remember from outside the old church near where I grew up in Mexico City. Opening a package and serving them with a mug of café de olla (coffee from the pot) sure felt like a little slice of Mexico at my table:
* FUN FACT: An atrium is a large open-air or skylight-covered space surrounded by, or adjacent to, a building. The central atrium was characteristic of houses in Ancient Rome. The concept of an atrium was also adopted in early Christian Architecture, both as a central area and more often, as an open court that was built in front of a church.
Any corn (maize) flour will work well enough with this recipe, but white corn flour is the preferable choice. Maseca™ white corn flour is available in two presentations: regular masa harina, for tortillas and other corn dough preparations, and a coarser grind formulated for tamales; I used the latter, to achieve an old-fashioned flavour and a more porous texture.
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I am joining Thursday Favourite Things #469, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.