For Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexican Wedding Cakes
‘We are drawn to Our Lady. … She is the patroness of Mexico, the mother of the unborn …’
Several Decembers ago, Rita Steininger — a parishioner at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia, and a native of El Paso, Texas — held a cooking class to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec.12. Rita set the scene for incoming students — colorful crêpe streamers and crêpe puff balls hanging from the ceiling, piñatas, bunches of colorful Mexican flowers, and a monitor replaying scenes of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Records show that about 20 million pilgrims visit the basilica annually.
The history of Our Lady dates back to Dec. 9, 1531, when a poor Catholic Indian, St. Juan Diego, saw “a lady from heaven, the Mother of the True God,” on the Hill of Tepeyac northwest of Mexico City. She instructed Juan Diego to ask the Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, to build a church on the hill. On Juan Diego’s fifth trip down the hill, the Virgin asked him again to speak with the archbishop. To prove her veracity, she filled his tilma (cape) with Castilian roses (which are not winter flowers and not native to Mexico) and asked that he give them to the archbishop.
When Juan Diego opened his tilma, the roses fell out and revealed the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which has retained its natural beauty over the centuries, a fact that scientists cannot explain. Humbly realizing the truth of the flowers and tilma, the archbishop built a tiny chapel on the Hill of Tepeyac. Centuries later, the Basilica of Guadalupe was built there.
Although Rita has not visited the basilica in Mexico, she was born and raised in a faithful Catholic family in El Paso.
“We are drawn to Our Lady,” she said. “She is the patroness of Mexico, the mother of the unborn and symbolic for motherhood because she was pregnant. … She is just so beautiful. Whenever I am visiting a friend or in Mexico, she is everywhere. … She is all around.”
And if you visit Rita’s home, you will enter a sanctuary that honors Our Lady with statues, paintings, cloths and even a pillow cover. To celebrate the December feast day, she annually invites friends over to say the Rosary in different languages, writing down their intentions and placing them in a holder, and then gathering around a festive Mexican buffet with tamales, mole with rice and beans, and fajitas — plus, for dessert, tres leches cake, polvorones (Mexican wedding cakes) and biscochos.
“The reason I do it,” she said, “is because it is a tradition, and that way we begin the Christmas season, praying the Rosary and getting together for Our Lady.”
Because of her dedication to Our Lady, Rita was the natural fit to honor her with the cooking class. She handed out brochures with prayers, a short history of Our Lady, and a menu with recipes that were dishes she enjoyed with her family. “It was typically Mexican, and the only dish missing was mole poblano,” she said. Consider this feast: Arroz de mi madre, bean tostadas, frijoles, guacamole, red chile cheese enchiladas, Mexican wedding cakes and a Mexican chocolate drink.
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Mexican Wedding Cakes
Adapted from Jane Butel. Makes about 2 dozen.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, preferably Mexican
- 2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting cookie
Sift together the flour and salt, and set aside. Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla. Fold in the flour and pecans until well incorporated. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Form the chilled dough into 1-inch-round balls and place onto the cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until just golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies for about 5 minutes, then toss them in a bowl with the confectioners’ sugar. Cool them completely on a rack.