October: the month of purple, El Señor de los Milagros, and of course el infaltable “Turrón de Doña Pepa”.
In the mid-seventeenth century, two earthquakes devastated the region of Lima, Perú, crumbling every building in sight except for a single wall built out of adobe. The wall stood tall amongst the ocean of debris, raising a multitude of questions in the local community.
Why was it that a wall built out of a rather weak material stood, whilst the rest of its building and those surrounding it collapsed completely?
The wall in question had been built as part of a church for the Pachacamilla community located on the outskirts of Lima, and on it contained the now-famed mural of Crucified Jesus painted by Angolan slave, Pedro Dalcon. However, this mural homaged a version of Jesus the Spaniards were not used to seeing: a darker version, one that resembled the artist and the community in which the wall stood. Therefore, in the 32-year time period between the two earthquakes, there were many failed attempts to remove the mural that Spanish authorities had thought neglected religious norms.
It was a miracle, the people of Pachacamilla thought, that this single wall was the only structure to survive the two catastrophic earthquakes that struck their region whilst simultaneously evading removal by Spanish authorities. And so the news of the phenomenon spread across all of Perú like wildfire. Peruvians everywhere indeed deemed it to be a miracle, one performed by none other than the deity in the mural, el Cristo de Pachacamilla, better known as “El Señor de Los Milagros”.
The Pachacamilla community held ceremonies in tribute to The Lord of Miracles every Friday ever since the second earthquake struck on October 20th, 1687. People from all regions of Perú would travel to Pachacamilla to gift Him flowers and all sorts of offerings to pray for a miracle. Amongst the usual attendees, stood doña Josefa Marmanillo, a slave from the Cañete region in the south of Perú.
Doña Josefa Marmanillo was an extremely highly regarded cook within her community, when suddenly she was afflicted by a puzzling disease that is the worst nightmare of cooks everywhere: paralysis in both of her arms.
Devastated, Doña Josefa Marmanillo, otherwise known as Doña Pepa, made her way to Pachacamilla, where she prayed to El Señor de los Milagros. It was then, during the month of October, that Doña Pepa instantly regained the mobility of both her arms. Out of immense gratitude for granting her wish, she decided to make good use of the miracle and craft a new dessert devoted to the Lord of the Miracles – and so, el Turrón de Doña Pepa was born. A buttery and crumbly yet moist crumb covered in a deep complex honey with hints of anise seed and on top lay her staple sprinkles of all shapes and sizes.
Thankful, Doña Pepa would return to visit the Lord of the Miracles every Friday night, bringing batches of her famous Turrón to share with the local community. Soon after that, her dessert had become a local staple and has now transformed into a treat Peruvian households impatiently await to enjoy as soon as the clock strikes twelve on the first of October.
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon anise seeds
500 grams all-purpose flour
250 grams butter
5 egg yolks
½ cup anise tea
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 apple (diced)
1 orange (cut in half with peel)
250 grams Chancaca
1 fig leaf
10 gram fresh strawberries (diced)
2 Membrillos (diced)
1 cup sugar
22×22 centimeter casserole serving dish
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Toast the sesame and anise seeds on the stovetop on medium-low for 2 minutes
- Beat the butter until fluffy and add the toasted sesame and anise seeds
- Gradually fold the all-purpose flour into the butter mixture until fully incorporated
- Add a pinch of salt and incorporate the egg yolks one at a time
- Slowly add the anise tea while mixing the dough. The dough should not stick to your hands and should be manageable.
- Divide the dough into 22-gram pieces and roll them into 25-centimeter-long logs
- Place parchment paper on the oven pan and start placing the logs in the sheet pan
- With a spatula, slightly flatten the logs
- Cook the dough in the preheated oven for 15 minutes (flip the dough after the first 10 minutes)
- Remove dough from the oven and put aside
- In a pot, pour the water and add the cinnamon sticks, cloves, membrillo, apple, orange, fig leaf, strawberries, and chancaca. Let cook on medium low for 25 minutes.
- Strain the mixture and transfer to a new pot
- Add the sugar and let reduce on medium-low for 30 minutes
- Turn off the heat and let the honey mixture cool. It should reach a stretchy caramel consistency.
- Add parchment paper to the bottom of the serving dish
- Place the logs of baked dough in the same direction across the serving dish. Should the logs of baked dough be longer than the serving dish, break off the ends
- Add a layer of honey
- Place another layer of dough logs in the perpendicular direction
- Add another layer of honey
- Repeat until you run out of dough
- Finish with a substantial layer of honey on top
- Add decorative sprinkles
- Let honey settle before serving
Cover photo courtesy of Vital