Tantawawas: Bolivian Bread Babies for Day of the Dead

Copyright: http://www.canalpatrimonio.com/es/noticias/?iddoc=50028

Copyright: http://www.canalpatrimonio.com/es/noticias/?iddoc=50028

Tantawawas are sweet bread figurines, sometimes flavored with cinnamon, other times with anise, that are shaped into various traditional shapes to honor the dead. In the Quechua language, which is spoken by over 2 million people in Bolivia, the word "tanta" means bread and the word "wawa" means baby. Most of the time, these breads are shaped like babies wrapped in a blanket.

Baking tantawawas is a tradition typical of Bolivia's highland (Andes) region, and some parts of Peru and Ecuador. Here people believe that the spirits of the dead will arrive to visit on November 1st and 2nd of each year. In Bolivia, November 2nd (Day of the Dead, also known as Día de los Santos Difuntos) is a national holiday. People honor children who have passed away, on November 1st and adults who have passed away, on November 2nd. They believe the soul, or "ajayu" will often return in the form of a child. Part of this tradition involves taking a meal to the cemetery and eating it there. A table is set, including an empty chair and full plate of food for the deceased. Typically, families will cook the foods that were preferred by their relatives who have passed on. They also believe the dead return very thirsty. It would be very remiss of them not to also set a glass of water or some other beverage at their place at the table. Tantawawas are a part of this tradition in the Western highlands. They are not typical to Eastern Bolivia, but can be purchased in some places. Other cakes, breads and cookies are also served, as is "manjar de leche", a type of caramel that is spread on bread.

Tantawawas can be very small or very large, even life-sized. Some bakers actually add a small ceramic face, similar to a doll's face, to the dough prior to baking it. Other make actual baked baskets from bread dough and fill the baskets with candies, cookies, and tantawawas. In the city of El Alto, above La Paz, a competition is held to see who baked the largest Tantawawa.

Click to read more about Day of the Dead and All Saints Day in Bolivia.


3 pounds of white flour
1 slice of fresh yeast
1/2 pound of powdered sugar
2 teaspoons of fine salt
1 pound of butter
4 eggs
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of yellow powdered food coloring
2 cups of milk


Sift the flour, then cut in the butter until it forms a crumbly mixture. Make a 'well' in the middle and add the yeast, sugar and salt. Add the eggs, coloring and ground cinnamon and continue mixing, adding the milk a little at a time.

Knead the dough and allow it to rise for about 15 minutes. Then knead again and let rise again. Do this about four times.

Form the dough into balls and let rise half an hour. Then share figurines of babies, crosses, stars, angels with wings, etc. If using ceramic decorative items (such as baby faces) add these to your dough.

Place on a greased cookie sheet. Brush each dough figure with beaten egg white (this will cause the dough to be shiny rather than dull after you take it from the oven).

Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

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