Few holidays capture the imagination like El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. From November 1 (All Saints' Day) through November 2 (All Souls' Day), families throughout Mexico and Central America build elaborate altars to lay out the favorite foods of their dearly departed. Platters of rice and beans, moles, tortillas, tamales, calaveras (candy skulls) and brioche-like pan de muertos dusted with sugar welcome the spirits home - albeit for a brief time - before the food is shared by family and friends. Atole, a hot beverage thickened with fresh corn masa, corn flour or cornstarch, is a holiday staple, though it's enjoyed for breakfast year-round. Traditionally sweetened with unrefined cane sugar, or piloncillo, and flavored with fruit, a chocolate version called champurrado is served at Christmastime. This atole de calabaza is made with fresh pumpkin slowly cooked with aromatic spices like anise, allspice and clove.
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In a large heavy pot, combine the cubed pumpkin, piloncillo, spices and salt with 1/4 cup of water. Set over medium heat and stir frequently until the the piloncillo melts. Continue to cook, covered, until the pumpkin falls apart, 15 to 20 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.
In a large heavy pot, combine the water, milk and cinnamon stick and bring to a high simmer. Lower heat and whisk in the masa harina in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly to eliminate any lumps. Add the pureed pumpkin and simmer until slightly thickened but still pourable, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm with added sugar to taste, and garnish with candied ginger.