Celebrate Dia de los Muertos with Pan de Muerto

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Photos by Molly Dunn
It might not look the best, but it sure tasted great.
In elementary school we always celebrated Dia de los Muertos in my Spanish class by making sugar skulls, and our teacher would sometimes bring in other treats, like pan de muerto.

I love learning the history behind holidays, so in honor of Dia de los Muertos, tomorrow, I have made the traditional pan de muerto.

It's a wonderful sweet bread with notes of orange that is eaten on November 2. Here's how you make it.

Pan de Muerto is a yeast bread, so you must prepare a few things before the dough can be put together.

First, combine 1/2 cup of whole milk, 5 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and two 4x1-inch strips of orange zest in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook this mixture until the butter melts and all of the ingredients are incorporated. Let the mixture cool before removing the orange zest. This zest will give the bread a wonderful natural orange scent.

Once the butter and milk mixture cools, add one tablespoon of orange blossom water, or if you don't have that, you can add orange extract or an orange liqueur like Triple Sec. Then whisk in three large beaten eggs. The mixture must be cool enough to add the eggs so you don't scramble them when you incorporate them into the milk and butter mixture.

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The yeast must form bubbles or else your bread will not rise.
Now, prepare the yeast by mixing 1/4 cup of warm water and 1/4 ounce of active dry yeast. You want the mixture to form bubbles within five to ten minutes.

Mix 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and one teaspoon of kosher salt in a bowl and create a well to pour the egg mixture and yeast into. Mix the dough with your hands until everything is formed together in a sticky-smooth ball of dough.

Let this rise in a lightly greased bowl for nearly 1 1/2 hours in a warm spot.

Once the dough doubles its size, it's time to shape the bread into the traditional shape.

Tear off a piece of the dough (the recipe says it should be about the size of a lemon) and set aside. Divide the rest of the dough into two dough balls (this makes two loaves of bread). Place the dough on the baking sheet and flatten the tops.

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Use water to bind the dough together when making the shapes.
Take some of the lemon-size dough and form two small balls. Using the rest of the lemon-size dough, divide it into six pieces and roll into ropes. The recipe says to press into the rope to make them look like bones. These should be about one inch apart from each other. With a little bit of water, press three rope pieces on top of each dough round so that they overlap in the center.

Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes more and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Once the dough has risen some more, take the two balls you formed at the beginning and place one on top of each of the loaves. Use a little bit of water to stick it to the dough.

Bake in the oven for nearly 35 minutes. Make sure the bread is golden brown on top and bottom.

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It's dense, delicious and so sweet.
Now it's time for the good stuff. Top the bread with about four tablespoons of melted butter and sprinkle 1/4 cup of granulated sugar on the two loaves.

You'll instantly smell the orange extract in the bread. It's super-sweet and super-delicious. Serve with coffee or Mexican Hot Chocolate to celebrate Dia de los Muertos tomorrow.



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2 comments
abdubahjabi
abdubahjabi

This is a very good recipe. I recognized it as the same one I have used very successfully from the Fine Cooking Bread Making special issue. Another variation, common to Oaxaca, is to use anise seeds also. The exception being as follows, which will make a much better bread loaf. I observed the texture of your bread and it looked to me like the gluten hadn't been completely developed. Instead of following the Fine Cooking directions to hand knead the dough, use a mixer with a dough hook attachment or a food processor. But, the absolute best is to use a bread machine if you have one, set on the dough setting. Basically you can throw the wet ingredients in, followed by the dry ingredients, hit the dough setting and come back in 1.5 hours to a perfect dough. At that point, pull off your lemon sized piece, split the dough into two rounds. Roll out the bones for the topping and proceed. I cover the two balls and let them rise for 45 minutes before putting them in the oven for 30 minutes. I noticed in the photographs that your bread looked very greasy on the surface and there wasn't a lot of sugar. I suspect that the water in your melted butter dissolved the sugar. This can be fixed by just using a nominal brush of butter and pastry sugar instead of granulated sugar.  - Jay Francis

kennebunkport
kennebunkport

I think the big Dia de los Muertes party is at Under the Volcano tonight...can't wait!

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