Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pan de Muerto...por Una Gringa

I know its Halloween weekend and everyone is enjoying the last bits of celebration, but I think I really am Latina en mi corazon because I can’t stop thinking about Dia de Los Muertos

Image Credit
 Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration that occurs on November 2nd in Mexico.  On this day, families honor their family members who have passed away by setting up alters to remember them and visiting their grave sites.  Mexicans don’t just take flowers to the graves, they also give food and gifts.  I know to most gringos this sounds terribly morbid, but according to my Spanish teacher and other Mexicans that I’ve spoken with, the focus is on the good times and the memories, not the death of the person.  I dig it. 

One of the best things about Dia de Los Muertos is the food and Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) is a keystone.  Pan de Muerto is a sweet yeast bread with a hint of orange flavor and a generous dusting of sugar.  During the weeks preceding Dia de los Muertos, the smell of this delicious bread wafts through Mexican streets throughout the country and each region makes their pan de muerto just a little different from their neighbor.  To add more diversity, every baker shapes the dough into different things (ie: skulls, bones, flowers, animals, or people) and decorates the loaf simply or intricately with sugar so everyone’s pan de muerto is unique. 

To make my pan de muerto, I took what I liked from two recipes--one from Fine Cooking Magazine and another from All made it my own.  I also decided to do one traditional loaf covered in “bones” and dusted in sugar, and one creative loaf with a design and colored sugars. I was nervous not only because of my questionable track record with yeast, but also because my plan included taking the finished product to my Spanish class...which is taught by a Mexican…who ate pan de muerto…in Mexico.  No pressure, no pressure at all.  

Gracias a Dios, my bread turned out beautifully!

And not only did it look good, it tasted good as well.  Everyone in my class enjoyed it and I got the stamp of approval from my teacher which meant a lot. By the time class resumed after lunch, word had traveled throughout the Spanish department about my pan rico, best compliment ever!  So whether you're Mexican or not this bread is delicious and goes well with a rich hot chocolate (traditionally, this is how it’s served in Mexico) or coffee making it perfect for the upcoming winter months, so give it a try!

Pan de Muerto por Una Gringa
Yield: 2 loaves

The Goods:

For the Cake:

1/2 cup whole milk
5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pats
skin of one orange, use a vegetable peeler and avoid the white pith
1 star of anise
2 3/4 teaspoons of orange extract
3 large eggs, lightly beaten (sit them on the counter and let them come up to room temperature)
1 3/4 teaspoons (or one packet) of active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups of bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Vegetable oil (as needed, to oil the bowl that will hold the dough)

For the Glaze:

4 tablespoons of butter (I used 2 tablespoons of sweet cream, 2 tablespoons of unsalted)
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
1/4 cup of orange juice
zest of 1/2 an orange
juice from 1/2 an orange

Colored decorating sugars of your choice

The Deed:

For the Bread:

1.      Put the milk, butter, orange peels, and star of anise in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter has melted. Then, remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool, until warm.  Once cool, discard the orange peels and star of anise, add the orange extract, and whisk in the eggs. 

2.      Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of water that is warm, but not hotter than 110 degrees.  This is important, use a thermometer! You don't want to kill the yeast, but you want them to wake up, your bread depends on this! After 10-15 minutes the yeast should bubble...if you have no this step again until you do.

3.      Mix the flour, sugar, and salt on a work surface and make a well in the center.  Slowly pour the yeast and milk mixtures into the well while mixing with your hand to form a dough.  

4.      Knead until the dough is uniform and smooth, but slightly sticky.  If you think it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour so that you can work with it.

5.      Put the dough in a large lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 1-1 1/2 hours.  Trick: I turned on my oven to 350 (this is also the baking temperature that you will bake your bread at) and occasionally opened it for a few minutes to keep my kitchen warm and the yeast happy. 

6.      Once the bread has risen, cut off a piece of dough about the size of a lemon and set it aside. Divide the remaining dough in half and shape into loaves on a lightly floured surface.  Then, place your loaves on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. (If you want to make 2 creative loaves, like my skull pan de muerto, just form two loaves and skip ahead to step 9)

7.      From the reserved dough, form a ball about the size of one large marble, set it aside in a bowl, and cover it.  Cut the remaining reserved dough into 3 pieces, this will be the dough for your bones.

8.      Make the "bones" to decorate your loaf (or loaves) by rolling the 3 small pieces of dough into ropes.

      Next, use your fingers to make indentions, then pinch the indentations closed, and drape three ropes over the loaf of bread in the formation of an asterisk (*):

9.      Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise again in a warm place, until doubled in size (about 45-50 minutes).  While the dough rises (assuming you're not using my oven technique to keep your yeast happy) preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position your baking rack in the middle of the oven.

10.  After the dough has doubled, dab a bit of cold water on the top center of the loaf where the ropes meet, then place the reserved ball on top and press down lightly to slightly flatten the top of the ball. (Skip this step if making 2 creative loaves):

11.   Bake for 30 minutes, or until the loaves have an even golden brown cover.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil and continue to bake for another 10 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned and remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. 

12.  Once the bread has cooled a bit, generously brush with the orange glaze and decorate the loaf with sugar and enjoy! 

For the Glaze:

Combine all the ingredients of the glaze in a saucepan on low to medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid has thickened slightly.

For the Decoration:

Traditionally, you just sprinkle sugar evenly on top of the entire loaf. If you want to make a fancy decoration like I did, just cut your design out onto parchment paper.  Brush glaze on entire loaf, position the cut out, and brush glaze over the loaf again, being sure to cover the parchment paper well so that it adheres to the loaf.  Once design is in place, fill with the colored sugars of your choice.  Finally, gently turn the loaf upside down to shake off the excess sugar-- think of this like a glue, glitter, and paper project.


  1. Gorgeous photos! I loved reading about Dia de Los Muertos.

  2. So beautiful and colorful! I've never tried Pan de Muerto but it looks excellent. Great work with the yeast dough!

  3. Nice job! A sweet yeast bread is always a favorite. It's something about the texture of the bread and how it tears apart. So good!

  4. Love that you tried this and brought your bread to class - lucky devils :)

  5. Thanks everyone for all the kind words :) I'm trying so hard to beef up my baking skills and so far I've been successful! There will definitely be more to come...

  6. Oh wow, so beautiful!!!! Do you think you'll make Capirotada around Lent? :D

  7. @Michelle, maybe if you tell me what that is :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...