The mornings are brisk and my thoughts imediately go to visions of warm bolillos, conchas or pan de muerto coming out of my oven. But in all honesty, I have been known to bake in the middle of summer just to satify my cravings for fresh pan dulce(sweet bread). I guess it would be different if there were a panaderia(bakery) near to purchase pan de muerto, conchas and bolillos. No such luck! But, that is a blessing in disguise. At least that is the way I see it. The lack of Mexican foods, snacks and baked goods has forced me to learn to develop my own recipes at home. In the long run, it is a good learning experience. Getting back to the day of the dead bread. Dia de los muertos is observed on October31st – November 2nd through out Mexico. In the evening of Oct. 31st, Dia de Los Angelitos, the souls of the departed children are invited to visit the colorful alters set up by family members. Favorite treats and toys are left on the alters for the departed children souls to be welcomed back. The alters are typically filled with pictures, flowers, insense, candles, special paper decorations, water, fruits and nuts and the special bread. Each item having it’s own special significance. November 1st is Dia de los Muertos or Dia de los Difuntos. On November 2nd, the family make there way to the cemetary. They place special foods, pictures and momentos on the gravesite. Special music is often played to welcome the departed souls. The families celebrate, that on this day, they are reunited with their departed loved ones. #pandemuerto #diadelosmuertos #mexicantraditions
Part of the small alter
Pan de Muerto-Day of the Dead Bread
Yields 3 loaves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
1 cup warm water(110-115 degrees F)
2 tablespoons orange blossom water, optional
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest
4 cups bread flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
You Will Also Need
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
colored sugar crystals, assorted
In a large measuring cup, combine the yeast, agave, warm water and orange blossom water. Stir gently until mostly combined and let sit for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until smooth. Mix in the eggs and zest. Then mix in the yeast/water mixture just until combined.
Combine the flour and salt. Gradually mix in the liquids to the flour until dough begins to form. Transfer to a flat work surface and knead the dough for a good 10 minutes. If dough is too sticky, add minimal flour to work dough easier. Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour.
After one hour, transfer dough to flat surface and knead gently for a few seconds. Using a pastry cutter or knife, divide the dough into 4 equal balls.
Working as quick as you can, shape 3 sections of the dough into a ball and place onto parchment lined baking sheets.
Divide the last dough ball into 3 equal pieces. Then divide each piece into three separate pieces. All together, you should have 9 pieces of dough. Shape 3 of the pieces into an oval like shaper to resmble a skull. Set aside. Take the remaining 6 pieces and genlty roll with your fingers onto a flat surface in a cigar shape. As you roll, separate your fingers and apply gently pressure to create the shape of a bone. See the pictures below.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg with water, set aside.
Lightly brush the loaves with some egg wash and place the bones in a criss cross shape over the tops. Add a little egg wash to center and place the round skull shape in place. Cover loosely and let rise for one more hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. If adding colored sugar crystals, brush loaves with egg wash and sprinkle with desired sugar crystal colors. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Internal temperature of bread should be at least 190 degrees.
Pan de Muerto can be finished three ways. 1. You can simply brush with egg wash and bake. 2. You can brush with melted butter after it bakes and dust with granulated sugar 3. You can brush with egg wash and sprinkles with colored sugar crystals before baking.
On occasion, I like to add fresh ground canela(cinnamon) and anise seeds to my pan de muerto. It is not traditional, but I do enjoy the flavors.
The picture above was from a cooking class I taught last year. Not the best shapes for the bones, but you get the idea.
The bread is pan de muerto in a dark chocolate flavor! Use the dark chocolate conchas recipe on site to prepare pan de muerto.
For Mexican Hot Chocolate:
2 cinnamon sticks
2- (3.5 ounce) disc of Mexican Chocolate
1 1/2 -2 liters of milk or water
Heat milk or water with cinnamon sticks at medium heat until right before it comes to a boil. Add the chocolate and stir using a wooden spoon to break up the pieces. If possible, use a wooden molinillo to mix and froth the hot chocolate. Serve right away.