Celebrating Dia de los Muertos: Pan de Muerto

In Mexico, the day after Halloween is known as the Day of the Dead, a celebration of the lives of friends, family, loved ones, and even pets. It’s filled with festivals, concerts, art, and of course, great food. From sugar skulls to spicy hot chocolate, the food is plentiful. One of my favorites is Pan de Muerto, or Bread of the Dead.

Day pf the dead parade

Bread of the Dead is the traditional bread of Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. Pan de Muerto is usually consumed with coffee or hot chocolate. While there are many designs, the bread traditionally has two crosses of dough on it to represent crossbones and a ball on the top to represent a skull. It also has an orange blossom flavor to honor the deceased and is usually baked in a round form to represent the circle of life and death. The bread is often found in an elaborate altar, also called an ofrenda, where it is presented as an offering to the spirits of the dead along with other favorite foods of the deceased.

Ofrenda/Day of the Deead Alter

Living in Los Angeles, I would always see the panaderia(Mexican Bakeries) fill up with Pan de Muerto. They would start in late October, right before Halloween, and continue into November a few days past Dia delos Muertos. The aromas of this slightly sweet bread was enough to stop you in your tracks. Combined with some hot chocolate or café con leche and you have a nice way to warm up on a brisk fall day!

If you want to try Pan de Muerto and don’t have a Mexican Bakery near you, or you’re just curious how to make it, then look no further!

Pan de Muerto

Ingredients

1 ¼-ounce envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)

5⅓ cups all-purpose flour, divided

6 large eggs

1 tablespoon anise seeds

1¼ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon orange-flower water

¾ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus 6 tablespoons melted, divided

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Preparation

Mix yeast, ⅓ cup flour, and ¼ cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer with a wooden spoon or spatula until a sticky dough forms. This is your starter. Let rest, uncovered, in a warm, draft-free area until starter looks very loose and bubbles are forming on top (it will resemble pancake batter on a griddle), about 35 minutes.

Whisk eggs, anise, salt, orange-flower water, and ¾ cup sugar in a medium bowl until foamy and sugar begins to dissolve, about 1 minute. Add egg mixture and remaining 5 cups flour to starter and mix with a dough hook on medium-low speed, adding ¾ cup softened butter a few pieces at a time, until a soft dough forms, about 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium and continue mixing until sugar is dissolved and dough is shiny and elastic, about 10 minutes (dough will be very sticky).

Lightly brush a large bowl with 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Transfer dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until almost doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper; coat parchment with nonstick spray. Turn out dough onto a clean work surface, then cut off a baseball-sized piece of dough (about one-quarter of the dough). Using your hands, re-shape the larger piece into a smooth round ball and transfer to the center of a prepared sheet. Roll smaller piece into an 8″-long log, then divide into 4 equal lengths. Shape one of those lengths into a ball and place on second prepared sheet 3″ from the edge.

Roll another length of dough with the palm of your hand into an 8½”-long rope, pressing out from the center so the middle is thinner and both ends are knobby, resembling a bone. Place on prepared sheet a few inches away from smaller ball. Repeat with remaining 2 pieces of dough, transferring to sheet as you go. Brush all 5 pieces of dough with 2 Tbsp. melted butter and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until almost doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

pan de muerto

Preheat oven to 325°. Remove plastic wrap and carefully pick up one of the bones, lifting from the ends (it will stretch and deflate slightly). Drape over large dough round, positioning at 10 o’clock and 4 o’clock. Repeat with second bone, positioning at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock. Position third bone at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. Carefully place smaller ball in the center, at point where bones overlap, gently pressing edges of ball into bones and larger ball, crowning the loaf.

Bake bread until browned and it sounds hollow when tapped with your fingertips, 40–50 minutes. Working in sections, brush one-quarter of the loaf with melted butter and immediately sprinkle with sugar so that it sticks. Repeat with remaining sections and butter. Let cool on a wire rack at least 1 hour before slicing.

pan de muertos

Pan de Muerto is great warm, torn straight from the loaf. A smear of butter and a café con leche wouldn’t hurt either. Day-old bread makes great French toast or bread pudding. Or, just reheat in foil in the oven for that just baked texture. Get creative with how you mold the dough; you don’t have to stick with the tradition crossbones, you could also make several small loaves or divide the dough into thirds to make a braid.

pan de muerto

 ¡Buen provecho y feliz Día de los Muertos!

Pan de Muerto
 
Author:
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 1 loaf
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ¼-ounce envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
  • 5⅓ cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon orange-flower water
  • ¾ cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus 6 tablespoons melted, divided
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Instructions
  1. Mix yeast, ⅓ cup flour, and ¼ cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer with a wooden spoon or spatula until a sticky dough forms. This is your starter. Let rest, uncovered, in a warm, draft-free area until starter looks very loose and bubbles are forming on top (it will resemble pancake batter on a griddle), about 35 minutes.
  2. Whisk eggs, anise, salt, orange-flower water, and ¾ cup sugar in a medium bowl until foamy and sugar begins to dissolve, about 1 minute. Add egg mixture and remaining 5 cups flour to starter and mix with a dough hook on medium-low speed, adding ¾ cup softened butter a few pieces at a time, until a soft dough forms, about 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium and continue mixing until sugar is dissolved and dough is shiny and elastic, about 10 minutes (dough will be very sticky).
  3. Lightly brush a large bowl with 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Transfer dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until almost doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper; coat parchment with nonstick spray. Turn out dough onto a clean work surface, then cut off a baseball-sized piece of dough (about one-quarter of the dough). Using your hands, re-shape the larger piece into a smooth round ball and transfer to the center of a prepared sheet. Roll smaller piece into an 8"-long log, then divide into 4 equal lengths. Shape one of those lengths into a ball and place on second prepared sheet 3" from the edge.
  5. Roll another length of dough with the palm of your hand into an 8½"-long rope, pressing out from the center so the middle is thinner and both ends are knobby, resembling a bone. Place on prepared sheet a few inches away from smaller ball. Repeat with remaining 2 pieces of dough, transferring to sheet as you go. Brush all 5 pieces of dough with 2 Tbsp. melted butter and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until almost doubled in size, about 1½ hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 325°. Remove plastic wrap and carefully pick up one of the bones, lifting from the ends (it will stretch and deflate slightly). Drape over large dough round, positioning at 10 o’clock and 4 o’clock. Repeat with second bone, positioning at 2 o’clock and 8 o’clock. Position third bone at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. Carefully place smaller ball in the center, at point where bones overlap, gently pressing edges of ball into bones and larger ball, crowning the loaf.
  7. Bake bread until browned and it sounds hollow when tapped with your fingertips, 40–50 minutes. Working in sections, brush one-quarter of the loaf with melted butter and immediately sprinkle with sugar so that it sticks. Repeat with remaining sections and butter. Let cool on a wire rack at least 1 hour before slicing.

 

 

5 thoughts on “Celebrating Dia de los Muertos: Pan de Muerto

  1. Wonderful post, Joe. I was in MX last year right before the Day of the Dead, so all the treats were already out. the Mexicans sure know how to celebrate with an amazing array of culinary specialities–including the Pan de Muerto!

  2. Visiting Mexico for Dia de Los Muertos is pretty high on my bucketlist. I’m hoping I can make it happen in 2017. In the meantime, I may give this bread a shot just because. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I probably shouldn’t have read this before breakfast! It looks delicious but also very similar to something we have here in Bulgaria and we eat it for Easter with some filling, plain or with dried fruits. Interesting tradition to know, thank for sharing the recipe as well!

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