Pan De Muerto- (Bread of the Dead)

This week we will be traveling with our taste buds down to Mexico as they celebrate the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) from October 31-November 2. The Day of the Dead is a huge part of Mexican culture as it was created by the wedding of the indigenous culture with the European Catholic culture. The week leading up to November 1 and 2, people will go to the cemeteries and clean the graves of their loved ones in anticipation of their spirit’s return. It is a time to honor, respect and pray for their loved ones who have passed on to the afterlife, as well as give offerings to them.

Leading up to the Day of the Dead, you will see sugar skulls and skeletal figurines lining the streets of Mexico and stores in America. Originally, these skulls represented dead, rebirth and honor for those who died. Death wasn’t a scary thing, but rather something to be celebrated as it was just a passage onto the next part of life. In the early 1900’s, illustrator José Guadalupe Posada began drawing skeletons doing everyday activities. He tended to make fun of the upper class who were dressing like Europeans even though they were not. Ultimately, the skulls and skeletons became a statement saying that everyone is equal because death comes to all of us. They are a way of making light of death and enjoying life.

So, without further delay, let’s dive into one of the special sweet breads used in the Day of the Dead celebration!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups all purpose flour (plus extra flour for rolling out dough)

  • a package of active-dry yeast

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 6 tbsp butter at room temperature

  • 6 tbsp unsalted margarine at room temperature (you can use butter for this too if you don’t have both)

  • 4 large eggs

  • Orange zest from one orange

  • 4 tbsp warm water

  • 1 tsp orange juice from orange

  • 1 large egg (for brushing on bread)

  • 3 tbsp melted butter to brush on bread

  • Sugar to decorate when complete

Directions: Making the rolls

  1. Mix the 4 eggs, 6 tbsp of margarine, salt and half of the sugar in a large bowl. Work the dough for about 2 minutes. Add the flour in small amounts, adding in water in between. Add active-dry yeast and mix until well combined.

  2. Now add the butter, orange zest, the rest of the sugar, and the orange juice one at a time until well combined and soft dough forms.

  3.  Knead the dough with your hands on a work surface, or in the mixer until smooth. Coat the interior of a large bowl and place the dough ball in it, covering with plastic wrap. Allow it to double in size (about 45 min to an hour).

  4. -1 hour later- Here comes the fun part. Take about a cup or so of the dough and set aside. Now, cut the dough into smaller pieces, about 1/4 cup each. Form the dough into a ball and place on greased baking sheet. Continue with new sections of dough until you have formed about 16 balls. Arrange the dough 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

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Directions: Forming the “bones”

  1.   Now take the saved portion of dough and pinch off pieces to form into small “logs”. These logs will represent the bones of the dead. You want to make sure to have 2 small logs per roll.

  2. Take your last egg and whisk, adding in a tablespoon of water. Brush each roll with this egg wash, then place the bones in a cross shape on top. (Save the egg wash in the fridge for later). 

  3. Lastly, take the rest of the extra dough and form small balls to place on top of each cross. Some say these represent the hearts of loved ones, while others say it represents the skulls.

  4. Now cover the rolls and let sit for about 1.5-2 hours.  

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Directions: Finishing up!

  1. Now that the dough has had time to rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Add a little salt the egg wash and brush the rolls one last time before placing them in the oven. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until golden brown. When you take out of the oven, transfer them to a wire rack and let cool.

  3. Once the bread has cooled, brush with melted butter and dust with sugar. Now it’s time to eat!

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This recipe was inspired by Mely Martinez of Mexico in My Kitchen.

I hope you enjoy your new delicious treat as you learn more about Mexican culture!