It’s that time of year again (already? I know.)Halloween and, in Latin America, Day of the Dead (aka Dia de los Muertos)! While Dia de los Muertos falls on November 2, it’s not too early to try your hand at the delicious pan de muerto, the most famous treat to enjoy during the holiday.
For those who may be new to this, Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Meso-American holiday dedicated to the ancestors; it honors both death and the cycle of life. Throughout Latin America, neighbors gather in local cemeteries to share food and music with their extended community, both living and departed.
The pan de muerto is a typical and tasty recipe enjoyed on the special day and it’s easier than you may think. While bakeries sell them, nothing tastes like homemade, right? Enjoy these panecitos with a cup of frothy hot chocolate and remember those who have departed- salud!
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 package dry active yeast
- ¼ cup very warm water
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water (*see note)
- zest of two oranges
- 1 pinch salt
- 6 tablespoons milk, room temperature
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup sugar
Dissolve the yeast in the ¼ cup water and let it dissolve and foam, about 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand-up mixer with a paddle attachment cream ⅓ cup sugar, yeast and ⅓ cup butter at slow speed.
Add eggs one by one, milk, orange blossom if using, salt and zest. Then, add the flour one cup at a time. Mix (if you have a dough hook you can use it here) for about 5 more minutes until the ingredients are blended and the dough forms a ball.
Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover. Let it rest for 1 hour in a warm place or until it doubles in size. If it’s colder where you are, this may take a while and I suggest turning your oven on at 300 degrees, turning it off, wait a few minutes and placing the heat proof bowl in the oven to provide a warm environment. I did this since it’s freezing in my apartment!
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch the dough in the middle and turn over a floured surface. Divide in 7 equal parts. Six of those pieces will become your loaves and the last one will be used to make the decorations.
Form 6 balls of dough, place them on a greased baking sheet covered with a damp towel and let them double in size.
Meanwhile, take the seventh piece of dough to make the bones. This part is tricky: take a small piece of the dough and roll it out to a tube of about 3 inches to form the bones. Repeat this 12 times. Take 6 more small pieces of dough and form little balls for the skulls. Take these decorations, cover, and put in the fridge to keep them firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Decorate the bread by forms an “x” with the tube pieces and place a ball in the middle.
Bake for about 20 minutes. It will be ready when it is golden brown.
In the meantime melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pot. As soon as the bread comes out of the oven brush melted butter and sprinkle the ¼ sugar over them.
Let the bread cool (which I don’t!) and enjoy with some hot chocolate.
(*note: it can be difficult to find orange blossom water in grocery stores, so you can omit this ingredient and use 4 tablespoons orange juice instead.)