In celebration of Mexico’s holiday, Bread for Day of the Dead (Pan de Día de los Muertos) is often shaped into skulls or round loaves with strips of dough rolled out and attached to resemble bones.
- 2 envelopes dry yeast
- 1/2 Cup warm water
- 3 1/2 Cups unbleached all purpose flour (to; or as needed)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 9 Tablespoons unsalted butter; room temperature, and cut into small pieces, plus extra for greasing pans
- 3 large eggs (2 for the dough, 1 for glazing the loaves)
- 3 large egg yolks
- 7/8 Cup condensed milk
- 1 Tablespoon orange flower water (available in gourmet stores and Italian and Middle Eastern markets)
- sugar or colored sugar crystals; for sprinkling
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit in a warm place for 5 minutes. Make a sponge by stirring in 4 to 5 tablespoons of the flour. Cover with a damp towel and let sit in a warm place until full of bubbles and about doubled in bulk, roughly 45 minutes.
- Combine a scant 3 1/2 cups flour with the salt in a large bowl or on a pastry board or clean counter. Cut or rub in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until the dough resembles the texture of coarse cornmeal.
- Beat together 2 of the whole eggs and the 3 egg yolks. Have ready the condensed milk and orange flower water. Gradually add these ingredients to the dough, working them in with your fingertips. Add the yeast sponge and work it in, adding flour as necessary to make a soft but kneadable dough. Knead on a lightly floured work surface until smooth and silky about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, use the dough hook of an electric mixer.) Lightly grease a large bowl with butter and place the dough in it, turning to coat both sides with the butter. Let sit in a warm place, covered with a damp cloth or piece of plastic wrap, until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Punch the dough down. If not making decorated loaves, shape into 3 equal-size round loaves. Or, to make 2 decorated loaves, proceed as follows: cut off about one fourth of the dough and set aside. Divide the rest into 2 equal portions, shaping each into a ball. Place side by side on a greased and floured baking sheet, remembering that the loaves will expand in baking. With the remaining dough, shape skulls and crossbones. First divide the dough into four parts. Roll 2 pieces between your palms into long, narrow strips for crossbones and cut each in half. Crisscross 2 strips over each loaf. Shape the two remaining pieces into 2 small balls for skulls. Lightly press them into the loaves above the crossbones. (If you have difficulty in getting them to stick, make gashes in the loaves with a small, sharp knife and press the balls into the gashes.) Cover lightly with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the remaining egg and brush lightly over the loaves and decorations and bake 40 minutes. When done, the loaves will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Sprinkle the loaves with sugar and return to the over for about 1 minute to melt it.
Yield: "2 to 3 loaves"
Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 23 Fat.
This recipe yields 3 (6-inch) plain loaves or 2 (7-inch) decorated loaves.
Comments: During Mexico's Days of the Dead (Nov. 1 and 2), it was believed that the souls of the departed were allowed to return to earth. Friends and relatives welcomed these spirits at their tombs with food, music, and small gifts. Nowadays, according to Martinez, most families celebrate the holiday with a simple gathering graveside to pay respects followed by a celebration at home.
Natives of Mexico celebrate Days of the Dead with a rich, sweet yeast bread modeled after the altar breads that are special feast-day offerings in Europe. The Mexican imagination put a new spin on the idea by shaping the loaves into different images. The famous pan de muerto (bread of death) comes in the shape of human figures, alligators, lizards, and other animals, but most often skulls and crossbones or teardrops and crosses, all gaily decorated with colored sugar crystals.