Meh…That is about all I have to say about Halloween. Along with not having to suffer through children’s’ movies, Halloween is one of the things I am happy I do not have to deal with (at least for now) by being childless. It’s not that I have anything against other people celebrating it and I had THE BEST homemade Halloween costumes growing up (Little Mermaid, Dorothy, a turtle, a candy corn…often accompanied by a sidekick…ahem…Anna). But now, I just do not get it. Maybe as the food obsessed person I am, I have an issue with celebrating a holiday that promotes the sale and consumption of prepackaged, high fructose corn syrup laden, candy. Maybe I am just boring.
Instead, I would prefer to pretend I celebrate Dia de los Muertos. What a fantastic holiday. I love the idea of celebrating your ancestors and honoring them with colorful shrines (complete with their favorite foods), being with family, and eating good food. Among other foods traditionally made to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, Pan de Muerto (Dead Man’s Bread) is the most well known.
Pan de Muerto is a sweet bread often flavored with anise, citris, sugar, or sesame seeds and is made to look like bones or topped with a skull-and-crossbones type design. A multitude of sweet breads are popular in Mexican bakeries and are typically eaten for breakfast. Around this time of year, Pan de Muerto is added to the mix.
To get myself in the semi-holiday spirit this year, I thought I would celebrate by making my own Pan de Muerto. My quest was made much easier by this beautiful cookbook I can’t get enough of.
So here’s to Dia de los Muertos, to family, and to homemade eats with no HFCS! ¡Buen provecho!
Pan de Muerto
From My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson
Makes 2 loaves
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons orange blossom water (just use water if you don’t have)
2/3 cup whole milk
4 cups bread flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in the orange blossom water. Add 1/3 cup of the milk and 1/2 cup of the flour. Mix well with a whisk and leave in a warm place until it begins to bubble and puffs up slightly, 20-30 minutes.
Put the remaining 3 1/2 cups flour in the bowl of a mixer with the hook attachment and mix in the sugar, salt, and orange zest for about 30 seconds. Add the eggs, remaining 1/3 cup of milk, and yeast dough. Mix at low speed until the dough starts to come together. Add the butter gradually, in small pieces, while continuing to mix, and increase the speed to medium. The dough will look sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour. Continue beating for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is soft and comes off the sides of the bowl. If the dough is still sticky after 15 minutes of beating, you may now add a little flour, if needed (no more than 1/3 cup).
Lightly grease a large bowl with oil and place the dough inside. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled in size, 1-1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, gather the sides together, flip over so that the bottom is now on top and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight [Note: somehow my eyes completely skipped this step and so I didn’t let my dough rise this long…I think my bread would have turned out much better if I had. Lesson learned: read instructions]. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, uncover, and place a towel on top. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place, about 1 hour.
Cut off a piece of dough about the size of a large lime and reserve to make the “bones”. Divide the remaining dough in half and form into 2 rounds, shaping them on a smooth surface and making sure the dough is compact. Place on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Lightly flatten the tops of the dough rounds with the palm of your hand.
Form some of the reserved dough into 2 gumball-size balls and leave on baking sheet for later use. Divide the remaining dough into 4 pieces. Roll out with your hands from the center out, making strips that are about 1 inch longer than the width of the rounds. Spread your finders and press lightly, making knobs that resemble bones. Place 2 strips on top of each bread round, crossing one over the other. Cover lightly with a cloth. Let rise in warm place until doubled in size about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place small reserved dough balls in the center of the bread rounds, where the strips meet, using a little water to make them stick. Bake until dough has and even, dark golden color, 20-30 minutes, then cover loosely with foil and bake 10-15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack.
Melt the butter for the topping and brush each loaf well. Sprinkle with sugar all over the top. Let loaves cool completely.