I remember being a young girl of about seven or eight and heading to the panaderia with my abuelito on the weekends. He loved to buy fresh baked breads and he knew I adored the scents of that delicious bakery. Every October, the bakers would make room in their display case for “pan de muerto,” and every once in a while my grandfather would buy a couple for us to share on our leisurely walk back home. A few days into November, this sweet treat would disappear and not re-emerge again until next October.
I didn’t know then that this sweet bread was part of the Día de los Muertos tradition in which families everywhere pay tribute via oferandas (altars) to their deceased loved ones. Pan de muerto is a common dessert treat either offered on an altar or to be paired with cafe de olla and enjoyed while honoring our deceased loved ones.
Pan de Muerto Recipe
This recipe takes me back to my childhood, walking to the panaderia with my abuelito!
By Yolanda Machado
Servings: 3 Loaves
flour: 5 cups
granulated sugar: ½ cup for bread + ½ cup for glaze + more to taste for topping
anise seeds: 1 tablespoon
orange: 1, zested
salt: 1 teaspoon
rapid dry yeast: 2 packets (¼ ounce each)
evaporated milk: 1 five-ounce can or ⅔ cup
water: ⅓ cup
unsalted butter: 1 stick or ½ cup
eggs: 4, slightly beaten
orange juice: ⅓ cup
Step 1: In a mixing bowl, add 1½ cups flour (set the rest aside), ½ cup sugar, anise, orange zest, salt, and yeast and mix together. Set aside.
Step 2: In a small pot or saucepan, heat evaporated milk, water, and butter over low heat until butter is melted. Add to dry ingredients. If it's bubbling or boiling, remove from heat and let cool before adding to dry mixture.
Step 3: Using mixer on medium (or if you have a KitchenAid, the four setting with the bread attachment) mix ingredients until blended.
Step 4: Add eggs and another cup of flour and mix. Every few minutes or so, add in more flour until dough is smooth, not sticky.
Step 5: On a flat surface, dust some flour around and place dough on the surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, using additional flour as needed to keep dough smooth without over drying.
Step 6: Using non-stick cooking spray, lightly spray around a large bowl and place dough inside. Lightly spray some plastic wrap and wrap bowl. (This will keep it from drying out and from sticking once it expands.) Set aside at room temperature for about an hour.
Step 7: Spray cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
Step 8: Lightly dust a flat surface with flour again, and place dough on the surface. Start to pound and flatten dough, and then cut into 4 equal pieces. Shape 3 into round shapes and place on a cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed.
Step 9: Using remaining dough, divide into sections to create decorations. You can use your imagination, but the typical decor are skulls and bones. Once your decorations are ready, brush the underside with water and adhere to round dough.
Step 10: Preheat over to 350.
Step 11: In a small saucepan, combine ½ cup sugar and orange juice and bring to a boil over medium heat while stirring frequently. Remove from heat once it boils, and set aside.
Step 12: Remove plastic wrap from cookie sheet and place in oven. Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Step 13: Remove loaves from oven and brush with orange juice syrup. Shake and drizzle sugar on top and let stand for a few minutes.