Pan De Muertos
1 pkg. active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
½ cup all-purpose flour
All of starter
4 eggs, well beaten (reserve one yolk)
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup butter, melted
zest and juice of one medium orange
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
Melted butter and granulated sugar
Make starter in a small bowl by dissolving yeast in warm water and allowing to sit for 10 minutes, then blend in egg and flour. Cover and let develop for 30 to 60 minutes. In a large bowl, combine starter with eggs (you may need to use an egg beater to get it smooth). Add sugar, salt, butter, juice and zest, and mix well. Add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing thoroughly each time. Add remaining flour about ¼ cup at a time, until a soft dough is formed that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 5 minutes, adding small amounts of flour as needed to keep dough manageable. When finished, the dough should be soft but should spring back when pushed. Oil the surface of the dough lightly and place back in the rinsed bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise for 60 to 90 minutes, or until doubled. Punch dough down, and set apart ¼ of the dough. With the larger portion, form a low, round loaf, about 2” thick, and place it on a lightly greased baking sheet. Divide the remaining dough into 5 equal portions. Use one to form a smooth ball, and place it in the center of the loaf (this is meant to suggest a skull). Divide each remaining portion into two, and roll them into rods about 4" long. Flatten the ends slightly (these are the bones). Place the bones in a circle radiating out from the skull (like spokes on a wheel), or arrange them in four crosses equally spaced around the center. Brush the bottom of each bone with a little water if you have trouble getting it to stick to the loaf. Cover and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush the egg wash all over the loaf. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Then brush loaf with melted butter and sprinkle generously with sugar.
---This bread is a traditional part of All Saints’ and All Souls Day celebrations in Mexico. There are dozens of variations for this bread, which is taken to the cemetery along with other foods and flowers for a symbolic meal with those who are buried there. Not a morbid or sorrowful affair, the Day of the Dead is a time for celebrating the memory of beloved family members with special treats like this bread. Pan De Muertos has a cake-like quality to it, and is delicious all by itself, without butter or other toppings.
---You can use the dough to form 2 – 4 smaller loaves as well. In some parts of Mexico, the bread comes in the shapes of people or animals.
---When I was testing this recipe, I took a batch to one of the Spanish classes in the Academy. I saw one of the students later that day, and she confided to me that “someone brought that ‘dead bread’ last year, but yours was lots better!”