Pan de Muerto / Bread of the Dead

Pan de muerto / Bread of the dead

It is that ime of the year again, the one where evenings get longer and when spooky ghosts will knock on our doors.  In the area where we live, it seems that the number of ghosts grow exponentially each year, we started with 10 and now there seem to be hundreds of kids knocking for tricks or treats.  This is a nice thing and I like to see our road full of little witches, ghosts and vampires, I like to see carved lanterns and it is all quite picturesque.

What I also like is to put a small altar with flowers to my ‘abuela’ Enriqueta, to my second  mother Alisi and to my ‘muertitos’ to our dead ones, to remember them with a small and colourful offering which will include pan de muerto, this bread is typical of Mexico and it has lots of symbolism, it made in a round shape to signify the world, it has small pieces of dough attached and these signify bones, and it is always made only at this time of year.  It is very nice served with Mexican Hot Chocolate or Cafe de Olla here is a recipe:

Pan de Muerto  (Bread of the Dead)

Makes 1 large bread

1 x 7g sachet ‘fast action’ dried yeast

100 ml warm milk

500 g flour

150 g plus 2 Tbsp caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

the juice and zest of 1 small orange, about 35 ml juice

1 tsp vanilla essence

50 g soft butter

½ tsp crushed caraway seeds (optional)

Put the oven to 180 C conventional /  160 C fan / Gas Mark 4

Activate the yeast by dissolving it in the warm milk and add 2 teaspoons of the sugar.

Sieve the flour into the bowl of an electric mixer such as a Kitchen Aid or Kenwood, add the sugar and salt plus the optional caraway seeds and the orange zest.  Add the yeast mixture and mix well.  Add the liquid ingredients except for the butter and using the flat paddle or the attachment for bread, mix at a medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the softened butter and continue mixing for 10 more minutes.  The dough should look very elastic and translucent.  Cover the bowl with cling film or a moist tea towel and leave to rise for a couple of hours in a draught free place or overnight in the fridge.  Punch the dough and put on a floured surface.

Cut ¼ of the dough and with the rest form a ball and flatten on the edge.

Separately make ‘bone’ shapes, you will need 4 long bones plus one ball that represents a skull.

Put the bread on a non-stick, floured baking tray or on some baking parchment.

Leave the bread and bones to rise for another ½ hr and when ready, decorate with the bones making a cross pattern and putting the ball on top.  Brush the whole of the bread with beaten egg and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp of caster sugar.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes at the indicated temperature, then lower the temperature by 20 C and leave for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature again by 20 C and leave for a further 20 minutes.

To see if the bread is cooked, it should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and should look golden brown and it should have risen quite a bit too!

Note.  This recipe makes a rustic version of bread of the dead which is more dense than commercial varieties.

It is a funny thing that whilst outside the street is a vampire party with everyone dressed mainly in black, inside the house the place is full of vibrant colours with a more solemn atmosphere, a funny contrast which seems go to well in our diverse society.