Dia de los Muertos is one of the greatest festivals of Latin America, especially in Mexico. For centuries, indigenous peoples observed rituals that prepared the dead for their long journey from the underworld to Mictlan Opochcalocan (the after life), where the soul meets its conclusion. In the 16th century, Spanish priests brought to Mexico the similar All-Saints day and All-Souls day festivals that honored the dead with gravesite visits and gifts of wine, food, and candles. The new festivals folded into the traditional one and Dia de los Muertos was born. Pan de Muerto, bread of the dead, is the signature food of Dia de los Muertos, a gift for the departed and a meditation for the living.
Pan de Muerto – Mexican Day of the Dead Bread
- Stand Mixer with dough hook attachment
- Large baking pan lined with parchment paper
- Large bowl
- 4 cups All-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp Active-dry yeast (3 packets)
- 11 oz Unsalted butter at room temperature
- ½ cup Sugar
- 1 tsp Salt
- 4 large Eggs at room temperature
- ¼ cup Warm water
- 2 tbsp Orange zest
- 1 tsp Orange blossom water or orange essence
- 1 large Egg, lightly beaten
- Sugar to decorate the bread
- 1 tbsp Melted butter
- Make Bread Dough – Place eggs, one half of the butter, half the sugar, and salt in the mixer bowl. Mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add flour in batches alternating with parts of water between batches. Add dry-active yeast until well mixed. Then add, in order, remaining butter, orange zest, orange essence or orange blossom water, and remaining sugar. Mix well after each addition until a soft dough forms.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead dough for a few minutes. Coat interior of a large bowl with butter. Transfer dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let dough stand in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
- Grease baking pan with butter. Transfer dough back to work surface and separate 10 oz of dough to decorate bread later. Cut remaining dough into 2 equal pieces. Take 1 portion and roll into a tight ball with your palms. Roll balls on surface. Place dough balls on the greased baking tray, 2-inches apart. Press down softly. Decorate loaves, cover in plastic wrap and let double in size in a warm place, about 2 hours.
- Decorate Loaves – Move reserved dough onto the work surface. Knead dough and pinch-off 6 equal pieces. Roll 4 into logs and put bone joints at the ends of each. Brush each loaf with egg wash and cross 2 bones atop each loaf. Insert 1 reserved ball each in the middle where the bones cross. Brush egg wash over that.
- Making Bread – Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Add a pinch of salt to remaining egg wash and brush the bread before -placing in the oven. Bake until golden brown, about 17-20 minutes. When the bottom of the bread become a deep golden brown, they're ready. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Once bread has cooled, brush with remain butter and then dust with sugar.