Pan de Muerto - Mexican Bread of the Dead | Dani Valent

Pan de Muerto – Mexican Bread of the Dead

A fluffy orange-and-anise-scented bread that works for Mexico's Day of the Dead and also Halloween

If you visit Mexico in October, you’ll come across Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) in bakeries  and markets and even in the handcarts of street vendors. It’s all part of the lead-up to Day of the Dead from the evening of October 31 through to November 2. This traditional brioche-style loaf is scented with orange and decorated with bread balls that represent skull and bones but in typical Mexican fashion, there’s nothing ghoulish about it and there’s nothing ghostly or strange about chomping into this ‘dead bread’ with glee.

I caught up with culinary expert and guesthouse host Pepe to ask him about the cultural background and present day traditions around this delicious bread. Enjoy our chat then get baking!

The Day of the Dead and Halloween are not related but they’re so close in time that Mexico, in its exuberance and pluralistic openness, has absorbed many of the costumes and pumpkins of Halloween, creating an even more vibrant Dios de los Muertos than ever!

Makes:  1 large loaf
Time:  4 hours

Ingredients

Bread

  • zest of 1 orange
  • 60 grams (2 oz) raw sugar
  • 150 grams (5.3 oz) milk
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 heaped tsp dried yeast
  • 500 grams (17.5 oz) baker’s flour
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 1 tsp ground anise
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • caster sugar, for sprinkling after baking

Tips

  • There are many different ways to decorate your bread. The way I’ve described is the simplest but you can also create skull and cross bone decorations, as I’ve done with the glazed loaf. Experiment and have fun! There’s no wrong way to do it.

Thermomix Method

1. Place zest and sugar in mixing bowl. Blitz 10 sec/speed 9. Scrape down.

2. Add milk, orange blossom water and yeast and warm 4 min/37°C (100°F)/speed 1.

3. Add 100 grams (3.5 oz) flour. Mix 10 sec/speed 2 then leave for 20 minutes or until it begins to bubble.

4. Add the remaining flour, salt and anise and knead 4 min/Knead.

5. While kneading, add the eggs one by one, then the butter, piece by piece.

6. Turn dough out and form into a ball. Wrap it in clingfilm or a silicon mat, or place it in a large, greased bowl and cover. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1-1.5 hrs or until doubled in size.

7. Knock back the dough and knead by hand for 30 seconds.

8. Separate one-quarter of the dough and form the remaining three-quarters into a round loaf and place on a lined oven tray. Roll the smaller portion into four small balls, four medium balls and one larger ball. Arrange over the round loaf with the largest ball in the middle, the medium balls next to it at the four points of the compass and the smaller balls next to them to form a cross shape. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 1 hour in a warm place to prove (see Tips).

9. Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F). (If glazing, see variation below and glaze before baking.) Bake loaf for 30 minutes until dark golden and it sounds hollow when the base is tapped.  Sprinkle generously with caster sugar as soon as bread is removed from the oven.

Traditional Method

1. Finely grate zest and mix with sugar. Set aside.

2. In a small pot, very gently warm the milk to lukewarm and add the orange blossom water and yeast. Stir to combine.

3. Add 100 grams (3.5 oz) flour. Mix then leave for 20 minutes or until it begins to bubble.

4. Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining flour, salt and anise. Combine then knead for five minutes.

5. Add the eggs one by one, then the butter, piece by piece, kneading to combine.

6. Turn dough out and form into a ball. Wrap it in clingfilm or a silicon mat, or place it in a large, greased bowl and cover. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1-1.5 hrs or until doubled in size.

7. Knock back the dough and knead by hand for 30 seconds.

8. Separate one-quarter of the dough and form the remaining three-quarters into a round loaf and place on a lined oven tray. Roll the smaller portion into four small balls, four medium balls and one larger ball. Arrange over the round loaf with the largest ball in the middle, the medium balls next to it at the four points of the compass and the smaller balls next to them to form a cross shape. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 1 hour in a warm place to prove (see Tips).

9. Preheat oven to 180°C (375°F). (If glazing, see variation below and glaze before baking.) Bake loaf for 30 minutes until dark golden and it sounds hollow when the base is tapped.  Sprinkle generously with caster sugar as soon as bread is removed from the oven.

Variations

  • You can also glaze the bread for extra gloss and an indulgently sticky finish.
    Glaze

    • juice of 1/2 orange
    • 30 grams (1 oz) raw sugar, plus extra to sprinkle
    • 1 egg yolk

Before baking, place orange juice and sugar in mixing bowl and heat 3 min/Varoma/speed 1. Add egg yolk and mix 10 sec/speed 4. Brush glaze all over the dough and sprinkle with extra sugar, then bake.

More about this video

I just loved my time in Mexico! Stand by for videos with incredible Mexican chef Edgar Nunez and more flavoursome Mexican recipes.

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