pan de muertos

Dia de los Muertos is November 2nd and, provided I can kick this cold’s butt by then, we’re planning to head over to the Mission’s famous Day of the Dead parade and alter festival to light a few candles and take it all in.

I love the idea of the Hallow Mass Trio – Halloween (Hallow Eve), when the boundaries between real and make believe and living and dead are blurred, All Saint’s Day on November 1st, and All Soul’s Day following.  It seems fitting this time of year, as the seasons change and the land returns to winter, to think about death and to honor the lives of those friends and family we’re missing.  (Romantic pagan leanings much?)

Most of us in North America celebrate only the Eve part of equation of course, with costumes, plenty of candy, and in my house at least some whisky spiked hot cider for the grown ups.

To go along with the cider this year, I tried my hand at the traditional Mexican Pan de Muertos, a sweet brioche-like bread, dotted with fennel seeds and orange zest.  The bread is traditionally decorated in what are supposed to be bones – oblong strips of dough crossed over the bread and anchored by a round ball on its crown.  Mine wound up looking more like a giant hot cross bun… I may need to recruit a Mexican grandma to come show me the ropes on this one.

No matter though, the bread is softly fragrant, with a lovely bitter edge and a crackling sugar glaze.  It’s perfect with your morning coffee, in the afternoon with a mug of tea, or to keep you energized for trick-or-treating along with that aforementioned hot cider.

Happy Holidays and be safe!

Pan de Muertos

  • 1/4 cup milk (whole or 2%)
  • 1/4 cup (2 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp dry yeast
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
  • 2 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups flour

For the Glaze and Topping

  • 1/4 cup orange juice (about 1 large orange)
  • zest on one large orange
  • 6 tbsp granulated sugar, divided

Combine the milk and butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat and warm until the butter is melted.  Add the warm water to this mixture – it should be about 55-65 degrees, or warm to the touch but not hot.  Add the yeast to this mixture and set aside.  

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, or in a large mixing bowl, combine the fennel, orange zest, sugar, salt, eggs, and 1 cup of flour.  Add the yeast mixture and mix on low speed (or by hand) until well incorporated.  Add the remaining 2 cups of flour and mix until a dough is formed.  Turn the mixer to medium speed and knead 2-3 minutes.  Alternately, this can be done by hand on a well-floured counter top.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size – about 2 hours.  

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and punch down the dough.  Cut a small piece of the dough off to reserve for decorations and form the remaining dough into a sphere and place it on the sheet pan.  Form the reserved dough into decorative “bones,” wrapping them gently around the bread.  Cover with a clean towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size – about 1 hour.

In the last 15 minutes of the rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the bread 35-45 minutes until golden brown.  While the bread bakes, make the glaze by combining the orange juice, zest, and 4 tbsp sugar in a small sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and reduce slightly.  Brush the glaze over the bread while still warm and sprinkle with the reaming 2 tbsp sugar.  

  1. Baby! You made bread without me!!!

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