Pan de Muerto
(Mexican anise-scented bread for the Day of the Dead)
Pan de muerto, or "bread of the dead," is a sweet anise-scented bread served during Mexico's días de los muertos celebrations. The bread is offered up at temporary altars to relatives and friends who have passed away. Loaves are typically round and decorated with a knob of dough on top, representing a skull, and with bone-shaped pieces of dough around its perimeter. Pan de muerto is often sprinkled with colored sugar or glazed with orange juice.
Makes one loaf
- Active dry yeast -- 1 (1/4-ounce) package
- Water, lukewarm (110-115°F) -- 1/4 cup
- Flour -- 3 cups
- Sugar -- 1/4 cup
- Salt -- 1/2 teaspoon
- Anise seed -- 1 teaspoon
- Milk -- 1/2 cup
- Eggs, beaten -- 2
- Unsalted butter, melted -- 1/4 cup
- Egg white -- 1
- Sugar or colored sugar -- 1 tablespoon
- Mix the yeast, and warm water in a small bowl and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Stir in the anise seed and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the yeast mixture, milk, eggs and melted butter. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients and bring the dough together. Add a little more flour if the dough is too wet or a little more milk if it is too dry.
- Remove the dough to a floured work surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth but still a little sticky. Remove the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set in a warm corner until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and punch down to deflate. Knead lightly for 2 to 3 minutes. Cut about 1/5 of the dough off and set it aside. Form the remaining dough into a round loaf. Roll the remaining dough into a thick rope and then cut it into 5 portions. Roll one of these portions into a ball and place it on top of the round loaf. Roll the remaining 4 balls into ropes with knobby ends resembling bones. Lay these "bones" around the loaf. Cover the dough loosely with a towel or plastic wrap and let it rise again until doubled in size, 30 to 60 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat the egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush the entire loaf liberally with the egg wash. Sprinkle the loaf all over with the sugar.
- Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until its top is lightly browned. Remove to a rack and cool completely before serving with a spread of butter and a cup of hot atole.
Pan de Muerto Variations
- Form the loaf into other shapes — angels, animals, skeletons.
- Substitute orange juice for the milk.