Every October, many members of the Latino community prepare their Pan de Muertos recipe as they begin preparations for El Dia de Los Muertos. This is an annual celebration held in honor loved ones who have been dead for more than 40 days.
A solemn but joyful celebration, El Dia de Los Muertos traces back to the Aztec ceremony known as Quecholly, where dead warriors were remembered during the annual corn harvest. That tradition, combined with the Catholic Church’s celebration of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Soul’s Day (Nov. 2) developed into a unique Mexican holiday that is part family reunion, part fall feast.
An important part of the celebration is an ofrenda, or altar, that is decorated with many items including the marigold flower, candles to attract the dead, and family pictures, clothing or belongings.
Food is an integral part of El Dia de Los Muertos. Popular dishes favored by loved ones such as mole, tamales, chimichangas and churros are set out in hopes that the departed will share in the feast. In Veracruz, the best ears of corn from the harvest are placed on the altar; candy and sweets are set out for children who have passed on.
Other popular foods include chocolate skulls, marzipan coffins, and white chocolate skeletons, which are made as a way of laughing at death. A special bread, called Pan de Muertos is baked and decorated with fake bones.
After Nov. 2, when the family believes the spirit has consumed its share of the meal, the food and drink is split with friends and relatives.
The following recipe for Pan de Muertos was adapted from “Look What We Brought You From Mexico!” by author Phyllis Shalant.
Pan de Muertos
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup half a stick margarine or butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour unsifted
- 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.
- In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, but save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.
- Flour a pastry board or work surface very well and place the dough in center. Knead until smooth.
- Return to large bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes.
- Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into ropes.
- On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid.
- Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form 2 “bones.” Cross and lay them atop braided loaf.
- Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.
- When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture, except on cross bones. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.