Friday, November 01, 2013

Baking for Dia de los Muertos

For Dia de los Muertos most Latinos celebrate their dearly departed by remembering them with food, parties, spectacular altars, drinking and creating elaborate skulls and baking "pan de muerto" bread. It is actually a lot of fun and this will be the second year in-a-row that Stella and my family will be doing the "day of the dead" procession in Old Town, San Diego. It is truly is a family event but I have to say, it is VERY emotional.

I find that by making "Pan de Muerto" (bread of the dead) on All Saint's Day (Nov. 1) it makes me feel like I have my tios, my abuelito Tomas, my brother, and all our family that has left this world, with me, in the kitchen, watching me and most likely criticizing my baking technique. But that's what I love about day of the dead because we truly remember our lost loved ones and how much influence they had on us.


Okay, okay, I'm getting all emotional already writing this so I'll just move onto the recipe. This bread is lightly flavored with anise seeds, orange peel and sugar. The bread is often shaped into a large round, to symbolize the tomb or grave, with a smaller round on top, which symbolizes the head of the dead relative, and the lateral decorations, symbolizes the bones. I'm not entirely sure why the breads are shaped like this, but lately some fancy bakeries have been shaping them into skulls and even animal shapes, for the dead family pets. You can decorate the breads with colored sugars or gel food coloring, if you want. The best part is that you get to eat the bread, and believe me it's surprisingly good.

RIP Bobby, tio Manuel, tio Armando, abuelito Tomas, great-grandpa Burns, Lindsey and Jenn's mom, Barbara, baby Joanne, Abuelita de Sami and Cali, Annie, Fluffy and Princess. This world is not the same without you.

INGREDIENTS (makes 4 to 6 loaves)

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons anise seed
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1/2 cup white sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest 

Heat the milk and the butter together in a medium saucepan, until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add them warm water. The mixture should be around 110 degrees F.

In a large bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Beat in the warm milk mixture then add the eggs and orange zest and beat until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of flour and continue adding more flour until the dough is soft.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 to 2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape it into 4 to 6 round loaves with a round knob on top and smaller ropes going down laterally (see picture). Place dough onto a baking sheet, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until just about doubled in size.

Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven let cool slightly then brush with glaze.

To make glaze: In a small saucepan combine the 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush over top of bread while still warm. Sprinkle glazed bread with remaining 1/4 cup white sugar (as little or as much as you want!).