A little bit late but still! One of the things I enjoy most about this time of the year is the Pan de Muertos. I started making it three years ago when I bought one of my favorite cookbooks of all times: Larousse de los Postres by Paulina Abascal. This is a very special cookbook for me because she gave me her autograph and wrote “..remember that the best ingredient is the heart”. I love this Mexican Chef, I use some of her recipes like the Carrot Cake or the Roles the Canela. She has a Mexican touch in her recipes that I really like.
Pan Dulce, is a very popular and typical type of bread that we Mexicans eat a lot. This type of bread is the result of the introduction of wheat to America, and is influenced by both French and Spaniards because they were the ones that introduced all type of baked goods such as baguettes and sweet pastries. So, we Mexicans give all these baked goods a Mexican touch, and we created what we know as Pan Dulce.
As I told you, Pan Dulce is a typical type of bread but it is also a very popular one, because is not expensive at all!. It is almost like an obligation that each neighborhood has its Panadería. It is a regular habit among Mexican families to go out to buy some Pan Dulce around 19:00 pm every day. Families eat Pan Dulce as a merienda (light dinner) mostly, or sometimes as a breakfast. We usually accompany our Pan Dulce with a cup of hot metate chocolate. This is still a very common habit in small cities or towns, but is a habit that has been disappearing as the city grows. For example, here in Monterrey there are not a lot of traditional Panaderías; you have to buy your Pan Dulce at big supermarkets and of course, is not the same.
There are million different types of Pan Dulce! The most famous, perhaps, is the traditional Concha, but there are a lot more like batidas, peinetas, cuernitos, aguacatas, bisquets, cemitas, chilindrinas, pan de yema, pan de pulque, pan de nata, moños, marranitos, trenzas, hojaldras, bigotes, etc.
As some of you may know, we Mexicans were a little bit sanguinary before the colonization; we constantly offered human sacrifices to our gods so they could be happy. When Spaniards came to Mexico, they though it was a good idea to switch the human sacrifices for some less sanguinary offerings like bread, and that is how Pan de Muertos was created, as an offering. Typical Pan de Muerto is shaped as a skull; the ball at the center top represents the cranium and the 4 lines around the bread represent the bones.
Basically, this bread is a common sweet bread aromatized with orange, sprinkled with a lot of sugar and shaped as a skull. It is not difficult to make it, but if you haven’t bake bread before, you may have some difficulties, as I had them the first time I made this recipe.
In this baking-session I also made another type of bread, typical from Bolivia called Tatantawawas. One of my best friends is from Bolivia, so, after nearly 6 years of friendship I have become familiar with a little bit of their culture. While I was asking my friend to help me baking some Pan de Muertos, she told me that people in Bolivia also celebrate the deaths, but under a different name: Día de todos los Santos. I believe many latin american countries celebrate these days with this name, and they have the same basis as Mexicans, maybe they just don’t celebrate it that much. So I though it was a good idea to also try a different tradition. This bread, compared to Mexican Pan de Muerto is much denser and its flavored with Canela instead of orange peal. It is a really good bread (remind me the Pan de Natas), but it is very different from Mexican Pan de Muertos.
- 1 tbsp of brewer’s yeast (in powder, not fresh) – I don’t know the exact translation for this, in Spanish is levadura en polvo.
- 5 1/2 cups of wheat flour
- 1/2 cup of warm water
- 1/2 brown sugar
- 1 tbsp grated orange peel
- 1 tbsp grated lemon peel
- 1 tsp of salt
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup of soft butter
- 1 egg + 1 tbsp of water (to polish the bread)
How to do it
- Mix the dry brewer’s yeast with a tablespoon of the flour and the warm water. Leave it for 10 minutes until foamy.
- Place the flour, sugar, orange and lemon peel, salt and milk in the stand-mixer with the hook. Knead until blended. Add eggs and egg yolks.
- Keep working the dough until it becomes smooth, approximately ten minutes. Add the yeast mix and then knead until you obtain a smooth, soft and elastic dough.
- While kneading, add the butter. It is important to add the butter at room temperature.
- Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with a damp cloth until its volume doubles, approximately two hours. Then, slightly knead the dough again.
- Divide the dough into 8 balls. 2 balls would be to make the bones. Fold down each of the remaining 6 balls so you can end up with a perfect ball.
- Form the bones with the remaining 2 balls and stich them into the bread with the egg + water.
- Cover your breads and leave them till they double its volume. Then, varnish them with the egg+water and bake them at 180 C until they are golden.
- Out of the oven, spread the butter and sprinkle the breads with brown sugar.
A few tips from my little experience:
- If you have a stand-mixer with a hook, use it! It will be easier to mix all the ingredients with the hook first and then kneed it by yourself to obtain the final desired texture.
- Don’t underestimate the power of yeast, I always make bad calculation on space and I end up with a giant Pan de Muertos.
- It is important that you spread the butter in you breads while they are still hot, oterwise, sugar will fall.
- Enjoy it with a coup of hot chocolate and company ! 🙂
I usually make a small Altar de Muertos in my mini living-room to keep traditions wherever I am. So, down you can see this year Altar 🙂
Abascal P. (2011). El Larousse de los postres. Pp 302-302. Ediciones Larousse, SA de CV, México DF.
Méndez D. (2012). Atlauta y su Pan de muerto, una Tradición Viva en el Estado de Puebla. Culinaria, revista virtual especializada en gastronomía.