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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bread of the Dead - Pan de Muerto

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, represents the melding of an old Aztec tradition with the religion of the Conquistadors. The celebration is actually a two day feast that coincides with the Catholic observance of All Saint's and All Soul's days. The first day of the celebration occurs on the 1st of November. It's called the Day of the Little Angels and it is set aside to remember children who have died. The second day is set aside to honor adults who have passed to the next life. It is important to understand that these are days of celebration rather than days of mourning. In homes that observe Dia de los Muertos, altars are built containing symbols of the four elements: fire, water, wind and earth. They are beautifully decorated and, because many believe that the deceased visit their homes during this celebration, food is placed on the altar to entice them to stay for the festivities. Feasting is an important part of both days of celebration. Good food, and clean homes are thought to entice the dead. Toy skeletons and skulls are welcome features and "dead" bread may even have a small skeleton, promising good luck, baked inside it. The second day of the celebration is usually spent outdoors with picnics in graveyards. It is a joyous time and seen as an opportunity for families to come together to honor the memories of those who have passed to the next life. It is hoped that the laughter and mention of the deceased will bring their spirits back to earth to visit with the assembled family members. To many, the Day of the Dead is a strange observance, but Mexican tradition views death as an important part of life, a natural consequence of living and one not to be feared. It's their belief that these celebrations connect families to each other and their deceased relatives, a proof, if you will, that the ties of love cannot be broken - even by the grave.

The Aztecs believed that death was a portal to another existence. Oral tradition tells us that the request of the dead before burial is, "Give me bread and sugar to help me on my journey." The bread of the dead, pan de muerto, is made only for the Dia de los Muertos celebration. It is a sweet, egg-rich bread and it can be found throughout Mexico, though its form differs vastly from one region to the next. The bread is supposed to resemble a skull and it is adorned with bones and sometimes tear drops.

I've chosen a very simple recipe for the bread and have opted for bare bones - forgive the pun - adornment. While this recipe appears in many places, I believe that its original source is "Look What We Brought You from Mexico." I actually had trouble with the first loaf I tried to make. I found 3 cups of flour produced a loaf that was heavy enough to be a door stop. The loaf you see in the photo was made with 2-1/2 cups flour. I've changed the flour measurement to reflect a range, but I strongly advise you mix with the lesser amount and use the last 1/2 cup for kneading. Here's the recipe, just in time for Dia de Los Muertos.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs, divided use
2-1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar

1) Bring milk to boil in a small saucepan; remove from heat. Stir in butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.
2) In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.
3) Separate yolk and white of one egg, reserving white for glaze. Add yolk and 1 whole egg to yeast mixture. Stir in flour, blend until a dough ball is formed.
4) Flour a pastry board or work surface. Knead dough until smooth. Return to large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes.
5) Grease a baking sheet. Punch dough down. Knead again on floured surface. Divide it into fourths and set one piece aside. Roll remaining 3 pieces into "ropes."
On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side to form a circle. Use remaining dough to form bones. Place them on the baking sheet.
6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover bread with plastic wrap 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.
7) Brush top of bread and bones with egg white, sprinkling only the loaf with sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool. Yield: 1 loaf.

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This post is being linked to:

Wild Yeast - Yeast Spotting


Mumzie said...

Very interesting history on this bread and the traditions. I will try this bread and hopefully it will turn out. Mumzie :)

Joy said...

A Wonderful bread, and Wonderful traditions. Niot only full of meaning, but delicious too!

My Little Space said...

Such an intresting story about this bread .... but it looks a kind of cute!

Katy ~ said...

Beautiful photograph. Bread for the journey~a beautiful sentiment.

Coleen's Recipes said...

What a pretty bread photo!!

Martha said...

I always love your stores as well as your recipes!

Hootin' Anni said...

This is amazing!!!! Mary, what I'd like to know do you ever find time to blog with all your cooking going on around your house?

I loved this article you composed. Very, VERY interesting.

Bellini Valli said...

Thanks for sharing this bit of history with us.

Chaka said...

It is nice to see a Halloween related food that is not just sugar. I crave real food so much more this time of year because of all the treats I get overloaded with.

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

I love how you shaped this -- such a perfect bone!

Federica said...

complimenti!! è meraviglioso questo pane!

Kathleen said...

A take on All Saints Nov 1 and All Souls Nov 2nd in the Catholic faith.
The bread looks great, tickles my funny bone..:)
Happy Halloween, Mary. You were in my poem in today's post..full billing..:)

A Year on the Grill said...

as always, great stories....

first thing I thought of when I saw it was a perfect bread to serve for Thanksgiving, as it has that pumpkin look.

Mary said...

Federica, thank you so much for your words. They are appreciated.

Mary said...

Anni, I was a multi-tasker in my "other" life. I blog while my bread is rising :-).

The Apple Hill Adventurer said...

what a lovely loaf of bread!

i have been trying to find a good recipe for just plain old bread, one with no/very little butter or oil, do you know of any good recipes? I want to adapt one to making a cinnamon raisin swirl bread out of a good basic base bread.

girlichef said...

Gorgeous! I'm gearing up to make a loaf for the 2nd, too!

George Gaston said...

Mary, your delightful looking bread looks like a baked pumpkin ~ how delicious! Also, thanks for the history behind it. I think we tend to forget how all these holidays came about.

Helene said...

Really nice bread!

Blue Creek Home said...

How interesting!!
You did an incredible job. But, I always leave here totally impressed with your skills.

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

I love the shaping of this bread - and the little bone sticking out!

Boo-Bah said...

What an interesting story.I love hearing about different traditions.

The recipe sounds really good. It looks really delicious.

I am so impressed with he quality of the pictures you take of the food.

Do you cook every single day? I envy the energy you must have to do all this cooking and baking.


Mary said...

Iris, I am currently cooking and photographing every day. I have to cook anyway so that's no problem. However, when I'm really at the top of my game I do all the cooking in 2 or 3 days.

the ungourmet said...

Hey, I've made door stop bread a time or two myself. :D

This looks fun and it was interesting reading about the history behind the bread. Thanks for sharing it!

Susan said...

Mary, you never fail to amaze me. I knew the history of the weekend you described, but I just have to keep looking at that bread. I have never seen anything like it! It is beautiful, but so very, very strange.

Lori said...

I do believe we are on the same page. I plan on making this bread this weekend.

lk (Healthy Delicious) said...

that sounds delicious with thse seasonings, but so creepy looking!!

ButterYum said...

Bare bones... haha!


Amy I. said...

Wow! I can barely bake a round loaf of bread. So impressed with your beautiful creation, and what a wonderful way to celebrate!

Debinhawaii said...

Beautiful bread and a fascinating back story on it too.

Anulka said...

Excuse me, but for me - this is the bread of vigorous life :)

Sarah said...

What a beautiful pan de muerto! I love the shape you've made. I grew up in a highly hispanic community and always enjoyed pan de muerto this time of year, thank you for bringing back fond memories!


Madam Chow said...

You always have an interesting story for your posts. And another fabulous bread!

Nancy/n.o.e said...

Found your post through Yeastspotting - love the loaf and the history as well. Making a note of this recipe.
Corner Loaf

g said...

Wonderful! It's a great sweet bread. I am going to pick up the one I ordered from our local panaderia - theirs are so beautiful and I love the atmosphere of the place on the holiday.

A Year on the Grill said...

stop by my blog today, I have nice things to say about you again... and what I did with your bread look

ros@dimaggio63 said...

Hi Mary,
mi piacerebbe molto fare questa ricetta !!!
Il pane credo che debba essere molto buono !
Buona domenica :)

Rosetta said...

Molto buono grazie, è da tempo che cercavo la ricetta.

Camila said...

Mary, I wanted to stop by and let you know that you have an amazing blog and therefore I am your new follower. I love the bits of history and stories that you share with your recipes. I especially loved the "Pan de Muerto" post. I haven't had one loaf of this delicious bread since I was a child and I can still remember the smell and the colors of the season and the incomparable taste and texture of this bread. I'm love your photography, thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful weekend and also thank you for the lovely comment you left on my blog. -Camila From:

jacamaca said...

Oh Mary, is my great pleasure and honor you for visiting my blog page. Your blog is beautiful and perfect with wonderful recipes, I enjoyed when I looked around your site. Kiss my darling dear :)))

Harika Baratam said...

Very interesting. Looks very yummy.

debilee said...

I just came across your bread recipe on Pinterest and really enjoyed the story of the tradition. I have embraced the Dia de los Muertos within my own life as I truly connect with the idea of celebrating our heritage and keeping family stories alive. Thanks for sharing!

Debi @ That Crafty Lunch Lady

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