Chef Guido celebrates Mexican traditions this month with a recipe for the famous pan de muerto, the sweet bread that fall visitors will be familiar with as it is served in the run up to Dia de Muertos on November 1 and 2.
The bread has its roots in the pre-Hispanic period when the Aztecs would make an offering to the gods after a sacrifice. A vessel full of amaranth seeds would be mixed with sacrificial blood to make a bread.
During the Conquest in the 16th century, the Spaniards transformed this strange combination into the bread we know today. It is now prepared with flour, sugar, butter, orange flower water, fresh yeast, orange zest, milk and a pinch of salt.
Pan de muerto is a dessert full of spiritual meaning. Its circular shape symbolizes the cycle of life and death and the four strips on the top allude to the bones of the dead. Symbolism aside, this famous Mexican dessert is also delicious.
Pan de Muerto
- 3 ½ cups flour
- 225g butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp grated orange zest
- 22g yeast
- 7 egg yolks
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp orange flower water (if you cannot find it, you can use 2 tbsp of prepared anise tea)
Put the yeast and half a cup of sugar in a bowl and add tepid water to activate the yeast (make sure the water isn’t too hot).
Bubbles will soon appear in the mixture, which means that the yeast is “awake” and beginning to work. If there are no bubbles you need to repeat the process.
On the kitchen table or in a mixer or bread maker add the flour, ¼ cup of sugar, grated orange zest, salt, butter, orange flower water (or anise tea) and mix the ingredients, gradually adding the two eggs, the eggs yolks and the yeast.
Knead until the dough is soft and workable. Don’t worry if it is lumpy and sticks to the table at the beginning, this is normal.
You should knead the dough until it no longer sticks to the table, but this takes time so don’t worry and keep kneading.
Once the dough no longer sticks to the table, leave it to rest covered with a damp cloth or clingfilm in a warm part of the kitchen until it doubles in size due to the yeast effect. You need to take this into account when you choose a bowl so that the mixture doesn’t overflow when it rises.
The next step is to knead the dough again to eliminate the gas that has formed.
Then tear off a piece of dough to form the bone decorations and use the rest to form the bread in the size you want them to be and place on a baking tray with enough space between them, considering that they are going to double in size.
With the dough you separated make the bones and the skull or ball for the top of the bread.
Beat the remaining egg and use it to stick the bones and ball to the top of the dough. Leave the bread to rest in a warm place for about an hour until it doubles in size.
Preheat your oven to 200C and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180C and bake for a further 20 minutes until the bread is ready.