Similar to brioche but in a class all of its own, Pan de Muerto is the traditional bread prepared in Mexico for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), which culminates on November 2. Celebrated differently across the country, the annual tradition honours those who have passed with cemetery visits, parades, and altars lovingly decorated with offerings such as sugar skulls, marigolds, candles, and tequila. The belief is that, on these days, the souls of the departed visit us again. For the living, a delicious, sweet bread is baked throughout the country, usually sold in the shape of small buns.
This recipe, by Mexico City chef Elena Reygadas, adds a pinch of fresh rosemary and a hint of orange blossom extract, making for a particularly fragrant bread. “We sometimes do it with sourdough for something a little different. I always try and use as little yeast as possible because I think it affects the taste,” explains Reygadas, whose restaurant, Rosetta, sits at number 41 on the S. Pellegrino Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants List. “Whenever I am stressed, I bake,” she adds, which works out well for her during Pan de Muerto season because, along with her team, she will make and sell over 1,000 of the special treats.
Pan de Muerto Recipe
Makes 5 pieces
250 grams flour
75 grams sugar
63 grams butter
4 grams dry yeast
3.75 grams salt
63 grams milk
2.5 grams fresh rosemary, chopped
75 grams eggs
15 grams orange zest
2 grams orange blossom extract
100 grams butter for glazing
200 grams sugar for decoration
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix them with your hands, making small circles. Once everything is mixed together, knead the dough, lightly striking it against the surface until it becomes smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
2. Fold the dough in half, then in half again. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
3. Divide the dough into 5 pieces weighing 80 grams each. Set aside the rest of the dough for the decorative “bones”. Shape each piece of dough into a ball. Place them on a baking sheet and let them sit for 2 hours at room temperature.
4. Take the rest of the dough, lay it out on the counter, and shape the “bones” with your fingers. Place them on a baking sheet and let them sit for 30 minutes.
5. Melt the butter and glaze the balls of dough, followed by the “bones”. (For these, roll the dough between fingers to form long strands. Form three or four bumps along each strand, then place two strands across each bread in a cross.)
6. Bake for 15 minutes at 150º C. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool. Glaze each piece with melted butter, then dip them in a bowl of sugar to coat on all sides.
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