Pan de Muertos (Bread of the dead) is a sweet bread enjoyed during the time of Dia de los Muertos (which means Day of the dead). During this time, the Mexicans honor their deceased loved ones by leaving them offerings at their gravesites, or at altars made at home. The offerings usually include the deceased’s favorite food and drink which they enjoyed during the time they were alive and with this a Pan de Muerto is usually added. Because of the bread’s importance, most bakeries sell it for this season, but of course, we think it’s best when homemade.
Because the bread is made as an offering, the shape is important. The unique shape is said to represent the bones of the dead, while the small ball on top represents a teardrop (although some may say it represents the skull or the heart). While it’s most often served sprinkled with sugar, it can also be served sprinkled with sesame seeds, or a simple egg wash.
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ cup margarine
- ¼ cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 2 teaspoons anise seed
- 1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
Make bread: Heat milk and margarine in a medium saucepan over low heat until margarine melts. Remove from heat and add warm water. Mixture should be around 110 degrees F (43 degrees C).
Combine 1 cup flour, sugar, anise seed, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Beat in warm milk mixture, then add eggs and orange zest; beat until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup flour and continue adding more flour until dough is soft.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic. Place dough into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
Punch dough down and shape into a large round loaf with a round knob on top. Place dough onto a baking sheet; loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until just about doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool slightly before brushing with glaze.
Make glaze: Combine 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice, and orange zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Brush glaze over top of warm bread. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.
You may substitute 1/2 teaspoon anise extract for the anise seeds.