The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pan de Muerto - Bread of the Dead

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Pan de Muerto - Bread of the Dead

 When we traveled for the first time to the Yucatan, I wanted (of course) to try some typical Mexican breads. The bakeries in Cancun and Tulum had beautiful displays, and we were very eager to purchase a selection of those pretty little breads and pastries.


But what a disappointment! The attractive exterior was misleading - everything we bought tasted more or less bland and sweet.

   Bakery in Tulum - a pretty disappointment!

I couldn't believe that this was all there is to Mexican breads. Moreover, I remembered having seen once a ghoulishly decorated bread for Halloween, and, back at home, consulted with my trusted advisers on all things food - "Fine Cooking" and "Cook's Illustrated".

Fany Gerson's recipe for Pan de Muerto in "Fine Cooking" seemed promising, and had already some good reviews.

This Bread of the Dead is traditionally baked during the last weeks of October, before the Dia de los Muertos (November 1 and 2), and eaten at the cemetery, at the grave of a family member. The bone decoration is a reminder of the deceased, and the little roll on top represents a tear of grief.

I made some slight changes to the original recipe, substituting 10% of the white flour with whole wheat, and changing the technique to my preferred stretch and fold (S&F), with a slow overnight rise in the refrigerator.

Since other reviewers of the original "Fine Cooking" recipe warned that the actual baking time was shorter than stated in the instruction, I checked early, and found that my breads were done in approximately 36 minutes.




PAN DE MUERTO  (adapted from Fany Gerson's recipe in "Fine Cooking")

127 g/4.5 oz whole milk, (1/2 cup)
  78 g/2.75 oz unsalted butter (5 1/2 tbsp.), cut into small pieces
2  4x1-inch strips orange peel
1 tbsp. orange blossom water (or more)
       3 eggs, lightly beaten
    6 g/0.2 oz instant yeast (2 tsp)
400 g/14 oz all-purpose flour
  47 g/1.75 oz whole wheat
  50 g/1.65 oz sugar (1/4 cup)
    2 g/0.1 oz salt (1/2 tsp)
  14 g/0.5 oz butter (1 tbsp) melted, for brushing
  22 g/0.8 oz sugar (1/8 cup) for sprinkling

Peeling the orange with a vegetable peeler is easy.

 DAY 1
1. Put milk, butter, and orange peel in small saucepan over medium heat; stir until butter melts, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until warm. Discard orange peel, add orange blossom water, and whisk in eggs.

  Melt butter in milk with orange peel

 2. In mixer bowl, stir together flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add milk mixture, then mix at low speed until dough comes together and all flour is hydrated (1-2 minutes). Let dough rest for 5 minutes.

3. Resume kneading at medium-low speed for 6 minutes, dough should be smooth but still slightly sticky. (Resist the urge to add more flour, it is not necessary!)

4. Place dough on lightly oiled work surface. With oiled hands, stretch dough into a square and fold it in thirds like a business letter. Repeat this folding from both sides. Make a ball, pulling edges underneath, and place it in lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes. 

5. Repeat S&F 3 times, in 10 minute intervals. After last fold, place dough, tightly covered, in refrigerator overnight. (Remove from the fridge 2 hours before using.)

DAY 2
6. Cut off lemon-sized piece (100 g/3.5 oz) of the dough and reserve. Divide remaining dough in halves and shape pieces on lightly floured surface into 2 rounds. Place rounds on parchment lined baking sheet and flatten tops with your hands.

7. With some of reserved dough, form 2 small rolls (à 7 g/0.25 oz), cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

8. Divide rest of reserved dough into 6 equal pieces.  Roll into ropes (slightly longer than width of loaves.) Starting in the middle, press and twist ropes with your index and middle fingers about 1 inch apart to make knobs (the pinched parts should be really thin, too keep the pattern when the bread rises.)

Pinched into knobs to resemble bones

6. Arrange 3 ropes on top of each dough round, overlapping in the center and tucking ends under a bit. Mist with baking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place, about 45 - 60 minutes, or until breads are doubled in size. Poke dough gently with your finger, the indentation should not fill back again (if breads don't rise long enough they will burst in the oven and destroy the pattern!)

Decorated breads (without the "tear" on top) before rising

7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Adjust rack in oven middle.

8. Dab a little cold water on top of each round where ropes meet, and put reserved dough balls on top, pressing slightly so that they stick.

Ready for the oven

9. Bake breads for 18 minutes, then cover loosely with tin foil, and continue baking for another 18 minutes, or until they are golden brown (internal temperature at least 190ºF.)

10. Let breads cool for a few minutes on wire rack. Then brush them all over with melted butter. Holding loaves from the bottom, sprinkle sugar over the top, tilting them slightly to help coat them evenly.

 

Variation: Use 147 g/5.2 oz whole wheat and reduce all-purpose flour to 300 g/5.6 oz. Adjust with a little more milk, to keep the dough a bit sticky.

 

 

Orange blossom scented Pan de Muerto - better enjoy it while you are among the living!

Comments

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

octopus bread you made!  A six legged one is very symbolic for dead sea creatures everywhere :-666)  I still say that Mexican Day of the Dead Bread should have Hempsters signature hemp seeds if it can't have 8 legs !!!!  Hopefully the orange and orange blossom water made up for the missing legs:-).  Have to try to make some orange blossom water this year - the oranges and minneolas asre starting to turn right now and it is time to feed them for the last time this year now that I think about it.

Nice baking for a Hempster that gets a little foggy about leg quantities of sea creatures. 

 

hanseata's picture
hanseata

You should come to Maine, Dabrownman, to see some real sea creatures ... here are enough lobsters to make up for the missing hemp!

How nice to have oranges and minneolas in the garden - we have only enough leaves covering the ground to fill a dumpster.

Karin

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

the fall leaves on the ground when we lived in the midwest so long ago but only as long as they were in someone else's yard   :-)

varda's picture
varda

if somewhat creepy with the bones and all.   And looks like a delicious enriched bread, especially finished off with a sprinkling of sugar.   Yum!  -Varda

hanseata's picture
hanseata

You find a lot of nice, cheerful sculls and skeletal figurines as souvenirs in Mexico, Varda. The bones on the bread are a creepy reminder of the dead, the pattern could be mistaken as a big spider, too. But the bread tastes wonderful, and would make a great brioche-like loaf even without the macabre decoration.

Karin

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi Karin,

Your loaf turned out really nice!  (I made a loaf of this last year and I just couldn't get the bones and tear to look right....)  What did you think of the flavor compared to the breads you ate while in Mexico?

Did the orange peels give it a strong orange flavor?  My recipe didn't use orange peels - can't recall what was used in their place but I know I didn't peel and cook orange peels....my memory has selective moments  :-)  I do recall mine called for anise but I didn't add it because people around here are timid when it comes to spices in breads....I am slowly altering that aversion....they will now accept cardamom and allspice.

Thanks for the post and the nudge to give this loaf and the bones another try :-)

Take Care,

Janet

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Janet, it took me two trials to get the decoration right. Therefore I tried to describe this in detail. And, when I made it the first time, the breads were not proofed sufficiently, the things burst in the oven, and the ghoulish embellisments cracked and got lopsided.

This bread tastes much better than anything I had in Mexico so far. The orange aroma is rather subtle, I'll probably add more than a tablespoon of orange blossom water next time. Anise is the other possible flavoring, but I haven't tried that, yet.

Have a nice week,

Karin

 

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

I wonder, if one were to eat the "bread of the dead", would he or she figuratively be a scavenger or cannibal?

Kidding aside, the shaping looks delightful. I can't help but think it's an octopus strapping its tentacles onto a boulder, despite knowing what the "bulb" and "tentacles" actually represent.

Thanks for review and your recipe. I'll probably give it go after I find the right ingredients. :)

Zita

ananda's picture
ananda

Well worth keeping alive Karin!

Best wishes

Andy

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Thanks, Zita, that was my first thought, too.

It's good that with this scary background - perhaps you could also throw in some vampyres in the mix of cemetary, gravesites, and bones - this bread has a wonderful taste. Usually I'm not too fond of sweet breads, but this is an exception. 

Happy baking,

Karin

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Thanks, Andy, and best wishes for the holiday season.

Karin

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

Nice job, hanseata!Yes, many of the breads I've had like that in Mexico are quite bland; they're okay with coffee in the morning, but they're usually not great. You took the right approach to liven it up.

isand66's picture
isand66

Beautiful looking bread.  I have wanted to try a version of this for a while and it looks like yours came out great.

I wonder if a yeast water version would work out maybe with an orange yw.

regards

ian

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

honoring a dead octopus ;)    Great looking bread, though, Karin.

anna

 

baybakin's picture
baybakin

Very nice looking pan de muertos!  I attempted to make some using my conchas recipe, but the dough was just far too slack to form properly, and didn't turn out looking so well.  I feel bad making them not during dias de las muertos, so there's always next year!

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Dragonbones, I found that there is a big difference between doughs that are shortly processed, and ones that are allowed to ferment over a longer time.

I'm sure that the good taste of my Pan de Muerto has something to do with its cold overnight fermentation (a method I prefer, anyway.)

Karin

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Thanks, Ian, I would think so, try it out, and let me know.

I'm planning another batch, with a little more whole wheat, and, maybe, I will use my rose hip levain as leaven.

Karin

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Aww, Anna, I hope the spirits of the dead don't hear this respectless comment.

It's not that easy to shape a decent, sufficiently sceletal looking dough decoration. Next time I try a little harder, for a more ghastly look.

Karin

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Those are the next on my list, Baybaking.

I had them in Mexico, too, attracted by their beautiful look, but, alas, they were as bland as everything else. I bought Fany Gerson's book "My Sweet Mexico", and have already collected several recipe for conchas. What is your recipe, do you know why the dough turned out so slack?

Karin

baybakin's picture
baybakin

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/29648/conchas

Is the recipe I use for conchas, which is based off of the Diana Kennedy Regional Cuisines of Mexico book (awesome book).  Most recipes I've seen for conchas never turn out as eggy as the ones I'd get back in my favorite Panaderia.  This one delevers with the eggyness, but the dough is quite wet, which, I suspose for conchas, isn't a big deal, as the shaping is really easy, and does not require much of a delicate hand.

Conchas themselves can be viewed as a little bland especally if they are rushed (this recipe has a long ferment), but they are usually meant to be eaten along with some cafe con leche, hot chocolate, or milk, where they can be dunked.

hanseata's picture
hanseata

with the overnight fermentation you certainly got the maximum taste out of the dough. The conchas I had in Tulum didn't seem very eggy, but, as I said, they tasted disappointing, anyway.

We are leaving for our annual trip to Mexico next week, and, since I have a kitchen, I'm going to bake some bread for us, so that we don't have to depend on the pretty but sadly tasteless local breads. A good bakery would be a real market niche, there. The only decent one we saw was in Playa del Carmen - and (first generation) Italian.

Karin

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hi Karin,
Interesting-looking bread - I saw that one in Fine Cooking :^)
Anise would be a delicious addition to this bread - have you ever tasted Gibassier? Ciril Hitz has a gorgeous recipe for Gibassier, flavored with orange blossom water, anise, olive oil and candied orange peel.
The bones decoration is similar to a 'string of pearls' decoration I tried for a bread this past summer...

I really liked reading Ms. Gerson's book and wanted to wish you the best for your conchas, and upcoming holiday
(happy baking, too, while you're there!).
:^) breadsong

hanseata's picture
hanseata

You are right, Breadsong, anise is another traditional flavoring option for this bread. I'm just making another version, with more whole wheat flour, and a bit more orange blossom water.

No, I never had a Gibassier, yet, but it sounds lovely. It's a bit tricky to make those bones, or pearls, the distinct pattern gets easily blurred during the baking.

Happy baking,

Karin

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Breadsong,

I have a recipe for Gibassier in the waiting and would love to see Ciril's take on it....Any chance of you listing the ingredients here or does that infringe on copyright???  

Figured it couldn't hurt to ask.  My recipe came from 'Artisan Breads'  if you want to compare.  From the ingredients you have listed it sounds very much the same - minus the orange blossom water.  ( I assume you still have that book on your shelf???  You are the one who pointed me in his direction and it is now one of my 'go to' books for breads.  Easy format and very nice loaves :-)

Thanks,

Janet

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hi Janet,
Sylvia listed ingredients when she posted her beautiful version of Gibassier.
If you like to see baker's %'s you can see them here.
I still have Ciril's book on my shelf and regret I don't bake from it as often as I'd like to - any recipe of his I've tried has been excellent.
Happy Thanksgiving!
:^) breadsong

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Breadsong,

Thanks for the links.  Printed Sylvia's out and checked the % but those don't print out... Will see how it compares to the one I have and adjust :-)  Looks like a fun one though a new shaping technique for me...The book looks very tempting - especially for this time of year.

Take Care,

Janet

 

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I made the bread again yesterday, and used 100 g more whole wheat, instead of all-purpose flour. I adjusted with a little more milk to keep the dough slightly sticky. I also made the bone and tear decoration a bit thinner, so that it looked less like an octopus hugging the bread. (See updated post). This version tasted also very good.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Karin

Maureen Farndell's picture
Maureen Farndell

Simply cant find it....... I'm a townie and don't have access to orange blossoms - would not know how to make it if I did, so what can I do now? The bread sounds and looks fantastic so what can I do. Oranges are easy - always available but not their flowers.

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Simply add another piece of orange peel, Maureen.

Please, let me know how you like it,

Karin