For the first ten years or so of our togetherness The Professor and I didn’t do much for Día de los Muertos. We were young and carefree, childless, and mortgageless. We were in that stage of our lives when death was more of an abstract idea than this blurry line between the concrete and the confusing. Over the years we’ve lost relatives and struggled with illness in the family and this one day of the year, Day of the Dead, when we get to embrace those loved ones who have passed, has gained more and more significance and has become one of the most celebrated days of the year in our home.
Día de los Muertos is when we celebrate with the dead—if not in reality than surely in our hearts. That means we get to eat their favorite foods, drink their favorite drinks, dance and sing their favorite songs, tell our most treasured stories and ensure their lives live on in the memories of their grandchildren and great grandchildren and others for generations to come.
One of my favorite parts of the celebration is making Pan de Muerto or Bread for the Dead. The traditional loaf is a buttery brioche flavored with orange flower water and topped with two crossed links of dough meant to symbolize crossbones. If you want to make that version you can find the recipe here or I also have a tropical fruit version you might want to try. This year I wanted to honor my grandmother, a tried-and-true chocolate lover, with a pan de muerto filled with cocoa and studded with chocolate chips.
If you have any experience with yeasted dough, this one is not much different but it does have a fairly long rising time, so let’s get started!
The first step is to mix the warm milk, a little bit of the flour, and the yeast together, then let that mixture sit for 30 minutes. This wakes up the yeast and makes a very quick starter dough.
Then you add the remaining ingredients (except the chocolate chips) and mix to make a smooth, springy dough.
Remove the dough to a clean surface, flatten, and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. (I used semisweet chips but you could use bittersweet or even white chocolate chips if you’d like.) Fold the dough over to enclose the chips and then knead the chips into the dough until well distributed, about 2 minutes.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a large greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 2-3 hours.
Now its time for cutting and forming. First remove a little less than a quarter of the dough.
Take the larger piece of dough and form into a ball. Try not to use any extra flour if possible so the dough doesn’t dry out and stays dark in color. Place the ball on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush it with beaten egg.
Cut the remaining dough in half, then cut a nickel-sized piece off each half. Form the larger pieces of dough into bone shapes and criss cross the bones over the top. Brushing each with egg as you go.
Combine the two nickel-sized pieces of dough and form into a skull shape.
Arrange the skull where the two bones intersect on the top of the loaf. Brush with egg and sprinkle the whole loaf with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.
Cover with a clean towel and let rise another 30 minutes to an hour. Bake at 350°F until the loaf sounds hallow when you tap on the sides and bottom, about 40 minutes. It is traditional to bake the bread on the days leading up to Day of the Dead which is November 1st but everyone should wait until November 2nd when you can share it with the visiting spirits of your loved ones.
One More Thing
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