We took the kids to see The Book of Life last weekend. I was initially prepared to not like the movie. We had watched the trailer and I thought it looked fine, it was going to be about Mexican culture, something I’m always on the hunt to promote here….in North Dakota…..which is the opposite of Mexico.
Furthermore, the information was going to be presented in a way the kids could understand (cartoons) instead of the way they normally receive their cultural information, which is me, blah, b-blah, blahing about how, for example, Dia de los Muertos is important because it is how their people cherish and celebrate those who are no longer with us. To which they ask, “is it your people too, Mama” and then I say, “No, my people are from Germany” which leads to a whole other topic about why they can’t be from where my people are from and then trying to explain that they are also part German, and so on and so forth until 30 minutes later we are no longer discussing Mexican culture but something more along the lines of Immigration Policy 101 for 6-year-olds.
So you see, as much as I thought the movie looked a little boring, I also thought it’d be good for the kids, so we took them last Saturday and I will say the first 30 minutes did nothing to change my attitude. But then it got kind of funny and kind of sweet and really explained in a beautiful way how important Dia de lost Muertos is to honor your loved ones who have passed—and the kids totally got it.
When the movie was over Louisa asked if we could celebrate Dia de los Muertos and I said “Yes! Of course” and explained to her that that’s why we made the Sugar Skulls and the Pan de Muerto and all that other stuff we’ve been talking about for the last two weeks. “Aaahhhooo. ” She said.
Last year I made the more traditional orange and anise-flavored Pan de Muerto, and its really good—made into one big loaf that you slice. This year I used chopped tropical fruit like mango, pineapple, and papaya. The glowing red papaya gives the skeletons a particularly creepy look if you save a few to dot their eyes with. I also, finally (after visiting three different ethnic markets) found orange flower water (also sometimes called orange blossom water) which is the key to authentic tasting pan dulce. When the Professor got home he said the house smelled like his old neighborhood, which I attribute to the orange flower water, and was about the best compliment one could receive if they are trying to make really good Pan de Muerto. If you can’t find it you can substitute fresh orange juice instead—totally different, but still delicious.
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4 heaping teaspoons dried yeast
- 4 cups white bread flour, divided
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature, plus 1 more for brushing
- 2 tablespoons orange flower water
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups chopped dried tropical fruit, such as mangoes, pineapple, and papaya
- Heat milk to between 105-115°F. Pour into the bowl of mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sprinkle yeast over the top and let sit 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of flour and let sit another 30 minutes.
- Add butter and half of the sugar to the yeast mixture and beat to combine. Add the 5 eggs, one at a time, letting the first one incorporate completely before adding the next. Add remaining flour, flower water, and salt, and switch the attachment to the dough hook. Knead the dough on medium speed for 8 minutes. Add dried fruit and knead 2 more minutes.
- Oil a large bowl and transfer dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.
- Heat oven to 350°F. Remove dough to a lightly-floured work surface and divide into 6 pieces. Take one piece of dough and cut off one-third of it. Cut this smaller piece into thirds. Roll two of the smaller pieces into long ropes and the third into an oval shape. Take the larger piece and form it into a tight ball. Criss-cross the top of the ball with the long ropes, shaping the ends to look like bones and place the oval directly in the middle, shaping to look like a skull. Place the loaf on a parchment covered baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough until you've made 6 mini loaves.
- Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water and brush each loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar over the loaves and place on the lower rack of the oven. Bake 35 minutes, or until dark golden brown and baked through (the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom). Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Breads will keep, covered tightly at room temperature, for up to 3 days.