I’ve always loved making my own bread. It began when I was about 14 years old, after reading a bit about nutrition and how eating whole grain foods was a lot healthier than buying what was once known as Wonder Bread. I’m not even sure Wonder Bread is even sold anymore, (it always tasted like cardboard, to me) but by literally taking a page from the Tassajara Bread Book, I managed to pivot the dietary habits of my entire family.
The first one I ever made was an herb bread, and it went over really well alongside dinner. I must have gained some points with that, (along with my little lectures of whole grains being healthier than white) because my mom began to buy whole grain breads and cereals. For me, it opened up a grand interest in nutritious foods for a very long time, and a high interest in cooking and baking. My love of bread baking lives on.
That being said, I don’t always bake with whole grains, though I tend to look for other nutritional benefits, such as preferring a recipe that’s lower in fat or sugar. Being a person who doesn’t have a problem with gluten or diabetes, I feel fortunate to be able to eat bread freely.
I’ve also always loved Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, which is a Mexican celebration of All Souls Day. Being raised Catholic, I love this celebration far more than the requisite church visit that I was made to do as a child, even though I would get the rest of the day off. The Mexican Days of the Dead are so much more colorful, and they see death not as something spooky or morose, but rather celebrated, as they welcome the return of the spirits of deceased relatives. Three years ago, I wrote a blogpost about these beautiful days.
Pulling this together, I found a recipe on Food52 for Pan de Muerto, or ‘Bread of the Dead’. How could I resist? My first thought was how quickly the bread would rise, as I’m living in a tropical clime. I wasn’t wrong about that, either.
This is a delightful creation, filled with anise seeds (I love licorice flavorings!) and grated orange zest, that fills the kitchen with a wonderful scent… baking yeast breads alone can stimulate your senses, but this is something special. The bread is a rustic round loaf decorated with ‘bones’ on its sides, which is sprinkled with a coating of sugar, as soon as it comes out of the oven. From what I understand, you can also use a vanilla infused sugar to dust it with, but since I didn’t have any vanilla beans around, I just used plain.
I did find that I had to add more milk to the recipe, though… when I started mixing the dough, I found it just wasn’t coming together, so I added about a half cup more of slightly warmed milk—I know the yeast appreciated that—and kneading went so much better. I found I didn’t even need any more flour during the kneading process.
I really wish I had some lovely little Dia de los Metros sugar skulls or some other such kind of props to add to my photos here, but I guess that will just have to wait for another year. I do have a abundance of lovely gardenias, which will have to be used instead of marigolds. Not such a bad thing.
If you’d like to try this, you can find the recipe for Pan de Muerto here.
Happy Dia de los Muertos!