Halloween is past, and now we are fully immersed in the Days of the Dead: All Saints Day today (Ognissanti in Italian) and on Thursday, All Souls Day, Dia de Los Muertos. As you can tell by the different languages, remembering those who have passed at this time of year is a custom across various cultures, but no where is the custom as big as it is in Mexico. What is common across the board is that this is a time of celebration, of celebrating life, and that is a pretty wonderful thing.
One of the aspects of the celebration in Mexico is Pan de Muertos: Bread of the Dead. In my family, we bake a delicious version just slightly sweet, flavored with cinnamon and anise seeds. Our recipe is below. It’s a wonderful way to mark the day, and to remember all who have come and gone. Bread of life. Celebration of life.
And since it is the start of a new month, we have our monthly gift to you, as well, and here is the November edition of your Convivio Book of Days calendar. The calendar is a nice companion to the blog, a printable PDF on standard letter size paper. Have a lovely month. And now, here’s that recipe. Each year, my mom says the same thing: “Why do we make this just once a year?” And then another year goes by before we make it again. All things in their time.
PAN de MUERTOS
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, cut into 8 pieces (or shortening)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
3 cups flour, unsifted
1. Bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat, then stir in butter, sugar and salt. (My mom, who does not like butter, uses shortening.)
2. In a large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until yeast is dissolved. Let stand 5 minutes, then add the milk mixture.
3. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, saving the white for later. Add the other egg, too. Now add the flour to the yeast and egg mixture, blending well until a ball of dough is formed.
4. Flour a work surface very well and place dough in center. Knead until smooth. Return to the large bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and let dough rise in a warm place for 90 minutes.
5. Grease a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Turn dough out onto floured surface again and knead once more. Then divide the dough into fourths. Set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining three pieces into ropes, all of about the same length. They should be fairly hefty––not dainty ropes.
6. Pinch three rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. You should have one long braided loaf. Next, divide the remaining dough in half and shape each half into a bone. Cross the “bones” in an “X” shape and lay them atop the braided loaf.
7. Cover bread with the dish towel again and let it rise for 30 minutes more. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the following:
3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon anise seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8. In another bowl, beat egg white slightly. When the bread has finished its 30 minutes of rising, brush top with egg white and sprinkle with the sugar mixture, being careful not to get any on the crossed bones. Bake for 35 minutes, or until done, at 350 degrees.
Each loaf serves 8 to 10. If you try it, let us know how you like it. You know we love to hear from you, and as always, we wish you very good days.
John & Seth