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Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead)

Serves

3 x 300g loaves

Cooks In

Over night

Difficulty

Tricky

The 1st and 2nd of November are days of remembrance for loved ones that have passed away. It is celebrated with a family get together, either at home or at the cemetery. All the favourite foods of the deceased are prepared to encourage the spirit to come back and visit! Pan de Muertos is a sweet bread that is served after the meal with a Mexican hot chocolate. The loaf is traditionally decorated with bone shapes on top with a generous sprinkling of sugar. The recipe is basically a brioche dough with orange blossom and aniseed flavourings. It is easiest made with a stand mixer, some people prefer to hand knead but it takes skill. Mix in the evening, then put in the fridge over night, shape and bake the next day.

Method

  1. Weigh the first 5 ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer, attach the paddle and turn on low to combine. Add the next 4 ingredients, weighing out the eggs, starting on low speed until combined with no dry spots, it will look like a shaggy mess.
  2. Replace the paddle with a dough hook and on medium speed knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic and coming away from the sides of the bowl, about 6 minutes.
  3. Start adding the butter in about 4 increments, mix very well after each addition until all is amalgamated. 
  4. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl to an oiled or buttered plastic container with a lid, cover and place in the fridge over night. Dough can be stored in the fridge for up to two days, so you can take a portion of dough and bake fresh for a couple of days. 
  5. The next day remove the dough from the container and place on a lightly floured surface. Work quickly as the dough is easier to handle when chilled. Remove 120g of the dough and reserve, divide the remainder dough in 3 pieces approx 300g. Roll the 3 pieces into balls and place on a large lined baking sheet spaced evenly apart. 
  6. Divide the reserved dough into 6 x 20g pieces. To create 'bone' shaped ropes, on a barely floured counter, roll the each piece, on one hand spread your fingers and exert pressure to make bulges that will represent bones, until you have 4 knobbly lumps with thinner bits in between. Drape 2 'bone' ropes over the ball in a criss cross pattern, attaching to the base of the dough balls.
  7. Leave the loaves to rise at room temperature for approx. 2-3 hours. Then place in a pre-heated oven 180oC (fan 160oC) for 25-30 minutes. Check when 15-20 minutes into baking, if necessary cover with foil to prevent over browning.
  8. Remove the loaves when golden and when lifted they should feel light for their size.
  9. While the bread is baking you can make the glaze. In a small saucepan, mix the orange juice and with the sugar, bring to the boil, let simmer for 5 minutes then remove from heat, allow to cool. 
  10. After the loaves have cooled, brush on the glaze and sprinkle all over with granulated sugar.

Take to the table to slice or quarter and serve with Mexican hot chocolate

To make 12 individual buns, remove 240g of the dough and reserve, cut the remaining dough into 12 pieces approx 63g each. Roll the 12 pieces into a balls and place on a lined baking sheet evenly spaced. With the reserved dough cut into 24 x 10g pieces, on a counter just barely floured, with the first 3 fingers spread on one hand, roll each piece into a rope with 4 knobbly lumps (representing the bone), drape 2 ropes over the ball in a criss cross pattern, attaching to the base of the dough ball. Do this with all 12 pieces.