Pan de Muerto

About a week ago I happened to spy My Sweet Mexico on the new book shelf at the library.  While there are many titles I await with anticipation, this was one I knew nothing about:  but, since I  love Mexican food (eating it, anyway–don’t know much about cooking it as you may have noticed) I quickly picked it up.  It also appeals to the side of me that, after all, was a Spanish major (though most of my exposure to Spanish these days comes via um, telenovelas).

I am not sure what I was expecting (I sort of nabbed the book in a “drive by” on the way to the circulation desk), but whatever my expectations were, they were exceeded.  The book is beautifully put together and lovingly written; it’s my favorite type of cookbook in that it is part travel guide, part social-historical essay, and finally, of course, filled with unique, delicious-looking food. 

Then only a few days later I saw an interview with the author, Fany Gerson, over at The Mija Chronicles.  It’s an interesting interview–and made me realize how unique this book was; as the author is putting down in writing many recipes that only survive in oral tradition or may even be disappearing. 

So what to make first?  You may know that this time of year in Mexico is the Dia de los Muertos celebration.  So, of course I made pan de muerto!   

I made a few alterations to the recipe–rather than measuring out the flour by cups, I used a weighed measure of  4.5 ounces per cup of flour which may not have been enough–my dough turned out quite wet and never completely cleared the sides of the bowl, though it did hold together.  However, because the dough is cool while shapes, I figured that that it would be manageable enough to work with (and I didn’t want to over-add flour).  I also used 1.75 teaspoons of instant yeast (rather than 2.25 of active rise), especially as I have that special “osmotolerant” yeast that is formulated specially for sweeter, fattier doughs.  (Lesley has the full recipe from the book here, no doubt that many versions abound).

Yeah, fattier–this takes a lot of butter, along with a fair helping of whole milk and eggs.  Much like a brioche, so we know already it’s going to be good stuff.  My favorite part?  I loved adding orange blossom water–it lent such a lovely perfume to the entire kitchen, that permeated the air from the moment it was added to the dough Sunday night (heightening the anticipation) through the baking process the next day.

My shaping may leave something to be desired–in part because I’m not so adept at forming bones out of dough, but also because, as I mentioned, my dough was a bit wet.  I ended up patching a few pieces of dough together for the bones rather than successfully forming adequately long cylinders of dough.  This may have been the reason things got a little funky during the baking process–you can see for yourself that the bones “broke” apart where I had patched things together, and I think they would have held had I shaped them better. Regardless, it puffed up beautifully in the oven (I was a bit shocked at how much, in fact, it did grow) and didn’t affect the taste:  slightly sweet, floral, rich yet incredibly light.  How can something with so much butter taste so light?  It’s one of the great mysteries of baking!


63 thoughts on “Pan de Muerto

  1. I made pan de muerto last night for my daughter, who brought home a recipe from her high school Spanish 3 class. Called for anise seeds and a lemon glaze — it rose beautifully and I quartered the abundant dough and made four skull-shaped breads; planned to post it but too slow grabbing camera before she had to leave for school. Your shaping looks great to me. I’ll look for My Sweet Mexico, as that is exactly the kind of food book I love.

  2. Pingback: A plain but lovely pan de muerto, or Day of the Dead bread « The Mija Chronicles

  3. I lived in Mexico for three months back in ’99 (man, I’m getting old). I was able to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Morelia, a town with a big festival. This post takes me back. Pan de Muerto is MUY DELICIOSO! I’d love to try making this, in addition to homemade tamales . . . any chance that’s in the cookbook and you’ll be trying that soon?

    P.S. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • What fun: I’d love to be in Mexico for the festival someday.

      The cookbook is more on the sweet side. I did try making tamales once, I think in ’99 in fact. It was a lot of work. I later told a Mexican-American friend who laughed and told me that noone makes tamales alone, it’s something you do when everyone is in the kitchen and pitching in. I can get the wisdom of that, and until I get some extra hands in the kitchen I’m not trying tamales again–or ravioli, or pierogi…

  4. Congrats on getting FP! This bread does look great. Luckily we have enough Mexican bakeries in San Diego so I wouldn’t even try to compete with the real thing. We also had lots of Dia de los Muertos altars with the pan and other traditional foods. I didn’t have to go to Mexico to feel like I was there. Check out my photo tour of Dia de los Muertos altars in Old Town San Diego.


  5. I just learnt about “Dia de Los Muertos” in my Spanish II class yesterday.
    I must say, the Spanish culture is very beautiful.
    Thank you for sharing this!

    • Hi there!

      Just a small correction: the Día de Muertos (Dead’s Day, not Day for the dead) is a mexican tradition, not spanish.

      I’m mexican and i want to thank to all of you who are interest in the mexican traditions (sorry abput my english, it’s easier to read it, not write it) 🙂

      ¡Saludos desde México!
      (Cheers from Mexico!).

  6. Looks great! Congrats on baking this. : )
    The only thing missing is to spray the breads with melted butter and then sprinkle lots of sugar. Then, they’re the most awesomestest thing ever.

    ¡Feliz Día de Muertos!

  7. I have also eaten ( never cooked) PAN DE MUERTO.
    Every year the Embassy of Mexico in Argentina celebrates the 2nd November, and they make a Party at Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernández Blanco ( Buenos Aires).
    Every year they offer the Pan de Muerto, Beer, Children Shows and Mariachis

  8. This is great! I will have to try it out next year. This is so random, but do you know the movie “The Halloween Tree?” Well, it was one of my childhood favorites. I watched it nearly every Halloween. Anyway, the movie covers a lot of different cultures’ celebrations around Halloween. Even though it was inaccurate to include Dia de los Muertos, I really enjoyed learning about it as a kid. I’ve always wanted to celebrate it and make sugar skulls and pan de muerto. This just made me want to try it next year for real.


  9. How pretty! I have made the odd mexican dish- your tacos and burritos etc, but have never mader any pastries nor desserts for that matter. This looks absolutely delicious- I’ll look for the book in my local bookshop!

  10. Mmmm…bread! We have the greatest Mexican bakery here in town, not too far from where I live. They have THE best breads and pastries I have ever had anywhere. I don’t go too often because it is just so irresistible and I usually come home with two full bags of all kinds of goodies (which my family devours in a day-and-a-half easily), and I like to keep these special treats just that–special!

  11. Wow i love your blog its awesome nice colors you must have did hard work on your blog. Keep up the good work. Thanks

    • I got orange blossom water online at The Spice House (my favorite source for herbs and spices; I’ve also seen it at Whole Foods. It’s used in middle eastern cooking so you could find it in a shop specializing in those ingredients. I haven’t looked, but stands to reason a Mexican store could have it too!

      The book has several variations not using orange blossom water, including an anise version and a savory one!

  12. Ok look…. the “Pan de los muertos” it’s a bread right named Hojaldra.
    Usually, in the days of Reyes (Genuary), mexican people buy an Hojaldra and put a little man figure (similar to Plastic Soldiers toys) hidden inside the bread, obviously as a joke.
    After cutting the hojaldra someone will eat the part with the hidden Muneco inside and will have to pay… for the dinner.
    Costumbres mexicanas.

    PS: I think You have to put a big sugar on it.

  13. Your comment about the author putting down in writing many recipes that only survive in oral tradition or might even be disappearing, is important to take note of. I think it is so true that our family heritage is disappearing because we are forgetting to pass it on to the next generation..

    I recently took my collection of family and friend recipes and hand wrote them in a blank hard back journal book. I created page numbers for each recipe and made an alphabetical index in the back so it was easy to use. It took me 6 months to create it, but it wasn’t to overwhelming. I just wrote a few recipes each night. I gave it to my daughter for Christmas and she was so appreciative because they were all recipes that she grew up with, and she had memories of all of them but she did not have a clue how to make any of the dishes I put in the book.

    She is now adding to the book of family recipes and she says it’s her favorite cook book. Thanks for sharing your fantastic post! It’s Inspiring!

    • What a great gift. I’ve always been so admiring of people who have so many recipes in their heads and can just get down to cooking without digging for a recipe–usually because they’ve learned them from their family, which makes it all the better. As you say, the flip side is that they can get lost if they are not written down, but you’ve solved that problem! It’s great that you took the time to preserve these recipes; I think it will only become more special to your daughter with time! Thanks for sharing your story!

  14. Pingback: Dia de los Muertos!(week 12) | Mofojohsh's Blog

  15. I’m salivating at this moment…Going right over to the local Mexican bakery and have some good coffee and pan. Thanks.

  16. Pingback: Finnish Cinnamon and Cardamom Buns « Three Clever Sisters

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