A tradition that never dies: Pan de muerto
Special collaboration | Chef Isaac Esparza
When we speak of Mexican traditions the Day of the Dead is one of the most emblematic celebrations. Festivity takes place on November 1st, to pay tribute to all the saints and the souls of the children who left this world before us, and November 2nd, the day when the souls of deceased adults visit this dimension.
The elaboration of the bread of the dead or ‘pan de muerto’ and its symbolism embraces many stories, but the one preserved to this date alludes to the bread representing a corpse. The small ball that crowns it symbolizes the skull, and the strips of bread on the sides, make reference to the bones that fall in the 4 directions of the universe.
In Mexico there are many types of bread like those from the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Oaxaca, Michoacán, each with a traditional preparation. Some are decorated with sugar while others are egg washed and sprinkled with sesame seeds or painted red; some are given an oval shape or even carry a dedication. Of course, modernity brings changes and now they can be filled with pastry cream, milk cream or, for the sweet tooths out there, with Nutella.
Regardless of its origin, the reality is that in Mexico people long for these dates, not only for the holiday itself, but also for the preparations that come along: the crafting of the altars, the decorative motifs, and for the glorious moment of having a slice of this delicacy together with a cup of steaming hot chocolate.
Many places share this tradition and perform a colorful display of altars, catrinas and bread of the dead, so in case you would like to try and explore your culinary talent, I share my recipe for Pan de Muerto to make at home.
- 70 oz. flour
- 2.8 oz. dry yeast
- 14 oz. milk
- 12 pcs. egg
- 17 oz. of sugar
- 2 tbsp of orange zest
- 1 tbsp of orange blossom water
- ½ cup of warm water (not hot)
- 1 tsp of salt
- Mix the yeast and half the sugar and water until it bubbles (meaning the yeast is already “awake”). If bubbles do not start to form, repeat the process.
- Put the flour, the rest of the sugar, orange zest, salt, butter and the orange blossom water and integrate the ingredients by hand or in a processor. Add the whole eggs one by one until it is completely integrated, and add the yeast.
- Knead until the mixture is smooth and manageable and it can be easily separated from the surface you are kneading on. Let the mixture rest in a large container covered with a damp cloth or with plastic wrap in a warm spot of the kitchen until the dough doubles its size -it is very important to consider this when choosing the container to avoid the mixture to overflow.
- Knead again by removing the gas formed. Separate a part of the dough for the decorations (or bones) and with the rest form the buns of the desired size and place them in a tray with enough space between them, considering that they will double their size.
- Form the bones and the little ball that crowns the bread. Beat the remaining egg and use it as a glue to place the pieces that will decorate it. Let stand approximately one hour to double their size.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and bake for 20 minutes or until the bread is ready. Let them cool down.
- To give a final decorative touch, mix a quarter of a cup of water and another of sugar and boil until the sugar is dissolved. With the syrup obtained varnish the loaves and sprinkle the remaining sugar. If you want to give your bread an interesting twist, you can substitute orange zest for lemon, grapefruit or mandarin. You can also give it another flavor if you add the petals of two flowers of cempasúchil to the dough, which will also give a unique color.
Hope you enjoy it!
About Chef Isaac Esparza
Isaac Esparza (32) is a chef who has come far at a young age, due to his dedication and creativity. Through his veins runs passion, through his mind, ideas, and through his hands, ingredients are transformed into delicate dishes that reveal his calling. After a long career working for important restaurants in Riviera Maya, including Sen Lin at Grand Velas, today he is Executive Chef at renowned boutique hotel, Casa Velas.