3 Things to Know Before You Make Pan de Muerto
Sure, you can buy the traditional Mexican sweet bread during Dia de los Muertos. But baking it from scratch is easy. Here's what I've learned after years of making the fragrant dough to honor my loved ones.
Pan de muerto was one of the very first recipes I published when I launched my blog, Chicano Eats, back in 2016 and I keep it close to my heart. If you’re not familiar, pan de muerto is a traditional Mexican sweet roll associated with Dia de los Muertos, the holiday between November 1st and 2nd where we celebrate those who have passed on. The shape of the bread has many interpretations, including that the bread is meant to symbolize the Eucharist, because the rolls bear a skull and cross on the top. Sometimes the sweet rolls are topped with sesame seeds to represent the tears of the souls who haven’t been able to find peace. Pan de muerto is often spiced, brushed with butter and covered in sugar. After perfecting the recipe for my new cookbook, I've learned these three lessons:
Don’t overdo it with the spices.
When you’re working with a yeasted dough that incorporates spices like cinnamon and clove, you want to make sure you stick to the measurements given in the recipe. Cinnamon and clove can both inhibit yeast and slow it down if you add too much.
Take your time.
When you’re making these rolls, allow the dough enough time to proof. If the recipe says to let the dough rise until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours, and yours has sat for 2 hours and still isn’t doubled in size, give it another hour. We’re not all baking in the same spaces and conditions, so your dough might just need extra time to rise. Don’t rush the process! I also like to keep this in mind when I’m forming the crossbones. Take your time forming them. If you go to roll the dough between your fingers and the snake isn't even the first time, try it again!
Personalize the rolls.
Dia de los Muertos is about celebrating and remembering your loved ones by placing their favorite dishes and drinks on an altar dedicated to them. Feel free to add a drop of food coloring to the spiced sugar, or decorate the rolls with marigolds to make the bread feel more specific to the person you are honoring.
You can find my Pan de Muerto recipe here and with so many others in Chicano Bakes: Recipes for Mexican Pan Dulce, Tamales and My Favorite Desserts, which is out November 1st, just in time for Dia de los Muertos!