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Confession: I have never been a particularly huge fan of Halloween.

Aside from the fact that it seems to get weirder and creepier every year, it combines several things that freak me out immensely: scary movies, haunted houses, creepy-crawly creatures and masks.

Yes, I am one of those people who are super freaked out by clowns, school mascots, and anything else that prohibits me from seeing the person’s face. Even as a senior in college I still did everything in my power to avoid our school’s mascot, and that was when I knew it was my friend in the costume.

You tell me that isn’t at least a little bit scary…

And then, of course, there is always the issue of trying to figure out what you are going dress up as. Joy has some thoughts on the issue. I’m just going to let her preach it.

Now, an autumnal holiday that I can get behind? Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead, for those who are not familiar, is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1 and 2 that centers around gathering with friends and family to celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died. Instead of being a time to mourn, Day of the Dead celebrations are joyous, colorful festivities that celebrate the lives of the departed.

In my mind, one of the best aspects of Day of the Dead celebrations is the food.

Families prepare the foods most loved by their ancestors in life, and while the exact array of foods varies between families and regions, one of the most common foods enjoyed in the weeks leading up to and during Day of the Dead celebrations is pan de muertos, or “bread of the dead”.

The first time I had pan de muertos was as a freshman in high school during Spanish class. I had the same (outstanding) Spanish teacher all four years of high school, and every year we would feast on pan de muertos for at least a week during class.

What follows is the same recipe given to me by Señora Fehl. It is sweet and eggy and completely worth the time it takes to let the dough rise. Plus, in my mind, yeast is the perfect creepy thing to be baking with this time of year – it is alive, after all!

So you should probably start a new tradition in your family, broaden your cultural horizons and make this bread for Day of the Dead this week. Your stomach will thank you, I promise.

Pan de muertos: Day of the Dead Bread

Pan de muertos: Day of the Dead Bread

Yield: 1 loaf
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 35 minutes
Rest Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 egg + 1 yolk (reserve egg white)
  • 2 - 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bring milk to scalding; remove from heat and stir in butter, sugar and salt. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a bowl, mix yeast with warm water; let stand for about 5 minutes. Add milk mixture, whole egg and egg yolk. Slowly add in the flour; start with 2 cups, adding the final 1/3 cup as needed*. Place dough on a well-floured board and knead until smooth and velvety, about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Knead again on a floured board to expel air bubbles.
  4. Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Shape each into a rope about 12 inches long. Braid ropes together, pressing ends to hold securely; place on a greased baking sheet and join ends firmly to make a wreath. (Optionally, you can also set aside a small piece of dough, about 1/3 cup size, and shape into two "bones" to cross on top of the wreath - I typically opt out of this overly artistic step.)
  5. Cover lightly and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until puffy looking. Brush gently with the slightly beaten reserved egg white. Mix cinnamon and sugar, sprinkle onto loaf (avoiding the bones). Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes or until richly browned. Serve warm with butter.

Notes

*Bread dough is interesting to work with; depending on a number of factors, including the weather, it may not always need the same amount of flour. What you're looking for here is for the dough to come together and begin to lose some of its stickiness. Keep in mind that it will pick up some additional flour while you are kneading it. Ultimately you want a soft, pliable dough; not a dry one.

Nutrition Information

Amount Per ServingCalories 0Cholesterol 0mgSodium 0mgCarbohydrates 0gFiber 0gSugar 0gProtein 0g

13 Comments

    1. Thank you! I don’t think it is weird to say at all, but then again I did a little jig when I pulled it out of the oven looking so perfect. And I am glad we are in agreement on the mascot thing. No point, just freaky.

  1. Really looks gorgeous – I love eggy sweet breads! Reminds me a little of Finnish pulla. I will be trying this bread this weekend – Thank you!

  2. This bread reminds me of a braided Nisua – a Finnish coffee bread with cardamon that we brushed with coffee and sprinkled with sugar after baking….a perfect breakfast.. ( halloween is not my fav holiday either) Thanks for the recipe-can’t wait to try it!

  3. I added grated lemon rind (tsp), vanilla(tsp) and a little cinnamon to mine and the taste was kind of plain. I am not a frequent bread maker. Can someone give me an idea on how to flavor things up a bit?

    1. Hi there – This isn’t traditionally a fancy-flavored bread. It is slightly sweet, but not strongly flavored. Sometimes you will see it with an orange glaze – you could try that if you are looking to add a bit of “zing” to it.

  4. My son’s Spanish teacher assigned the class to make some food at home for Day of the Dead to share with family. We made mole enchiladas and this bread. The bread was really good!! This recipe is a keeper!

  5. Omg! I had Sra Fehl in high school spanish, and was looking for a recipe like hers that had the bread braided. I can’t believe I ran across this post. Thank you so much for sharing, I can’t wait to make this again!

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