Sunday, November 18, 2012


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

When we traveled for the first time to the Yucatan, I wanted (of course) to try some typical Mexican breads. The bakeries in Cancun and Tulum had beautiful displays, and we were very eager to purchase a selection of those pretty little breads and pastries.

But what a disappointment! The attractive exterior was misleading - everything we bought tasted more or less bland and sweet.

Breads and pastries in Tulum - a pretty disappointment

I couldn't believe that this was all there is to Mexican breads. Moreover, I remembered having seen once a ghoulishly decorated bread for Halloween, and, back at home, consulted with my trusted advisers on all things food - "Fine Cooking" and "Cook's Illustrated".

Fany Gerson's recipe for Pan de Muerto in "Fine Cooking" seemed promising, and had already some good reviews.

This Bread of the Dead is traditionally baked during the last weeks of October, before the Dia de los Muertos (November 1 and 2), and eaten at the cemetery, at the grave of a family member. The bone decoration is a reminder of the deceased, and the little roll on top represents a tear of grief.

I made some slight changes to the original recipe, substituting 10% of the white flour with whole wheat, and changing the technique to my preferred stretch and fold (S&F), with a slow overnight rise in the refrigerator.

A detailed instruction for S&F you can find in my earlier post here. This elegant do-ahead method requires less kneading, ensures better flavor development, and, also, fits better in my schedule.

Since other reviewers of the original "Fine Cooking" recipe warned that the actual baking time was shorter than stated in the instruction, I checked early, and found that my breads were done in approximately 36 minutes.

PAN DE MUERTO  (2 Breads) (adapted from Fany Gerson's recipe in "Fine Cooking")

127 g/4.5 oz whole milk, (1/2 cup)
  78 g/2.75 oz unsalted butter (5 1/2 tbsp.), cut into small pieces
3  4x1-inch strips orange peel (without pith)
1 tbsp. orange blossom water (or more)
       3 eggs, lightly beaten
    6 g/0.2 oz instant yeast (2 tsp)
400 g/14 oz all-purpose flour
  47 g/1.75 oz whole wheat
  50 g/1.65 oz sugar (1/4 cup)
    2 g/0.1 oz salt (1/2 tsp)
  14 g/0.5 oz butter (1 tbsp) melted, for brushing
  22 g/0.8 oz sugar (1/8 cup) for sprinkling

Peeling the orange with a vegetable peeler is easy
1. Put milk, butter, and orange peel in small saucepan over medium heat; stir until butter melts, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until warm. Discard orange peel, add orange blossom water, and whisk in eggs.

Heat milk, butter and orange peel, until butter is melted

 2. In mixer bowl, stir together flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add milk mixture, then mix at low speed until dough comes together and all flour is hydrated (1-2 minutes). Let dough rest for 5 minutes.

3. Resume kneading at medium-low speed for 6 minutes, dough should be smooth but still slightly sticky. (Resist the urge to add more flour, it is not necessary!)

4. Place dough on lightly oiled work surface. With oiled hands, stretch dough into a square and fold it in thirds like a business letter. Repeat this folding from both sides. Make a ball, pulling edges underneath, and place it in lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes. 

Starting the stretching and folding

5. Repeat this stretch and fold (S&F) 3 times, in 10 minute intervals. After last fold, place dough, tightly covered, in refrigerator overnight. (Remove from the fridge 2 hours before using.)

6. Cut a piece about 120 g/4.2 oz off the dough and reserve. Divide remaining dough in halves and shape pieces on lightly floured surface into 2 rounds. Place rounds on parchment lined baking sheet and flatten tops with your hands.

7. With some of reserved dough, form 2 small rolls  (à 7 g/0.25 oz), cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

8. Divide rest of reserved dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll into ropes (slightly longer than width of loaves.) Starting in the middle, pinch or twist ropes with your index and middle fingers about 1 inch apart to make knobs (the pinched parts should be really thin, to preserve the bone pattern)

The ropes are quite elastic, you can stretch them to the desired length

6. Arrange 3 ropes on top of each dough round, overlapping in the center and tucking ends under a bit. Mist with baking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place, about 45 - 60 minutes, or until breads are doubled in size. Poke dough gently with your finger, the indentation should not fill back again (if breads don't rise long enough they will burst in the oven and destroy the pattern!)

7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Adjust rack in oven middle.

8. Dab a little cold water on top of each round where ropes meet, and put reserved dough balls on top, pressing slightly so that they stick.

Pan de Muerto - decorated with bones and tear drops

9. Bake breads for 18 minutes, then cover loosely with tin foil, and continue baking for another 18 minutes, or until they are golden brown (internal temperature at least 190ºF.)

10. Let breads cool for a few minutes on wire rack. Then brush them all over with melted butter. Holding loaves from the bottom, sprinkle sugar over the top, tilting them slightly to help coat them evenly.

Variation: Use 147 g /5.2 oz whole wheat and only 300 g/10.6 oz all-purpose flour. For the whole wheat, adjust with a little more milk, to keep the dough from getting too dry, it should be slightly sticky.

Delicately orange flavored Pan de Muerto - better enjoy it before you are dead!

Submitted to YeastSpotting and BYOB


  1. Lovely. Just pinned this to make soon!

  2. We love Pan de Muerto and make it every year for Day of the Dead. What a bummer that you found such a bad bakery...we have a few little Panaderia's here (in my town in the US) that have so many amazing breads! Your loaf turned out just lovely!

  3. Thank you, Heather!
    Here in Maine are only a few good Mexican restaurants, and no bakeries. I think the ones I went to in Tulum cater mostly to tourists, and therefore are probably not that great. What recipe are you using? Do you put anise in it?
    I made another version yesterday, with a little more whole wheat, that turned out very good, too.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. What a beautiful bread and the taste must be fantastic! I love the color of the crumb too...

  5. Thank you - a praise from a master baker is always very welcome! I'll have a second go at your Barley Bread soon. We loved it.
    My thoughts are with you!