I live in the Mission District, a neighborhood long associated with the Mexican community (Don't even get me started on which taqueria is best-- it's too personal and highly subjective). Now everyone who lives within a 5 city radius of San Francisco knows that we consider Halloween a national holiday (we-go-BIG), but not many people realize that there is also a sizable Dia des los Muertos celebration!
I decided this year that I wanted to take part in the big celebration put on in my neighborhood. This is not related to Halloween, it is very much it's own thing: a celebration to honor the dead. Food, music, color, candy! The parade takes place on Nov. 2nd and at the end of it everyone brings flowers and candles to place at the big community alter. Another item that people put out is Pan de Muerto or Bread of the Dead. I decided I'd give this a shot. I found this recipe on Chow. It just didn't seem right though. Heat the oven then let the bread sit for an hour? Two packets of yeast? I decided in the end to go with this recipe:
Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)
1/4 cup (half a stick) margarine or butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar
Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.
In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.
Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, but save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.
Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into "ropes."
On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form 2 "bones." Cross and lay them atop braided loaf.
Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.
When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture, except on cross bones. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
These came out sweet, yeasty and I have to
admit... heavy. I love the licorice flavor of the anise and the sweet crunch of the sugar crust, but I think these are best left as an offering. They are certainly sturdy enough to be able to stand up on the alter for a few days!!
I had a great time learning about the history of these little treats and I loved thinking about what they meant while baking them.