Day of the Dead /’“Dia de los Muertos” by Brenda Serna

Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Meso-American holiday dedicated to the ancestors. The celebration honors both death and the cycle of life. It is also a way to remember people that have passed away, while acknowledging the relationships still present with the deceased.

In Mexico, people celebrate this day by going to the cemetery and taking their loved ones their favorite dishes, music, and other items that symbolize what they enjoyed during their life. Another common practice is creating altars with pictures of their deceased loved ones. Altars are decorated with orange and yellow marigolds, candles and items that represent the deceased.

Two of the special foods enjoyed by people in Mexico during Day of the Dead festivities are the pan de muerto and sugar skulls. Pan de Muerto is a special semi-sweet bread with bone like shapes on the top of the bread. A plastic skeleton is hidden inside and It’s believed that the person that bites into the skeleton will have luck. It is also believed that when people take a bite out of it they are “taking a bite of death” and it protects them from fear of death.

Pan de Muerto Recipe
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours, 40 minutes

1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup water
6 cups flour
2 packets dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons whole anise seed
2 tablespoons orange zest
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
Glaze (see below)

Bring all ingredients to room temperature (except for the water which should be very warm) before beginning.

In a large bowl, mix together butter, sugar, anise, salt and 1/2 cup of the flour. In a separate bowl combine the eggs and the water.
Add the egg/water mixture to the first mixture and add in another 1/2 cup of the flour. Add in the yeast and another 1/2 cup of flour. Continue to add the flour 1 cup at a time until a dough forms.
Knead on a floured surface for about 1 minute.
Cover with a slightly damp dishcloth and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Bring out dough and punch it down.
Remove about 1/4 of it and use it to make bone shapes to drape across the loaf (see below.)
Or divide the dough into smaller pieces to create other bone shapes. Let the shaped dough rise for 1 more hour.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes for smaller loaves and up to 45 minutes for larger loaves.

GLAZES (After glaze is applied you may decorate with additional colored sugar.)
Bring to a boil- 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup fresh orange juice. Brush on bread and then sift some additional sugar over the top.
Mix 3 tablespoons orange juice concentrate and 1/3 cup sugar with 2 egg whites. Brush on bread during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Bring to a boil- 1/4 cup piloncillo, 1/4 cup sugar, 2/3 cup cranberry juice and 2 tablespoons orange zest. Brush on bread after bread has cooled.

BONES The most common bone decorations are very simple. Sometimes it’s just a matter of forming ball shapes and pressing them into the loaf in a line. You could also take a piece of dough, roll it into a long cylinder and place a ball at each end. You can get much more detailed if you like, but even a slightly “knobby” looking loaf will get the idea across.

Events in the area:
1. San Francisco Day of the Dead Procession and Festival of Altars
Friday, November 2, 2012

2. The National Hispanic University: Dia de los Muertos 3rd Annual Festival
Saturday, October 27, 2012

3. 2012 Fruitvale Día de los Muertos Festival
Sunday, October 28, 2012

Recommended Día de Los Muertos Children’s Book: The Spirit of Tío Fernando – El espíritu de tío Fernando by Janice Levy

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