Continuing in our exploration of how students at the University of Texas at Austin express themselves through their food, check out this recipe for Pan de Muerto and learn about the Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos.
Story by Julia O’Hanlon
Illustrations by Diane Campos and Emily Ward
Most people have heard of Halloween, but not as many have heard of Día de los Muertos. A cultural celebration that is a result of Aztec and Catholic syncretism, Día de los Muertos is a Mexican multi-day holiday that reveres the lives of loved ones who have passed on. Latinx people honor their loved ones by building ofrendas (altars) for them, cleaning their graves and leaving gifts for them in the afterlife (such as their favorite pastries or images of saints that were important to them), decorating calaveras (sugar skulls), baking pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and participating in community gatherings and festivals. This essential three-day party from October 31 to November 2 is put together not only to remember our dead, but to remind ourselves that our loved ones never leave us. Our ancestors give us strength and inspire us to remember that we are the results of generations of struggle, sacrifice and triumph. There is an incredible amount of joy in remembrance and through Día de los Muertos, we tap into that reservoir.
I am celebrating Día de los Muertos with my mother, Thalia Garcia O’Hanlon. “It is amazing that we get to be a small part of this 500 year old tradition,” she says. “It connects us to our indigenous ancestors and to our loved ones who have passed on.” Watch below to see my mamí and me bake this traditional bread and talk about our Mexican culture and family.
Pan de Muerto
Traditional “bread of the dead,” is fluffy, yeasty bread that is orange and anise flavored and topped with a sugary orange glaze and pieces of orange zest. Best served with friends and family while reminiscing about your loved ones.
Cook time: 2 hours and 30 minutes (30 minutes prep, 2 hours letting bread rise and baking)
Makes: 6 servings
1 stick of unsalted butter
½ cup of milk
½ cup of water
½ cup of granulated sugar
5 ½ cups of flour
2 packages of active dry yeast
1 tsp. of salt
1 Tbsp. of whole anise seed
2 Tbsp. of orange extract
2 Tbsp. grated orange zest
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. grated orange zest
⅓ cup orange juice
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine butter, milk, and water until butter has melted. Do not let the mixture boil.
Combine ½ cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and sugar in a mixing bowl.
Slowly stir in butter, milk, and water mixture to dry ingredients. Add in orange extract and orange zest as well.
Place the dough on a lightly-floured board and knead the dough for at least ten minutes or until elastic. Add flour as needed to reach perfect consistency.
Once an elastic consistency has been reached, form the dough into a large ball and cut it into four even pieces. Place three pieces of the dough onto a cooking sheet, cover in plastic, and let rise in a warm location for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Place the fourth piece of dough in plastic wrap and put in refrigerator to slow the rising process.
Use the fourth piece of dough to make decorations for the other three pieces of dough. The usual design is a skull and crossbones (see the video for reference), but feel free to get creative!
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake bread for about 25 to 30 minutes. The bread is finished cooking when it sounds hollow when it is knocked on.
In a saucepan on medium heat, combine sugar, orange zest, and orange juice. Bring mixture just to a slight boil to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat once the mixture is completely combined.
Cover bread liberally when slightly cooled with orange glaze.