The bread of the dead is a living tradition in Mexico and there are many recipes that, however, often do not work for all of us. When that happens, our first thought is that the recipe was not good. However, factors like temperature, flour, yeast, and even others that we may never think of are important in preparation and the cause of failure or success when it comes to preparing this seasonal delicacy.
In the bakery it is said that you must use exact amounts and only play with the water that is added. What wise advice! Not having a scale at home and doing it with the eye of a good bucket is invoking disaster. And not to mention the temperature at home, which in most regions of the old continent and even the United States, is usually much lower than our subtropical climate in Mexico. Those who live in the north of the country probably have a better sense of the problem and already have solutions that work for them, but it is not the same to make pan de muerto at the end of October in the center of the country, as it is to run the same recipe in an apartment in Spain. , Italy or Greece, where temperatures are lower and heating is often minimal. The bread dough must have a temperature of 26 ° C. That said, for me, the recipe that best suits me to make pan de muerto is the following:
This recipe yields 20 pieces of bread of approx. 80 gr each.
For the preferment:
140 gr of strength flour (gluten from 11 to 12% of protein)
4 medium eggs
42 gr of fresh yeast, if you use instant you can add 7 gr
180 ml of milk at room temperature or you can heat it to 28 degrees
2 tsp orange blossom water
For the dough:
- 660 gr of strength flour
- 2 egg yolks
- the zest of 3 oranges
- 190 g of butter
- 160 gr of refined sugar
- 10 grams of salt
Melted butter and sugar for dusting
In a container we put the yeast that can be fresh or instant. We then add the sugar and milk and beat until they are well integrated. Once united, we add the eggs one by one and beat quickly and constantly until they are well integrated and without lumps. We add a teaspoon of orange blossom water and mix well again. Once all this is done, we cover with a transparent membrane and let it rest in a warm place.
Note: If it is very cold in your country of adoption and therefore you do not have an optimal temperature, it is recommended that you put the preparation in the oven without turning on, on the middle and bottom grill, you can put a container with water boiled and still hot. The steam released by the water will help the pre-fermentation and consequently, its growth.
Once the pre-fermentation doubles or triples in size, you are going to mix it again until it goes down. You cover it again and let it rise again. You are going to do this process 3 times, only that in the third it will no longer be necessary to cover it with the membrane.
While that happens, we are going to grate the orange, taking care not to reach the white part since this will give our bread a bitter taste.
When you have your preferment ready, empty it into another wide-mouthed container and add the orange zest, the sugar, the previously sifted flour and the egg yolk. We knead until everything is integrated and we cover it well. We let our dough rest for about 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, we knead it a little more, spread it and add half of the butter. We knead again until the butter is integrated. Once this is done, we add the other half of the butter and repeat the same steps.
We knead our preparation, taking care not to generate too much heat in the dough. If it feels hot, it is better to leave it covered for a few moments and continue kneading later.
We will know that our dough is ready when it becomes more elastic and stops sticking in our hands and on the work table. Noticing small bubbles in the dough, it will be time to put it to rest.
We are careful that our dough has a temperature of 26 °C while it's resting. However, it is not recommended putting it on top of the radiator, since only the bottom part will receive heat and will not allow the even growth of the dough. Once again, it is better to put it in the oven, without turning it on, although a little hot. It is important to put a container with water that will create humidity so that our dough does not dry out.
We let it rest until it doubles in size. This process can take anywhere from 50 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the ambient temperature.
Once the size of the dough has been doubled, we take it out and knead it for a minute. We cut it into 80 gr portions (or as you prefer), setting aside 100 gr to form our bones. It is necessary to take into account that when shaping it, we will let the dough rise again.
We put the dough that we have reserved for the bones on a flat plate, extend it, cover it with plastic film and take it to the refrigerator.
We start by forming our balls, always taking care that the seam is underneath. We form the balls with the lower part of the palm of the hand, helping out with our fingers. We place the balls on a tray already covered with baking paper and let our loaves rest again for the last rise. In the same way that when we let the dough rest, it may take some time depending on the temperature.
Meanwhile, we take out our dough that we had reserved in the refrigerator and begin to make the bones and the ball on the top.
Once done, we place them on a wood or a flat plate and cover with plastic film.
When the dough balls have doubled in size, it's time to place the bones. You have to be very careful not to press them too much to avoid sinking.
We preheat the oven to 180 degrees and place a tray below that will serve as a container for the 100ml of water that we will add to it, when the bread is put inside.
We place the bread in the oven, pour the water into the container below and close. They will take approximately 20 to 25 minutes to bake. If your pan de muerto is larger, it will take about 35 minutes.
We take them out of the oven and wait for them to cool down a bit so that we can cover them with melted butter and sprinkled sugar.
In this step you must take care that the bread is not too hot when placing the butter, since the bread will absorb it quickly. The same for the sugar, since if you sprinkle it still hot, it will dry out and change color.
It's time to enjoy a rich, fluffy and delicious pan de muerto, accompanied by a hot drink of your choice.
Remember, whatever recipe you use to make your sweet bread, don't forget to share your experience. In this way we will help each other, providing advice on how to follow a living tradition.