Pan de Muerto is a sugary sweet bread that is enjoyed by the families of the deceased during Dia de los Muertos, as well as placed on the altar. The Pan de Muerto is a made into a loaf, and extra dough is fashioned into decorations resembling bones. The bread is baked, glazed and decorated with colored sugar.
November first begins the Dia de los Muertos (also known as “Day of the Dead”) festivities with All Saints Day in which the deceased children are honored and remembered. November second, All Souls Day, marks the day of remembrance of the adult dead.
Dia de los Muertos combines these days to celebrate the deceased and enjoy their memories. Day of the Dead is not scary, spooky or somber. The spirits of the deceased are thought to pay a visit to their families during Dia de los Muertos and the families prepare an altar for them.
Other offerings placed on the altar for Dia de los Muertos usually consist of a wash bowl, basin, razors, soap and other items the traveling spirit can use to clean-up after the journey. Pictures of the deceased are also placed on the altar as well as personal belongings for each person. Candles are used to help light the way for the spirits as well as other decorative items such as papel picado (tissue paper cut-outs) wreaths, crosses and flowers.
Certain Dia de los Muertos dishes are also placed on the altar to help feed and nourish the traveling souls. Some of these offerings double as the four main elements of nature: earth, wind, water, and fire. These are represented by movable or light-weight items such as tissue paper cut-outs (wind,) a bowl of water, candles (fire) and food (crops, earth.)
Mexican families make a trip to the cemeteries during Dia de los Muertos to clean up the family members gravesites and decorate them as well. Many carts and vendors are set up around the cemeteries to sell decorations and flowers for the gravesites. Local bands go around and play music for the deceased and the families. Larger cities often have parades with horses, dancers and musicians. The vendors take advantage of the large crowds during Dia de los Muertos and sell sugar skulls, candy coffins and other “Day of the Dead” treats.
Preparing to Shape the Dough
Expert techniques are required to prepare Pan de Muerto, and the first step involves careful preparation of the dough. The importance of shaping the dough properly cannot be underestimated.
Shaping is largely governed by the interaction of stress and tension between the hands of the baker and the work bench. First, the dough must be well made in that it exhibits the correct balance of elasticity and extensibility. Too much elasticity and the dough will resist shaping and either yield small tight loaves or will tear as the baker tries to force it into the proper shape. Too much extensibility and the dough will not hold its shaped form.
Second, the dough must be ready to be shaped. If the dough has not relaxed enough, the dough will tear upon shaping. Assuming both of the above requirements have been met a baker will begin by gently flattening a dough piece into the desired shape. If an open crumb structure is desired then the whole shaping process must be performed gently. After flattening, the dough is next folded into to a pre-shaped form approximating the final shape. This will result in a rough shape with a seam.
The final stage requires the most skill, and in it the baker uses the strength of his hand and arms to seal the seam and then, either pushing or pulling the dough against the surface of the work bench to create a taut surface on the outside of the shaped dough piece. This piece is then transferred to a floured basket, tray, or linen and allowed its final proof.
How to Make Pan de Muerto
5 pounds of Trigal Dorado Bizcocho Mix
3 ounces of Trigal Dorado Margarine (Bizcocho)
3 ounces of Trigal Dorado Fresh Yeast
1 ounce of Westco Pure Orange Emulsion
0.5 ounces of BakeSense Ground Cinnamon
1 pound, 12 ounces of water
1. Scale & Mix
Scale the ingredients for the dough, then mix until it is developed and smooth.
Let it rest for 15 minutes.
2. Shape/Form Pieces
Scale and round the base (1 pound, 4 ounces) and place it on a paper-lined sheet pan.
Scale and form the bones (4 ounces per string). One string should be enough for each loaf.
Scale and round the top ball (1 ounce).
3. Apply “Bones”
Wash each loaf well with egg wash, then cut each string in thirds and stretch them over the rounded loaves. Place the rounded top ball in the top center, then place them all into place.
Brush them again liberally with egg wash.
Apply sesame seeds, if desired.
4. Proof & Bake
Proof them to almost full size, then bake at 360°F until firm and rich brown in color.
Brush them lightly with melted butter, and sprinkle with crystal or granulated sugar.