In many ways, Day of the Dead is the opposite of Halloween. It’s not about ghouls and goblins, sexy nurse costumes or Donald Trump masks. It’s about matters of the soul, memory — and delicious sweet bread.
In Mexico and Mexican communities, this day arrives the morning after Halloween and its high-fructose-corn-syrup rushes. It’s celebrated with colorful altars, festive Day of the Dead sugar skulls and, most poignantly, with foods to honor the dearly departed.
According to ancient indigenous belief, the souls of our departed loved ones come to visit once a year. We honor them by baking sweet, iconic Pan de Muertos dessert bread and by making their favorite dishes.
The two-day holiday, which combines All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, starts Tuesday.
Here is a recipe by Mexico City chef Margarita Carrillo Arronte, whose work on Mexican food and culture is reflected in her epic 2014 book, “Mexico: The Cookbook” (Phaidon).
Day of the Dead Bread is one of 700 recipes contained in the book.
Pan de Muertos
RECIPE: Day of the Dead Bread
From “Mexico: The Cookbook,” by Margarita Carrillo Arronte.
1 cup milk
4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry (fast-action) yeast
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 to 2 teaspoons orange blossom water, to taste
3/4 cup melted butter, plus more for greasing and brushing
Make the bread
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of sugar
To prepare the dough, bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, then remove from heat and let cool. Set aside.
Put the flour into a large bowl and make a well. Sprinkle in the sugar and yeast and pour in the milk. Close the well by flicking flour over the milk and let it sit for 1 hour.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the melted butter, and shape into a ball. Transfer to a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes. Add the butter and knead again for 10 minutes.
Return to the bowl and cover. Let rise for 2 hours, until doubled in size.
Grease two baking sheets with butter. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Take two of those pieces and roll them into tight balls and then press them gently to flatten a bit. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
After the dough has rested for 1 hour, take the remaining piece of dough and divide it into 10 little pieces. Roll two of these pieces into small balls and 8 of these pieces into long, thin logs.
To make the glaze, combine all the ingredients and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl and mix well. Brush the loaves gently with the glaze. Take four of the logs and drape them in an X shape over one of the balls. Repeat for the other disk of dough.
Brush these with egg. Take a little ball of dough and place it on the top of one disk of dough, where the X meets. Press down gently so it sticks. Repeat for the other little ball of dough.
Glaze the dough balls and bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. While they are still warm, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Makes 3 loaves.