Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

Happy Halloween! It’s that time of year again when Galley Pirates celebrates Día de Muertos, the Mexican holiday that honors the dead from Oct. 31–Nov. 2. Last year we brought you Chicken Mole, hauntingly spicy enough to raise the dead as they’re begging for beer. This year is the traditional Pan de Muerto or Bread of the Dead. It’s a wonderfully sweet bread with orange essence and anise, glazed with butter and sprinkled with sugar. The bread is round to represent the circle of life, and decorated with the bones of the dead and a teardrop from the ancient Aztec goddess, Chimalma. So as not to upset those deceased or any Gods that surround them, we’re going to stick with that tradition.

Setting the stage for Día de Muertos, or rather, decorating your salon table, brings on an array of colors. There are six representative colors: Purple signifies pain, suffering, and mourning. Pink is for celebration; white is purity and hope. Orange represents the sun; red, the blood of life. The yellow marigolds symbolize death. Marigold petals are used to make trails so spirits can find the path to their altars.  Finding marigolds, however, this time of year in the Mid-Atlantic is next to impossible. Yellow carnations will have to suffice. And some nice black coffee to go along with the soon-to-be-baked sweet bread.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

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1 stick of unsalted butter
½ cup milk
½ cup water
4 eggs
5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 packages active-dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole anise seed
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons orange extract or orange flower water
Zest of one orange

One note: this recipe makes 3 6″ loaves. That might be too much to bake in your galley oven at one time. Either reduce the recipe or bake in batches to fit your oven. If you are making this bread in a kitchen as we hope you landlubbers do…the three loaves should fit a large baking sheet just fine.

Zest or grate the rind of one orange. If you can find orange flower water or orange extract, use it, but the recipe will not be a failure if you don’t have that.

In a saucepan over a medium flame, warm butter, milk, and water without letting it come to a boil. As that heats up, combine ½ cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and sugar in a large bowl. I use my  pink collapsable bowl for pretty much everything. Plus today pink signifies celebration. Slowly beat in the warm milk, orange extract or orange flower water, and orange zest until well mixed. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing through. Slowly add in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding additional flour until the dough is soft but not sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If the dough is dry add some water and if it’s too wet add some flour. Form the dough into a large ball.

Cut ball into quarters. You will be baking three loaves, reserving one of the quarters to make the “bones.”

Roll three of the quarters into smooth round balls. Place on a greased baking sheet and set in a warm area to rise. Being on a sailboat in mid-October on the Chesapeake, finding a warm place on a boat means your cooled down galley oven. Heat it up to about 150º then let cool down to a nice warm temp before placing in your bread. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate to prevent it from rising.

Before the bread loaves have fully risen, make your “bones” and “tears.” Roll logs of dough out to about 8″, pressing with your fingers as you roll to create “knuckles” between your fingers. roll out 6 bones and 3 tears. Place them on the bread loaves once they have risen.

Heat your galley oven to 375º. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until golden.

If you choose to bake all three loaves at the same time in a small galley oven, this is what you will get. As with the olive bread we baked a few weeks back, you will end up with a mass of bread, only slightly divided into loaves.

Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with generous amounts of sugar.

And there you have it, worthy of celebration. Light your candles, pour some coffee and take in the fond memories of those who have left us. Or…prepare yourselves for the creepiness that Halloween is soon to bring this week, complete with bones and skulls, cocktails and cookies


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