Cooking Like A Mexican

Pan de Muerto

Day of the dead, or Día de Muertos is a big deal as you most obviously probably know. It is a celebration, and nothing to be afraid of, kind of what the Disney Movie Coco portrays, if you haven’t watched it, this is the perfect time of the year. It is very well done and portrays a very close idea of the tradition. This time, I will indulge you with two recipes, day of the dead bread and traditional Mexican chocolate.

Pan de Muerto, or “Bread of the Dead”, is a sweet bread that is baked during the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration in Mexico on November 1st (all saints day, for dead babies and children) and 2nd (the rest of the dead). It is a light and egg-y sweet bread that is shaped as a round loaf or smaller round rolls. Both and rolls are decorated with bone-shaped strips of dough to honor the celebration of those gone before.

pandemuerto.JPGThe most prominent symbol of Día de los Muertos is the calacas and calaveras, or skeletons and skulls. From parades to decorations, even to foods, images of bones are everywhere. Sugar skulls and chocolate skulls are often given as gifts. In larger cities, you will find parades filled with dancers,, and many people dressed up like skeletons. One of the most popular figures to dress up as is La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Skull), a skeleton who resembles an upper-class female, showing that, in death, rich and poor are the same. Despite the multitude of skeletons dancing through the streets and the belief that spirits return to be with their families, the festival is not scary, or macabre. The complete opposite, it is a joyous event, full of parties, good memories, and good food. The festival celebrates death as a natural part of the human experience: as natural to celebrate as a newborn baby, a wedding, or any birthday. Through the celebrations and decorations of graves and home altars, the dead are remembered and honored.

Day of the dead bread:


¼ c milk

¼ c water

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature

3-3 ½ c unbleached all-purpose flour, divided

¼ c sugar

2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (one packet)

1 ½ tsp ground anise

1 tsp salt

2 eggs, at room temperature

For the Glaze and Topping

1 Tbsp milk

¼ c + 2 Tbsp sugar divided

1 orange, zested and juiced


In a small saucepan heat the milk, water, and butter together until the butter has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the mixture to roughly 80-90F.

In a large bowl, mix together 1 c flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and anise. Add the cooled milk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk until combined.

Add the remaining 2 c flour, ½ c at a time, stirring well after each addition, until a soft dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for 5-7 minutes, adding flour as needed, until it is smooth, soft, and slightly tacky.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover it with a damp tea towel and let is rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in bulk, roughly 1 hour.

Once the dough has risen, turn it onto the counter and knead it a few times to deflate it.

Cut 6, 1 oz, pieces (roughly the size of a golf ball) from the dough.

 Shape the larger portion of dough into a round loaf and place it on a lightly floured baking sheet.

Shape each of the 6 smaller portions into a bone, by rolling them in the center to create two larger sections on each side of a smaller connecting strip. Arrange the bones on top of the round loaf.

Cover the shaped loaf with a damp tea towel and let rise until doubled, roughly 30 min.

During the last 10 minutes of rising time, preheat your oven to 350F.

Brush the dough lightly with 1 Tbsp milk and place it in the oven.

Bake the bread for 25-30 minutes, until it sounds hollow when tapped.

While the bread is baking, make the glaze: Heat ¼ c sugar together with the zest and juice of one orange. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If necessary, strain the glaze of any orange pulp and set the strained glaze aside. When the bread is done, brush the warm loaf with the glaze and sprinkle to top with 2 Tbsp sugar (or more, in my family’s bakery, they turn the glazed bread on to a bowl full of sugar and let it get coated freely). Let the bread cool slightly before slicing.

For the traditional Mexican hot chocolate:

-You can also buy Abuelita tablets, but here’s the recipe from scratch-


1/4 cup baking cocoa

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup boiling water

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dash ground cloves or nutmeg

3 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whipped cream

Whole cinnamon sticks


In a small saucepan, mix cocoa and sugar; stir in water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add cinnamon and cloves; stir in milk. Simmer 5 minutes (do not boil). Whisk in vanilla. Pour hot chocolate into mugs; top with whipped cream. Use cinnamon sticks for stirrers.

Some things to consider regarding Mexican hot chocolate:

-In Mexico, a good mug of hot chocolate has some delicious espuma, or froth, on the top. Which should give you a mustache. Traditionally, this is created with a molinillo. These are often very beautifully made and are as decorative as they are useful. The molinillo is inserted into the hot chocolate, either while the liquid is still in the pan or after it has already been poured into a cup; the cook then takes the handle of the utensil between his or her palms and makes the molinillo spin quickly back and forth in the liquid until the desired amount of froth is produced. It can take several minutes to create a lot of froth; patience and persistence are key. If you don’t have an official molinillo, try the same technique with a wire whisk.

For the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, hot chocolate was a drink consumed only by those at the top of the social pyramid, as cacao beans were also used as a type of currency. The concoction those elites consumed was only marginally similar to the one we sip today, however, as neither sugar nor milk products had yet made it to the American Continent, and so were not used in the hot chocolate drink.

I highly recommend doing this a Saturday afternoon, to enjoy the coco movie at night eating some pan de muerto and sippin’ on some Mexican hot chocolate. Yes, you can spike it with the alcohol of your choice. Maybe some tequila, or brandy? Keep this batch away from the kids though! Or not, for an early bed time. Just kidding. Or am I? don’t worry, I’m not a mother… Until next time!