Every year around this time I like to challenge myself with an extra special recipe to place on my small family altar in remembrance of Día de Los Muertos. For those of you who are not familiar with Día de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, it’s a day observed in Mexico and other cultures to honor their loved ones that have passed. It’s not meant to be a sad day, but several days of celebration. It’s a festive time when family comes together. The special days are observed on October 31, November 1 and November 2. The altar typically includes special pictures of their loved ones, candles, flowers, incense, candy made from pumpkin, Mexican chocolate, pan de muerto, various specialty foods and trinkets that may have belonged to those loved ones. Pan de Muerto, or Day of the Dead bread, is a lightly sweetened yeast bread with subtle flavors of anise, sometimes cinnamon and orange. For this version, I took advantage of the special dark chocolate cocoa powder and combined it with one of my favorite which is Mexican chocolate. The results were a soft, lightly sweetened and extra delicious flavored dark chocolate bread. I always prepare my bread a few weeks ahead and freeze it to bring out later for my alter. Bread’s all gone! I will have to prepare another loaf closer to the date, darn!
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup “special dark” cocoa powder
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 teaspoons of instant coffee (*I used Nescafe)
1 teaspoon anise seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
You will also need:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3-ounce Mexican chocolate disc, finely crushed
1/3 cup special dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup milk for wash on bread
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
Tips~ When recipes call for a certain temperature on liquid ingredients, it’s a smart idea to purchase an inexpensive candy thermometer for recipes like this.
Tips~ If a recipe requires rise time in a warm spot, I like to turn my oven on to the lowest setting and place my covered bowl of rising dough on the stove top. I rotate the bowl every 20 to 30 minutes while it rises.
1. In a large bowl, add the 1/2 cup warm water, yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Stir gently and let stand for 10 minutes.
2. With the hand mixer on low, add in the 2 tablespoons butter, cocoa powder, brown sugar, 1/2 cup warm water, coffee, anise, cinnamon and salt. Mix for a minute or so.
3. Gradually add in the 2 cups of flour until dough begins to form. Transfer dough onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead for 5 minutes, adding flour as needed. Transfer dough ball to a glass bowl coated with oil or butter. Brush the dough with oil or butter, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 hours.
4. Once dough has risen, transfer again to a lightly floured surface. Slice off 1/4 of the dough and set aside. Open up the remaining dough, adding some of the Mexican chocolate and dark chocolate chips. Fold and knead gently to conceal chocolate. Work in as much of the chocolate as you can so it’s all tucked into the dough. Form into a ball and transfer to a lined baking sheet.
5. Divide the remaining dough into 3 equal parts. Roll the two pieces to resemble a bone shape and form a crisscross shape over loaf of bread. Roll a ball or skull shape with last piece and place directly in the center, on top of cross. Cover loosely and let rise for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Brush skull and cross bones with milk wash and sprinkle on turbinado sugar while wet. Brush any other exposed parts just with milk. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and let cool before slicing.
Tips~ Once bread has cooled, I like to slice it and wrap it with parchment paper in individual slices. I then store the bread in a plastic storage bag, opened, so it gets a little air. It has a short shelf life, so if you are not going to eat it in a couple of days, I would store it in the refrigerator.
These moments are truly some of the most rewarding experiences I have … sharing my love of cooking and recipes inspired by my family traditions.