Under the hood, Pan de Muerto is very similar to pan dulce, the fluffy, slightly sweet white bread that Mexico is famous for. The main difference is that it’s flavored with anise seeds. The presentation is different as well, as it’s typically shaped into round loaves decorated with bone- and teardrop-shaped dough pieces, then glazed. Here’s the basic recipe:
19.25 ounces (3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1.75 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons anise seeds or (1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
2 teaspoons orange zest (or orange blossom water or 2 drops orange oil)
8 ounces (1 cup) milk
2 ounces (1/4 cup) butter or shortening or lard
2 eggs, room temperature
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup) sugar
2.5 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, salt and anise seeds. Stir to combine. Next combine the milk and fat in a medium saucepan and heat the mixture just until the fat melts. It should be warm, not hot. Remove the mixture from the heat and add the eggs, whisking to combine them. Add the mixture to the mixer bowl and stir until everything is moistened. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5-7 minutes, adding more flour as needed to create a moderately firm dough. Remove the dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover it and let the dough rise for about an hour.
You can shape this dough in any number of ways. You can make one or two larger loaves out of this dough, or many smaller ones. All can be decorated with bone, skull or tear-shaped pieces of dough and baked. Bake large loaves at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-40 minutes. Bake small ones at 375 for about 20 minutes. Whatever size you’re making you’ll want to check them and rotate them about half way through baking.
Meanwhile combine the glaze ingredients by brining the sugar and juice in a saucepan. When the mixture cools stir in the zest. When the loaves are finished baking allow them to cool slightly, then brush on the glaze. Loaves can allows be decorated with regular or colored sugars, or brightly colored icings.