Monday, November 9, 2009

Day of the Bread

There is something besides the relentless revelry, marigolds and brass bands in Oaxaca's Day of the Dead*. As families pass from house to house, visiting altars and friends they are nearly always greeted with spiced hot chocolate** and Pan de Muertos –Bread of the Dead– fresh from the market. In a festival dominated by the togetherness that is typically Mexican, sharing good food is of course crucial.

Pan de Muertos is akin to Christmas pudding or Pumpkin pie. If you so desire, you can lay your hands on it whenever you wish, but it won't taste the same till you are sharing it with the right people. One of the right people donated this very recipe, and if it's true to what we tried, your'e in for a treat. At present we have no access to an oven, so please think of us when you feast.

On a technical note: this anise and orange blossom flavored sweet bread is a little like a light Mexican brioche, involving a good amount of folded-in butter that gives a wonderfully lingering, delicate taste. You must knead the dough a little before introducing the butter, as the gluten proteins must link, giving the bread structure and allowing it to rise. Add it too early and the proteins will slide rather than link, and you'll have a more biblical style bread that will live up to its name, perhaps a little too much.

Pan de Muertos
600g of plain flour
40g sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
25g dry yeast
1/3 cup of milk
1 teaspoon anise seeds
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
3 whole eggs
4 yolks
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Mix all dry ingredients together on a clean bench and make a well in the centre.

Warm the milk, condensed milk and orange blossom together to blood temperature, pour into the well and add eggs. Work the mixture together until smooth, throw a little extra flour on the bench and knead for 2-3 minutes.

Flatten the dough out on the bench, add the butter and fold over to enclose. Working slowly, begin kneading the dough until the butter has been evenly distributed. Place into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to double in size.

Remove from the bowl and knock back to original size. Form into a cobb style loaf and place onto a greased and floured baking tray. Brush with a little milk and sprinkle with a few more anise seeds. Preheat oven to 180C (350F), leave loaf to double in size again and then bake for 40-50 mins. Serve with hot chocolate, friends and family.

*This is not a zombie flick. Day of the Dead festivities and preparations will be covered in the following post, or for a little background, read more

**Mexican hot chocolate can be prepared with Ibarra tablets from Essential Ingredient or Fireworks foods, or for a little fun with a mortar and pestle try the following:

50g cocoa nibs
100g castor sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
700ml milk (or water, or a mixture of the two)

Lightly toast the cocoa nibs in a dry pan till warm. Crush in a mortar and pestle with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Add milk and warm in a non-reactive saucepan, whisking gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add more sugar if desired, serve hot and slightly aerated.

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