Here in the Southwest, the spooky spirit of Halloween lingers around for a spell as the macabre Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos is observed from October 31st through November 2nd. It is believed that during this time, the spirit of the dead return to visit their families who consider it a joyous time. They choose to hide their fears of death and beyond with a mocking, yet respectful, celebration that includes the building of altars and thoughtful preparation of special breads known as Pan de Muerto, or "Bread of the Dead".
I had saved this particular Bread of the Dead recipe from an article I had read in Sunset Magazine about 13 years ago (post without recipe is available in link). While some variations call for anise seed, this one is delicately spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, of which I always keep fresh and grate myself, with the mellow flavor of my own homemade bourbon vanilla. The result is a mildly sweet, subtly spiced, warm, fluffy, loaf of bread that is lovely with a cup of warm cocoa.
adapted from Sunset Magazine
1 pkg yeast
1/4 c warm water
1/3 c milk
1/3 c butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten, with 1 Tbs reserved for wash
1 Tbs Bourbon vanilla
3-3/4 c flour
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp fresh ground cinnamon
2 Tbs sesame seed
In large bowl add warm water and yeast. Set aside. Cut butter into small cubes and place in small saucepan with milk until just barely melted, but yet you are able to touch without burning. Set aside.
Beat eggs well and add vanilla, milk mixture, sugar and salt. Then add that mixture to the large bowl with yeast mixture. Mix well.
Using 2-1/2 c of the flour, add the nutmeg and cinnamon and combine well. Add the dry flour mixture to the wet yeast mixture and stir well. Add another cup of flour and mix until dough starts to pull away from bowl a bit. Take the remaining flour and sprinkle on a flat surface. Scrape dough onto surface and knead with remaining flour until smooth and no longer sticky. NOTE: The amount of flour you need to add may depend on your method of measurement, and the preciseness of your measuring utensils.
Place dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area to rise until doubled, up to 1-1/2 h ours. At that time, uncover bowl and lightly push down dough, letting rest 5 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough to remove any air bubbles that may have formed. Form dough into a circle approximately 8" and place on a well buttered sheet pan. Cover loosely with plastic and let rise again about 30 minutes.
Uncover dough and brush with reserved 1 Tbs of beaten egg. Sprinkle loaf with sesame seeds. Then with a very sharp knife that has been dipped in flour, make a cut into the middle of the dough from one side to the other, about 1/2" deep.
Bake in a 350F oven until crust is caramel in color, about 30-35 minutes, depending on your oven.
The bread is fabulous served warm on its own, or with a touch of whipped cinnamon butter. Enjoy!