You’re in for a treat! A Mexican treat nonetheless, but before we jump into the recipe, here’s a bit of background about Día de Muertos, the beloved Mexican holiday that’s full of color and delicious food.
So, long story short, the tradition of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) dates back centuries, to the time of Aztecs, who observed this holiday in honor of the goddess of the underworld, the queen of the afterlife. That queen is now known as La Catrina, the cheerful skeleton lady dressed in colorful clothes, adorned with marigolds and other flowers (a very trendy Halloween costume, by the way). Along with the flowers, ornaments, and altar, food played a quintessential role in this holiday – I mean, you gotta feed the masses and make the Queen of the Afterlife happy, am I right?
Día de Muertos food varies depending on the region in Mexico, but there are a few staples: sugar skulls, tamales, and – *drum roll please* – pan de muerto! (literally “dead bread”, but let’s call them sweet buns). This type of bun or bread is a must-have in all celebrations.
The main flavorings in these buns are orange blossom water and star anise (or anise seeds) – the perfect sugar and spice combo to ease into fall and winter weather.
Obviously, you need something to wash it down, and there’s nothing better than a cup of hot Mexican chocolate to do so. As you can see, the whole thing is not very calorie friendly, but who cares! It happens once a year and it’s totally worth it.
Here’s the recipe:
Pan de Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead Sweet Buns)
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup whole milk
⅓ cup granulated sugar
2 heaping tsp ground star anise (or ground anise seeds)
½ tsp orange blossom water
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp warm water (not boiling or you’ll kill the yeast)
1 ½ tsp active dry yeast
3 cups all purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
2 large eggs
Orange marmalade to glaze (optional).
- 1. In a small saucepan warm up all the ingredients up to the vanilla extract. Warm until butter melts, remove from the heat.
2. In a small cup combine the warm water and active dry yeast, let it sit and bubble for 5-ish minutes (if you don’t see any bubbles at all, your yeast is no good and you’ll need a new pack).
3. In the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attached (or in a large bowl if you’re doing it by hand), place the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour the yeast mixture and some of the flavored warm milk, mix a few times, then add more milk and continue to mix until you finish all the milk, beat on medium speed for a couple minutes then add the eggs, one at a time. Continue beating for another 8-10 minutes until dough is smooth and slightly sticky, if it’s way too sticky add a touch more of flour. Place the dough in an oiled bowl (use a neutral oil like canola or non-stick spray), cover with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temp for about 2 hours.
4. After the 2 hours have gone by and the dough has risen, punch it (relieve stress!) and cut it into small, lemon-sized balls. Place dough balls on a tray, cover with plastic wrap and let them rise again for 45 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F
6. Time to decorate the buns: grab one of the dough balls and cut it into 4 small pieces, roll each part slightly to make a “bone”. Place bones on top of another dough ball. Repeat the process until all are decorated.
7. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown, then cover with some foil and bake for another 10 ish minutes until bottoms are dark brown. Remove from the oven and let them rest for a few minutes.
8. To glaze them, heat up the orange marmalade with a few splashes of water, then brush and sprinkle with extra sugar.
Heat up your favorite kind of hot chocolate, grab a bun, and dig in!
Feliz Día de Muertos!