Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is a celebration to honor family and friends who have passed on. The holiday is celebrated in Mexico, but also by Mexican-Americans living in the US and Canada as well. I attended a high school in the North Shore of Chicago that very much resembled that of the high school in the movie Mean Girls. I was however, lucky enough to have teachers that wanted their students to experience culture. I was always in accelerated Spanish classes. One year, our professor wanted our class to celebrate Día de los Muertos. I say it that way, because English was forbidden in our class.
Our class was excited to celebrate, mostly because it seemed like a second Halloween. My teacher taught us all the customs and brought in all the staples of the day. We learned how families go the cemeteries and build alters with their lost ones' favorite food, drinks, and also photos, in hopes that the spirits would visit them. She brought in calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls) and pan de muerto (bread of the dead). The sweet pan de muerto particularly amused me, as it had candy-bone like pieces in it.
It was a fun day for our whole class. Not only did we get to take a break from our usual lesson plans, but we got to experience the celebrations of another culture. Plus we got to eat new foods and more candy (as Day of the Dead follows Halloween).
Pan de muerto recipe:
1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup water, 5 to 5-1/2 cups flour, 2 packages dry yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon whole anise seed, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 eggs
In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.
Meanwhile, measure out 1-1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1-1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Beat in the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.
Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with "bones" placed ornamentally around the top. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.
Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush.
If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.