The Ultimate Comfort Foods

Mexico altar, LuisVG Wikimedia

Lisa Rogak’s book Death Warmed Over explores the world’s ultimate comfort foods: 75 recipes typically served at funeral ceremonies of different cultures around the globe. With Halloween (and Mexico’s Day of the Dead) just around the corner, Lisa joins ES to share a recipe for bread of the dead.

While there are many funeral traditions throughout Mexico, the best-known post-funeral celebration is The Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls’ Day, on November 2nd. Officially, it is the one day of the year when dead ancestors return to earth to visit. November 1st is All Saints’ Day, and traditionally, celebrations begin that evening, though in the daytime families tend to honor children who have died, reserving the evenings for adult ancestors.

On November 2nd, the family will spend the day at the cemetery where loved ones are buried. They clean the area around the grave, wash the tombstone, and place the deceased’s favorite foods around the grave. Huge flower arrangements are also common. Most families also build a small altar – either at the gravesite or at the home or office – and place food offerings and favorite items on it as well

Food is also a central part of Day of the Dead celebrations for those still walking the earth: Special black plates and bowls are only sold during the last two weeks in October and bakeries make hundreds of the life-size skull-shaped cakes with the name of the deceased written in frosting on the forehead. In fact, candy and desserts take center stage during the Day of the Dead, from chocolate caskets to candy skeletons. Indeed, like other cultures that saved biscuits and cakes from the funeral as a memento of a lost loved one, many Mexicans will hold onto these candy bones for years.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

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 cup sugar

4 eggs

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until the butter melts.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups of the flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and ½ cup of the sugar. Add the butter and milk mixture and stir until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue to add more flour until the dough is soft but not sticky. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a large mixing bowl and place the 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 or skeletons. Let rise in a warm place for one hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. While the bread is baking, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan, mix the remaining ½ cup of sugar, orange juice, and zest over high heat. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Boil for two minutes, still stirring, then remove from heat. Let cool.

When bread is done, remove from pans to cool completely on racks. Brush the glaze over the top of the bread.

Makes 2 loaves

For more recipes, buy Death Warmed Over on Amazon.

(Photo: LuisVGWikimedia)


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