Cakespy: Frida Kahlo's Pan de Muerto

Note: Jessie Oleson (aka Cakespy) drops by every Monday to share a delicious dessert recipe.

[Photographs and original art: Jessie Oleson]

Have you ever looked at a Frida Kahlo's enigmatic self-portraits and wondered what secrets might lurk behind her signature (and very assertive) brow? Well, I can share at least one, discovered while leafing through Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Frida Kahlo's Pan de Muerto recipe. Pan de Muerto ("bread of the dead") is a traditional Day of the Dead treat. The dough of the rich, sweet bread is twisted into bone and skull motifs to pay homage to relatives and friends who have passed.

Don't forget the 'stache and unibrow when decorating!

While Frida's version lacks the traditional anise, it certainly does not lack in flavor. These mini loaves are surprisingly light for such an egg-rich dough, punctuated with cinnamon and sugar for a lightly sweet and delectably spicy treat. And if you choose (as I did) to add a sweet orange glaze on top, they easily transition from snack territory to that of decadent breakfast or light and sweet dessert. Of course, adding Frida-esque embellishments only heightens the experience—don't forget the 'stache and unibrow when decorating!

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Cakespy: Frida Kahlo's Pan de Muerto

About This Recipe

Yield:about 30 mini loaves

Ingredients

  • 7 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus extra for flouring your work surface
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 packages active dry yeast, dissolved in 5 tablespoons warm milk
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange or lemon zest
  • Gel icing and sprinkles, for garnish (optional)

Procedures

  1. 1

    Put sifted flour and granulated sugar in a large bowl; mix lightly to incorporate.

  2. 2

    Cut in the butter using your hands until it is well incorporated (you may have little pebble-sized nuggets which form; this is OK.

  3. 3

    Form a little well in the center of the mixture and pour in the yeast and milk mixture, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Add the eggs 2 or 3 at a time, mixing by hand or with an electric mixer after each addition. Once all of the ingredients have been added, work the dough with your hands until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If it is too sticky, add a little bit more flour until the dough is easily handled. Shape the dough into a ball, and lightly grease the surface; place it back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to sit at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size. Once the dough has doubled in size, put it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or even overnight).

  4. 4

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  5. 5

    Divide the dough into balls roughly the size of peaches, but make sure to leave a sizeable chunk of dough to the side so that you can form various embellishments and decorations to put on each mini loaf. Traditionally, you would shape and decorate the dough in a way that reminds you of deceased ancestors, but if you want to honor Frida for the fantastic recipe, go ahead and roll the ball of dough into an oval, adding two "wings" of dough on top to form her traditional hairstyle, two dots for eyes, a thin rope for her mouth, and--most importantly--a thick rope in the shape of a "v" for her prominent brow.

  6. 6

    Place your masterpieces on greased or parchment-lined baking sheets and let them sit for about an hour--they will probably rise a bit more. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until golden on top.

  7. 7

    While your loaves are cooling, make the glaze (it's optional) by bringing orange juice, orange or lemon zest and sugar to a boil for about 2 to 3 minutes or until it has started to thicken and reduce a bit. Apply directly to the still-warm bread using a pastry brush.

  8. 8

    If desired, add additional Frida-inspired flair by using sprinkles and gel icing to accentuate her signature features on the mini loaves once they have cooled.

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