“Bread for the Dead” on Día de Muertos

This round for Cook the Books was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.  Thanks to Rachel from The Crispy Cook for choosing this work.    This book is special to us at Eliot’s Eats.   If you have read “How We Started,” you know just how special.

I was first introduced to Barbara Kingsolver with her novel Animal Dreams.   Way back in 1990 one of my best friends from college sent it to me in a Christmas care package.   I devoured it.

One of the many things I was taken with in this novel was the depiction of Día de Muertos.    I had never heard of this holiday and I could not imagine families picnicking upon their ancestors’ graves, eating, drinking and having a merry old time.   Creepy, huh.

As I have learned more about this holiday, I continue to be fascinated.   (For last year’s Día de Muertos post, click here.)  Maybe it is because I am more knowledgeable or maybe it is because I am older, but I find this to be a joyous holiday and one that everyone should recognize if not celebrate.

Animal Dreams prompted me to pick up Kingsolver’s other novels:   The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer and Lacuna.

When I learned that she had written Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I added it to my list.   It was actually The Hubs who brought this book to my attention.   Facing a long trip to visit relatives in Colorado, we needed something to keep us occupied across the barrenness of Kansas and I-70.    I checked out the audio book from the library.   We were hooked.untitled

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle actually became the catalyst behind this blog and a new way of living for us.    Yes, we might have strayed a lot from our initial plan, but we still grow a lot of food in our gardens and buy from local farmers as much as possible.   Barbara, we are your converts.

As I reread this book for this post, I was drawn to the November/December chapter and I decided to post my Cook the Books post on Día de Muertos.

Frida Kahlo’s  Pan de Muerto
slightly adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Note:   I tried to document how I used local and/or organic when at all possible below.

2 1/4 t. dry yeast 
2 1/2 T. warm milk (organic and/or local if possible.   I am lucky enough to be able to get Memory Lane in glass bottles at our local grocery store.)
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (fine ground) (Use a flour from a family farm if possible like Wheat Montana or  Stone Stack Mill.)
2-3 c. white flour (I can always buy Shawnee Mills flour, an old Oklahoma company, at our local grocery store.)
10 T. butter (I made my own butter using these directions.)
3/4  c. local honey
6 eggs, at room temperature (Obviously farm fresh is best.   We are blessed with a great vendor, Blakely Family Farms, at our local FM.   We buy our meat from them too.)
1 t. cinnamon (I used a Vietnamese cinnamon here—nothing local about it.)
1 t. vanilla extract (I did use my homemade version.)
Zest of one orange  (OK—nothing local here.   I do have small citrus trees in the green house but the oranges are too small to zest and the lemons aren’t ready yet.)

Dissolve yeast in the warm milk and set aside.

Put flour in the bowl of a stand mixer and cut in butter using the whisk attachment.

In a separate mixing bowl, hand whisk together the honey, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange zest.   Whisk in yeast mixture.

Add the dough hook to the stand mixer and make a well in the flour/butter mixture.   Add the liquid ingredients and knead with the dough hook until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.   (You may have to add more flour to get a dough that is not too soft.)

Shape dough into a ball.   Kingsolver’s directions state to “grease and flour it lightly, and let stand in warm place for 2 ½ hours, until doubled.   Refrigerate overnight.”    I placed my dough in an oiled dough rising bowl and let it double in size.   I then punched it down and refrigerated it for almost 24 hours until I was able to bake.

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The honey I used was really dark. Pairing that with the whole wheat flour that was used, this was a darker dough.

After the dough has set overnight, punch down dough and shape the chilled dough .   Shape the dough into loaves or make rolls.

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I was pretty proud of my skull.   (As always, please don’t judge me on the looks of my silpats.)

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But, I think my bone took on a more phallic shape. 🙂

Place on prepared baking sheets and let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.

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Then they rose into blobs. My skull now looks like the Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.

Shaping traditional Pan de Muerto requires some talent.   Kingsolver’s recipe states to “shape or decorate them in any way that makes you think of your deceased ancestors.”   Most other recipes say to decorate with bones or shape into skulls, animals and angels.

I obviously need more practice.

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Now it looks like Mr. Bill after a major disaster with Sluggo.

Luckily, I made some simple rolls (and attempted to mold some ear and eyeball butter pats).

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The ear and eyeball didn’t turn out much better.

I was totally impressed by Jessie Oleson at Cakespy’s talents though.   Check out her Frida Kahlo shaped Pan de Muerto here.   

Thanks again to Rachel from The Crispy Cook for choosing this book.     And thanks to the other great CTB hosts:

Join in the fun for the next selection as Deb at Kahakai Kitchen takes us on a long journey to the recovering African country of Rwanda in Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel by Gaile Parkin.     Grab a copy, get inspired and post by January 27, 2014.

For all my CTB posts, click here.


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