Bread and Spice of the Dead

Produced by Brett Levine

Food Styling by Lily Plauché

Photography by Beth Dreiling Hontzas


Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican festival celebrating the human life cycle and welcoming the spirits of people’s ancestors for a day.  Food features heavily in the festivities, and families cook all the delicacies their dear ones loved to devour.


Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead Bread)

Traditional Day of the Dead recipes include Pan de Muerto, or “bread of the dead,” which combines anise and sugar to create a sweet loaf that is decorated to resemble a skeleton’s bones.

Pan de Muerto

Serves: 4


½ cup milk

¼ cup butter

3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 ¼ teaspoons rapid rise yeast

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon anise seed

¼ cup sugar

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon orange flower water
1 large egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup butter, melted

⅓ cup sugar


1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter until butter melts, stirring frequently. Cool mixture to 110F.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and ¼ cup sugar. Beat in milk mixture, eggs, and orange flower water until well combined. Add remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

3. Punch dough down; divide dough into 5 equal portions. Form round loaves with 4 of the dough portions; place on a lightly greased baking sheet. With remaining portion of dough, decorate the dough loaves as desired to resemble skeleton bones. Cover and let rise 45 minutes or until doubled in volume.

4. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly brush loaves with beaten egg. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 5 minutes. Brush loaves with melted butter and sprinkle with ⅓ cup sugar.


Chicken Verde Tamales

Tamales—which require time and attention to prepare—are regarded as being made with love. These delicious Chicken Verde Tamales are made spicy with tomatillos and roasted serrano peppers. Their subtle heat and flavor are a delicious contrast to the sweetness of the bread.

TamalesServes: 26 tamales


26 dried corn husks

1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed

2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed (halved and seeded for less heat, if desired)

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon ground cumin

4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth, divided

Salt and pepper

4 cups shredded cooked chicken

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 ½ cups masa harina

2 ¼ cups warm water

1 ⅓ cups lard

1 ½ teaspoons salt

Toppings: salsa verde, sour cream, lime wedges, cilantro leaves


1. Place husks in a large bowl; add water to cover. Place smaller bowl or plate on top of husks to keep them covered in water. Let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

2. Preheat broiler. Place tomatillos and jalapeños on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened, turning once. Place tomatillos and jalapeños with their juices along with the garlic in a food processor; process until smooth. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatillo puree, cumin, and 2 cups chicken broth; simmer 20 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in chicken, cilantro, and lime juice.

3. To make dough, combine masa harina and warm water until smooth. Place lard and 1 ½ teaspoons salt in a mixing bowl; beat until fluffy. Slowly beat in masa harina mixture. On low speed, beat in 1 ½ cups chicken broth, adding more if necessary to form a soft dough.

4. Preheat oven to 325F. Place a wire rack inside roasting pan. Working with one husk at a time, spoon about 3-4 tablespoons of dough into the center of each husk in a square shape. Spoon 1 heaping tablespoon chicken mixture into the center of the dough. Fold a long side of husk over to cover filling, and roll up, tucking ends under. Place on wire rack in roasting pan. Repeat until all filling has been used. Pour water to a depth of 2 inches in roasting pan. Cover pan with foil. Bake 45 minutes or until tamale dough is firm to the touch and separates easily from the husk. Let stand 10 minutes.



Finally, savor the delicate flavors of pozole, a Mexican pulled pork stew, slow cooked with poblano and jalapeno peppers, as well as cilantro and lime. These three recipes bring history, folklore and belief to the modern table. Whether it is sweet or spicy, a bread, tamale or stew, each Day of the Dead dish shows those both here and departed that sharing food is a wonderful, living experience.

pozoleServes: 6


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 poblano, seeded and chopped

2 jalapeños, seeded, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon dried oregano

6 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

1 ½ pounds cooked pulled pork

1 (15- ounce) can hominy, drained

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Toppings: cilantro leaves, sliced radishes, diced avocado, lime wedges


1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, poblano, jalapeño, and garlic. Sauté 4 minutes or until just tender. Add salt, cumin, chili power, and oregano; cook 1 minute. Add chicken broth, pork, and hominy; bring to a boil. Cover; reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro and lime juice.


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