Pan de Muerto
Yield: 2 loaves (each serves 4-6)
For the bread
½ cup whole milk
5 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 tablespoon orange blossom water (substitute: 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose our; more as needed
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Vegetable oil as needed
For the topping
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup granulated sugar
Put the milk, butter and orange zest in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir until the butter melts, 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let cool until warm.
Add the orange blossom water and whisk in the eggs.
Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup warm water (no warmer than 110°F) and let stand until the mixture bubbles slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. (If the yeast doesn’t bubble, discard it and start again with new yeast.)
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt on a work surface.
Make a well in the center.
Gradually pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the well while mixing with your hand.
Knead until you have a nice, uniform dough 8-10 minutes.
The dough should be smooth but still slightly sticky. If it seems too sticky, add more flour as needed.
Put the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and leave in a warm place (about 70°F) until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Shaping the Bread
Cut off a piece of dough about the size of a lemon and reserve.
Divide the remaining dough in half and shape the pieces on a lightly floured surface into 2 rounds.
Line a baking sheet with parchment; put the dough rounds on it and flatten the tops with your hands.
With some of the reserved dough, form 2 balls the size of large marbles; set aside and cover with plastic. Divide the remaining dough into 6 pieces and roll them with your hands from the center out, making ropes that are slightly longer than the width of the loaves. As you’re rolling, press with your index and middle fingers spread about 1 inch apart to make knobs that represent bones.
Arrange 3 of the ropes on top of each dough round, overlapping the ropes in the center.
Cover loosely with a cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.
Dab a little cold water on the top center of each round where the ropes meet and put the reserved dough balls on top, pressing slightly so they adhere.
Bake until the loaves have an even golden color, 30-35 minutes.
Cover the loaves loosely with foil and continue to bake until the bottoms are brown, and the internal temperature is 190°F, 10-12 minutes more.
Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes on a wire rack.
Brush the loaves all over with some of the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.
Repeat with the other loaf and remaining sugar.
Cool to room temperature before serving.