Catholic Recipe: Bread of the Dead
Also Called: Pan de Muerto
The memorial feast for all departed ones in a common annual celebration was inaugurated by St. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, in 1040. Rome approved this practice, and in the fourteenth century the "Commemoration of All Souls" was prescribed as a liturgical rite for the whole Church, to be held on November 2. Pope Benedict XV in 1915 allowed all priests to say three Masses on All Souls' Day in order to give increased help to the spirits of the departed in purgatory.
In pre-Christian times people practiced the custom of putting food at the graves at such times of the year when the spirits of the dead were believed to roam their familiar earthly places. The month of November was one of these seasons, and the ancient custom was continued in the Christian era in honor of the holy souls. From this comes the practice of baking special breads ("All Souls' Bread") for November 2, and of bestowing them on children and the poor, as well as eating them at the family table. This custom is still widespread in Europe and South America. Each nation has its own traditional items of "Soul Bread" and peculiar customs of eating or distributing them.
Bring milk to boil in saucepan; remove from heat. Add sugar, salt, shortening; stir until shortening is melted and mixture is lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in mixture; beat in egg and egg yolk. Add flour: mix until moderately stiff. Knead until smooth. Reserve on board 30 minutes covered with damp cloth. Divide dough into 3 equal parts; roll into ropes 16 inches long; reserve small amount of dough for decoration. Braid dough, pressing ends together to seal. Reserve braid on lightly greased baking sheet covered with damp cloth; allow to rise in warm place 1 1/2 hours. Shape reserved small mound of dough into cross and decorate loaf. Brush with melted butter. Bake 25-30 minutes at 375°.Recipe Source: Catholic Cookbook, The by William I. Kaufman, The Citadel Press, New York, 1965