During the Day of the Dead festivities in the first two days of November, graves are decorated in honor of the departed with flowers and offerings of food and drink, including this pan de muertos, a yeasty, sweet egg bread flavored with anise.
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon anise seed
1/2 ounce (2 packets) active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 large eggs
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
Vegetable oil, for oiling the bowl
1 egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water
Combine the sugar, salt, anise seed, and yeast in a small mixing bowl. Heat the milk, water, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is just melted; do not allow it to boil. Add the milk mixture to the dry mixture and beat well with a wire whisk.
Stir in the eggs and 1 1/2 cups of the flour and beat well. Add the remaining flour, little by little, stirring well with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it until it’s smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, about 9 to 10 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm area until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 pieces. Cut 3 small (about 1-ounce) balls from each half and mold them into skull-and-bones shapes. Shape the large pieces of dough into round loafs and place the skull-and-bones on top. Place the breads on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let them rise another hour.
Brush the loaves with the egg yolk mixture and bake. Halfway through baking, about 20 minutes, remove the loaves from the oven and brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Return to the oven and bake until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, about another 20 minutes.