Pan de Muerto is a soft, round, sweet yeast-risen bread –– similar in texture to challah –– with a crunchy cinnamon sugar glaze studded with fresh orange zest and spiced with orange flower water, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. We lay two crossed links of dough over the top to symbolize crossbones, representing those no longer among the living. The bread is excellent sliced and toasted for breakfast or dipped in Mexican hot chocolate as an afternoon snack.
Sometimes you want to shake things up when making apple pies in the fall. I love using phyllo dough for its crisp and light texture, nicely contrasting with the baked apple filling. Phyllo layers are found in the freezer section of most grocery stores and offer many options for savory and sweet treats. If the thought of working with pastry intimidates you, rest assured phyllo is your friend. The key is to prevent it from drying out as you assemble the braid. Simply keep it covered with plastic, and you should be fine. The end result? A stunning braided pie with a buttery, flaky crust.
Printable PDF of this recipe here.
Makes 4-6 Servings.
3 large Granny Smith apples
¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
1 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 sheets of phyllo dough, 9 x 14-inch (covered with plastic and defrosted)
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare 2 rimmed baking pans by lining them with parchment paper.
Peel, core, and slice the apples into ½-inch wedges. In a medium bowl, toss the apple wedges with ¼ cup sugar, flour and cinnamon. Spread evenly in one layer on one of the lined baking sheets.
Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. This step evaporates some of the juices, helping prevent the base of the tart from getting soggy.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a separate small bowl, make the vanilla sugar by mixing the remaining ½ cup sugar with the vanilla extract.
On the second baking pan, lay a sheet of phyllo dough with its long side parallel to the long side of the baking sheet. Lightly brush the surface with melted butter. Layer on the second sheet of phyllo and brush again with butter. Add the third layer, lightly brushing with butter, and sprinkling a heaping tablespoon of vanilla sugar evenly over the sheet. Repeat this same procedure for the next 4 sheets. For the 8th sheet, lightly brush with butter, then arrange the baked apples lengthwise in the center, forming a 3-inch-wide row.
Along both lengthwise edges of the phyllo, use scissors to make 5 evenly spaced cuts, each about 2½-inches long, at a slight angle toward the center. This will leave you with six strips on each side. Fold these strips over the apples, braiding them in the center (start at one end, crossing alternating strips to create a braided pattern). Brush the braid with the remaining butter and sprinkle any remaining vanilla sugar on top.
Increase the oven temperature to 375°F. Bake the apple pie braid on the center rack for 40 to 45 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool for 30 minutes.
Before serving, dust the braid with powdered sugar. Enjoy with sweetened whipped cream or your favorite fall ice cream!