Despite being a first generation American -- my mother is from Mexico -- I don't have an old family recipe to turn to for pan de muerto, so I naturally turned to Pinterest. I was pleasantly surprised by the "pan de muerto" search results. After digging around I settled on a recipe that seemed the most simple and reliable... because this was my first attempt at making bread!
The recipe came from Serious Eats, which I've come to trust (a little too much, it turns out).
Here follows the gist of the experience:
Bread making is time consuming! Definitely plan ahead, some recipes require 12 hours or more rising time. The one I made took a total of about 5. If you want to get decent photos of the process start making your bread in the wee hours of the morning.
Trust yourself. "You have mad skills..." Tell yourself that over and over, because it's gonna look like a total disaster most of the time.
The dough will be mighty sticky. Is it supposed to be? I don't know. This is the point where I almost quit.
No matter what, just KEEP GOING. The dough is left to rise for several hours until it has doubled in volume. Magic!
At this point, you're almost done. Punch the dough down (it's a great feeling) and shape it. Try to make it nicer than mine. Then allow it to rise another hour. This is what it looks like after:
Finally and most importantly, be sure to choose a good recipe. The one I chose failed to describe when one is supposed to add the yeast. Even though I read the recipe several times through before I started, I too overlooked this critical step. I'm not used to making bread! Luckily I found a similar recipe on another site and was able to figure it out. Serious Eats is lucky they make people create an account before posting comments.
Now that you know what to expect, go for it! Invite your family and friends over and take the time to remember those that came before you.