Mexican Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto)

Pan de Muerto

The Spruce

Ratings (66)
  • Total: 3 hrs 40 mins
  • Prep: 3 hrs
  • Cook: 40 mins
  • Yield: 1 large loaf (serves 8)

Nearly everyone in central and southern Mexico enjoys pan de muerto—translated literally as "bread of the dead"—in early November as an important element in the annual Day of the Dead celebration. Most family and communal ofrendas (offerings for the beloved deceased) include at least one loaf left for the enjoyment of visiting souls.

Many varieties of pan de muerto exist, with their shape, texture, and flavor particular to one or more geographical and cultural regions in Mexico. This recipe, common in Mexico City, yields a sweet, semi-spherical loaf decorated with pieces of dough in shapes that represent bones and tears.

Nowadays, many Mexicans buy pan de muerto from a bakery, but you can help keep the delicious tradition of homemade pan de muerto alive with this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces butter (at room temperature)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (white)
  • 3 teaspoons aniseed (whole)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups flour (white bread or all-purpose, divided)
  • 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (not to exceed 110 F)
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packets instant dry yeast

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, sugar, aniseed, salt, and 1/2 cup of the flour.

    Pan de muerto dry ingredients.
     The Spruce
  3. Use the dough hook to mix the ingredients until they begin to come together.

    Pan de muerto dough.
     The Spruce
  4. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the eggs, water, and orange zest.

    Eggs mixture for pan de muerto.
     The Spruce
  5. Add this to the stand mixer bowl, along with another 1/2 cup of the flour. Mix until combined.

     The Spruce
  6. Add the yeast and another 1/2 cup of flour, mixing to combine.

     The Spruce
  7. Add the remaining flour 1 cup at a time, mixing between additions, until a dough forms.

    Pan de muerto dough.
     The Spruce
  8. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface about knead it for 1 minute.

    Kneaded pan de muerto dough.
     The Spruce
  9. Cover it with a clean, damp dishcloth and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

    Rising pan de muerto dough.
     The Spruce
  10. Separate about 1/4 of the dough and use it to make bone shapes* to drape across the loaf.

    Pan de muerto rolls.
     The Spruce
  11. Shape the rest of the dough into a flat-bottomed semi-sphere. Position the bone shapes on the top of the loaf and press gently so they adhere. Let the dough rise for an additional hour.

    Proving pan de muerto.
     The Spruce
  12. Bake the loaf in a 350 F oven for about 40 minutes (30 minutes for smaller loaves).

    Baked pan de muerto.
     The Spruce
  13. Cool and glaze, if desired, before serving.

    Glazed pan de muerto.
     The Spruce
  14. Cut pan de muerto into large wedges for eating by hand. Serve it with Mexican hot chocolate or champurrado (chocolate atole) if you like.

    Homemade Pan de Muerto
     The Spruce
  15. Enjoy!

Note: The most common bone-shaped dough pieces look stylized yet still simple. You might just form ball shapes and press them into the loaf in a line. You also can take a piece of dough, roll it into a long cylinder and place a ball at each end. You can add more detail if you like, but even a slightly "knobby" loaf gets the idea across.

Glazes for Pan de Muerto

Choose one of these glazes to finish your pan de muerto. After applying a glaze, sprinkle the loaf with plenty of white or colored sugar using granulated table sugar, superfine (not powdered) sugar, or table sugar pulverized in a blender or food processor.

  • Orange Juice Glaze: Bring 3/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup fresh orange juice to a brief boil, then cool to room temperature. Brush it on the bread after the loaf cools.

  • Orange Juice-Egg White Glaze: Mix 3 tablespoons thawed orange juice concentrate and 1/3 cup sugar with 2 large egg whites. Brush it on the bread during the last 10 minutes of baking.

  • Brown Sugar-Cranberry Juice Glaze: Bring 1/4 cup piloncillo (or dark brown sugar), 1/4 cup white sugar, 2/3 cup cranberry juice, and 2 tablespoons orange zest to a boil, then let it cool to room temperature. Brush it on a baked loaf after the bread cools.