Mexican Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto)

Mexican Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto)

The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Prep: 3 hrs
Cook: 40 mins
Total: 3 hrs 40 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
591 Calories
16g Fat
95g Carbs
16g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 591
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 16g 20%
Saturated Fat 8g 42%
Cholesterol 123mg 41%
Sodium 396mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 95g 35%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Total Sugars 19g
Protein 16g
Vitamin C 2mg 11%
Calcium 42mg 3%
Iron 2mg 10%
Potassium 173mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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 of 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, although many buy pan de muerto from a bakery, you can partake in the delicious tradition of homemade pan de muerto with this recipe. Pan de muerto is often served with sugar skulls, posole, tamales, conchas, and/or enfrijoladas, but in general, celebrations often include favorite dishes of loved ones who passed, and can vary from region to region and home to home.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces butter, at room temperature

  • 3/4 cup white sugar

  • 1 tablespoon whole aniseed

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 6 cups white bread flour or all-purpose flour, 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

  • Serving suggestion: Mexican hot chocolate or champurrado

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for pan de muerto

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

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

    Butter, sugar, aniseed, salt, and flour in bowl of stand mixer for pan de muerto

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  3. Use dough hook to mix ingredients until they begin to come together.

    Pan de muerto dough mixed with a dough hook in a stand mixer

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  4. In a separate small bowl, whisk together eggs, water, and orange zest.

    Eggs, water and orange zest whisked together in a bowl for pan de muerto

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  5. Add to stand mixer bowl, along with another 1/2 cup of flour. Mix until combined.

    Eggs, water, and orange zest added to pan de muerto dough

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

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

    Yeast and flour added to pan de muerto dough

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

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

    Pan de muerto dough in a bowl of a stand mixer

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  8. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 1 minute.

    Kneaded pan de muerto dough

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  9. Cover with a clean, damp dishcloth and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

    Pan de muerto dough rising under a dish towel

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  10. Heat oven to 350 F. Separate about 1/4 of the dough and use it to make bone shapes to drape across the loaf.

    Pan de muerto dough shaped to resemble bones

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

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

    Proving pan de muerto

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  12. Bake the loaf for about 40 minutes (30 minutes for smaller loaves).

    Baked pan de muerto on a parchment-lined baking sheet

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

  13. Cool and glaze, if desired, before serving.

    Glazed pan de muerto

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

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

    Mexican Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto)

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Tips

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.


You can cut the dough ball in half before you put it in the oven and make it into two loaves if you like. Just reduce the baking time slightly.

Variations

You can make a few different types of glazes for pan de muerto. After applying a glaze, sprinkle the loaf with plenty of white or color sugars, using granulated sugar, superfine (not confectioners') sugar, or table sugar pulverized in a blender or food processor. Here are a few more options.

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.

How to Store and Freeze Pan de Muerto

This bread keeps well for several days at room temperature if it's well wrapped. It makes excellent toast and after a couple of days, even better French toast.

If you decide to bake two separate loaves, feel free to freeze one after it's cooled. Reheat it from frozen at 350 for about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on size). Follow the recipe for the glaze, if desired.

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