Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an ancient Mexican holiday dating back 3,000 years. It’s celebrated November 1st and 2nd. This holiday was created as a time to remember and honor our loved ones who have passed away by getting together and enjoying all their favorite things including their favorite food and drink.
One of the more traditional dishes seen at Día de los Muertos celebrations is Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead). This traditional round loaf of bread has strips of dough rolled out and attached on top to represent bones and skulls. This bread is eaten and left on gravesites or on altars as part of the festivities.
This year I was determined to make Pan de Muerto from scratch versus buying it at a store. I have a permanent altar in our home for my grandma and I thought it was about time I tried making this bread myself. Grandma loved her pan dulce (sweet bread) and cafecito (coffee) in the mornings. Making it with my children, in her memory, made it extra special.
I searched for recipes online, and eventually decided to make my own recipe. I basically used this dough recipe on What’s Cooking America. The addition of the anise and orange glaze really caught my attention. Then I stumbled on Ben’s post on What’s Cooking, Mexico? and liked his idea of the orange flavor in the dough using orange zest and orange blossom water. I substituted orange extract instead of orange blossom water. This video also really helped me understand how to make this delicious bread. I chose to make three small loaves to try several different glazes and sugar finishes. I loved the hint of orange and anise.
Last year, we honored my grandma with a colorful altar and all her favorite items like the veil she wore to church and her rosary. Read the post here and see the amazing photo shoot by Jeanine. It is one of our proudest photo shoots to date. A true tribute honoring my grandma. This year I took the time to honor her memory by baking and eating homemade Pan de Muerto. I’ll enjoy it with a cafecito just like she enjoyed her pan dulce every morning.
Try not to eat them all at once! Don’t forget to leave a loaf on your altar with a glass of water which is essential, because after the journey the souls are thirsty and tired. I am so overwhelmed with how lovely these loaves look. All this work made me feel like I was truly honoring my grandmother.
We’d love to hear from you. Have you ever made or tasted pan de muerto?
Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)
- 1 stick of unsalted butter
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup water
- 5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 packages active-dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon whole anise seed
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons orange extract
- Zest of one orange
- 4 eggs
- Orange glaze, see below (optional)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
- 1/3 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
- In a saucepan over medium heat, warm butter, milk, and water; until butter has melted. Do not let boil.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and sugar. Slowly beat in the warm milk, orange extract, and orange zest until well mixed. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing through. Slowly add in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding additional flour until the dough is soft but not sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If the dough is dry add some water and if it’s too wet add some flour. Form the dough into a large ball and cut into four even pieces.
- Lightly grease a cookie sheet and place three dough balls on it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, approximately 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Reserve the fourth dough ball to make bones to place over the loaves. Reserve this dough in the refrigerator to slow down the rising process.
- Follow this video for instructions on how to decorate the bread.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Bake bread for approximately 25 to 30 minutes. When the bread is done it should sound “hollow” when thumped.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, orange zest, and orange juice; bring just to a boil so the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
- Remove loaf from the oven and brush with the Orange Glaze.
- Another option is to melt two tablespoons of butter in a small pot. As soon as the bread comes out of the oven brush with melted butter and sprinkle sugar over them.
- Let the bread cool down and enjoy with a cup of Champurrado or cafecito.
Photography by Jeanine Thurston
49 Comments on “Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)”
I work for a public library, and am making a short booklet about the history of Dia de los Muertos to include in Sugar Skull Take & Make kits we are giving out for free. May I have your permission to include your Pan de Muerto bread recipe in the booklet? I will of course include your website in the citation.
Can you freeze a loaf? I made this today and it was delicious! Easier than I thought it would be.
So happy to hear that Penny! Thank you. Yes, you can freeze — make sure you allow it to cool before freezing to avoid soggy bread or mold. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Then wrap it again in foil or freezer paper — try to use it within six months.
Me encantó mucho esta receta! Do you also have the recipe in Spanish? I know someone who wants to try, but she only speaks Spanish
Hi, not sure if I’ll be getting a response since this was posted awhile ago, but approximately what size are the finished loaves?
They are about 5 to 6 inches wide.
Thank you so much!
Wow! This looks incredibly delicious.
I made this bread yesterday to take to a friend’s Dia de los Muertos gathering. It is amazingly delicious.
Do you do a second rise after you add the decorations? (I don’t speak Spanish very well, so maybe I missed it in the video that you linked to?)
So happy to hear that. YUM! No, I did not let the “bones” rise so that they keep their shape.
I made these yesterday, and they are wonderful! I made 10 small loaves so that I could hand most of the out to friends. Instead of the glaze (since they needed to travel), I brushed them in melted butter while they were still warm and then dipped them in sugar. I ate the last one this morning with a cup of milky coffee, which was a great way to start the day. Thanks!
Such a great idea to make mini-ones 😉 So cute! Did you take any photos? Feel free to share your photos on our facebook page. Buen provecho!
Thank you! I grew up close to the Arizona/Mexico border and have enjoyed delicious Pan de Muerto from a favorite, local panaderia. I’ve recently moved to the Northwest and have been struggling to find good Mexican food. I’ve had to learn to produce my own, relying on family recipes (which aren’t always written down!) and calls to my mom! Now, thanks to you and your fabulous blog, I have a wonderful Pan de Muerto recipe to add to my collection. Your cookbook is officially at the top of my Christmas list!
Sorry my english is not good, so I write to you in spanish. Hola, soy de México. Recomendaciones para el Pan de Muerto: no queda compacto o apelmazado, es suave y esponjoso; tampoco lleva extracto de naranja si no agua de azahar, es lo que le da ese sabor tan especial y delicioso; al final se espolvorea con azucar refinada, no pulverizada. Todo ésto hace una gran diferencia en presentación, sabor y textura. Buen intento.
Hi there Silvia, thank you for visiting our blog. Gracias for you comments we will have to give your suggestions a try. It’s all good, cooking in the end is about sharing the love from our kitchens with those we love.
Your pan is so beautiful…as is that first photo- such a dreamy quality! I love the sound of your glaze and have my heart set on making it with that glaze next year. thank you so much for sharing your Pan de Muerto =) p.s…I love your site.
Thank you Heather!!! I’m thrilled you love our site. That means a lot coming from you and your lovely site. Besos!
This looks awesome! I am so happy to ave stumbled upon your blog today. Pictures are perfect!
So glad you found us too! Welcome!
My son has an art gallery on Kalamath and currently has a Day Of The Dead show. He should serve this bread for opening day each year. 🙂
Really? What gallery? Would LOVE to check it out! Is it still going on?
any kind of pan makes me salivate! que rico se ve!
Gracias Bren! The orange peel and anise really come through in this recipe.
Gracias Bren! It was a tasty bread and smelled even better as it was baking.
Thank you so much! Wish I would have made more. Kinda craving it after seeing the photos again. LOL!
It looks delicious cut in half!!!! I need to try this recipe, thanks!!!!!
I’ve never had this but I’d love to try it. I think it’s a beautiful way to celebrate the lives of the ones we’ve lost.
I truly felt very at peace kneading the dough, watching the dough rise, and smelling my kitchen as it baked. It was very therapeutic. And then to taste it was magical. We ate two loaves and froze the other. And now the last one sits pretty on my Grandmas altar. It makes me smile to see it sitting next to her photograph. I highly recommend making this recipe!
OMG! Ever since I lived in Mexico City, I have loved Pan de Muerto and was intimidated by thoughts that abuelitas baked in following ancient secrets. You break the recipe down and make this yummy treat accessible to all in a simple recipe.
Viviana, to be honest I was so nervous to tackle this recipe. Once I realized how simple it truly was, it was my goal to write a recipe that was easy to understand and not intimidating. I’m glad you agree that it truly is accessible!
Mmmm … I love the taste of orange in this bread. What a treat with a mug of hot chocolate first thing in the morning.
Oh believe me – I had a slice every morning with coffee and it was so delicious. It’s all gone now and I’m having withdrawals. The one loaf sitting on my grandma’s altar is so tempting. Next year I plan to double this recipe and make 6 loaves and freeze them.
We are having snow and freezing temperatures here in Virginia. This Pan de Muerto with a cafecito sounds like the best idea.
Burrr! Stay warm and take care out there. Stay home and bake 😉
Beautiful photos. Jeanine does a wonderful job!
Gracias Ericka. I will pass along your complements to Jeanine.
This is my favorite Mexican Holiday and one of my favorite breads! Looks your amazing 🙂
Thanks for the inspiration Ben! I’ve wanted to make pan de muerto for a couple of years and your photos on your site really motivated and inspired me.
We love Pan de Muerto! And here in Mexico there are so many delicious varieties to choose from, but all with the delicious orange flavoring. 🙂 My kiddies and I going to be baking ours today. 🙂
I can only imagine the delicioso food you have access too. Please share your pan de muerto photo on our Facebook page (your blog link is welcome). The more Mexican food the merrier 😉
I made pan de muerto for the first time this year as well, and posted it a few days ago…. I used orange juice in my glaze. 🙂 I love Ben’s site…. He’s good.
Just took a peak at your post and I bet yours was amazing with the addition of cinnamon in the glaze. YUM!
Que rico! Yo quiero…with that aguacate salad you posted yesterday (LOL!) not sure if they go together.
You are funny Helena! If you don’t add the orange glaze or sugar on top of the pan then the bread tastes like sourdough with a hint of anise and orange. I’m sure it would be fabulous with aguacate 😉
This looks yummy! I have not had Pan de Muerto before, but I’ve had plenty of pan dulce. While I can get some from the local panderias without having to drive too far, I’ve tried my hand at making some here at home a couple of times. And oh how I wish I could find just the right recipe for my favorite semita! Is it just not something one makes at home, because the recipes are few and far between? If you ever felt the yearning to make some from scratch, I’d be over the moon if you’d post it here.
I LOVE pan dulce! It is on my list to-post for sure! Please be sure to subscribe and stay in touch. My first recipe I’d like to make over the holidays are Authentic Mexican Marranitos (Molasses Gingerbread Pigs). Mmmm! Now I’m craving one with my morning coffee.
Hurray! Marranitos are hubby’s favorite! I’ve actually made some using the recipe out of Melissa Guerra’s Dishes from the Wild Horse Desert and they turned out pretty good. I’ll be anxious to try out your recipe! Your lovely website is subscribed in my Reader.
One thing I’m curious about: Is there a master recipe that is used for a variety of pan dulce and then shaped for formed in dfferent ways? I’ve long suspected that the Cuernitos and my favorite semita (that I don’t really know its name, but I know it when I see it!) were fashioned from the same dough, but finished differently.