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Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead)

Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead)

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Bring all ingredients to room temperature and ensure that water is slightly warm. In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar, anise, salt, and 1/2 cup of flour. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs and the water.

Add the egg and water mixture to the flour mixture along with an additional 1/2 cup of flour. Add the yeast and another 1/2 cup of flour.

Continue to add the remaining flour 1 cup at a time until dough forms. Knead on a floured surface for about 1 minute.

Cover with a slightly damp dishcloth and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Bring out dough and punch it down.

Remove about one quarter of the dough and use it to make a cross shapes to place across the loaf (symbolizing bones), or you can divide the dough into smaller pieces to create other shapes as desired.

Allow the shaped dough to rise for an additional hour. Then bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Allow the bread to cool before applying any glaze, sprinkled sugar or decorative toppings.

The chef recommends serving this with Chocolate Abuelita.

It is a sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun, often decorated with bone-shaped phalange pieces. Pan de muerto is eaten on Día de Muertos, at the gravesite or alternatively, at a tribute called an ofrenda. In some regions, it is eaten for months before the official celebration of Dia de Muertos. In Oaxaca, pan de muerto is the same bread that is usually baked, with the addition of decorations. As part of the celebration, loved ones eat pan de muerto as well as the relative's favorite foods. The bones represent the deceased one (difuntos or difuntas) and there is normally a baked tear drop on the bread to represent goddess Chīmalmā's tears for the living. The bones are represented in a circle to portray the circle of life. The bread is topped with sugar. This bread can be found in Mexican grocery stores in the U.S.

The classic recipe for pan de muerto is a simple sweet bread recipe, often with the addition of anise seeds, and other times flavored with orange flower water or orange zest. Other variations are made depending on the region or the baker. The one baking the bread will usually wear decorated wristbands, a tradition which was originally practiced to protect from burns on the stove or oven.

Bread of the dead usually has skulls or crossbones engraved on it. It is believed the spirits do not eat, but absorb its essence, along with water at their ofrenda, after their long journey back to Earth.

In San Andrés Mixquic, despeinadas (literally, unkempt ones) are made with sprinkles and sesame seeds. [2]

Muertes (deaths), made in the State of Mexico, are made with a mix of sweet and plain dough with a small amount of cinnamon. Other types in the region include gorditas de maíz, aparejos de huevo (egg sinkers, apparently after fishing weights) and huesos (bones). [2]

In Michoacán, breads include pan de ofrenda (offering bread), the shiny pan de hule, (rubber bread) and corn-based corundas, made with tomato sauce and chile de árbol. [2]

Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead) - Recipes

Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, Mexico's festive annual celebration of life —and death — takes place on November 2. The modern celebration, now an official Catholic holiday, owes its roots to the Aztecs, who devoted two full months of the year to honor the dead and assist departed souls to their final destination. During and after the Spanish conquest, the culture of the Aztecs became infused with the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Consequently, the Day of the Dead coincides with All Souls' Day, the day after All Saints' Day.

The Day of the Dead is a time of smiles, not tears. During the day, children dress in ghost and goblin costumes and parade gaily through the streets of towns and villages. Many special candies and foods are prepared for the day, such as skulls and skeletons made from marzipan, chocolate, or sugar. Bakers make sweet breads in the shape of bones, humans, flowers, and animals.

Along with formal religious ceremonies (three requiem masses), people attend more personal rituals with their families. In honor of the dead, families create brightly decorated shrines both in their homes and at cemeteries. The shrines or altars are covered with pictures, favorite items of the deceased, flowers, candies, mescal or tequila, and food, especially loaves of decorated bread.

The breads are placed on shrines and altars as offerings for the deceased and are given to visitors arriving for the celebration. Bread is sold in large quantities on the streets of towns and villages and shared with family and friends. So great is the demand for the Bread of the Dead that big-city bakers call on smalltown master bakers to meet the demand. Bread of the Dead is shaped into a wide variety of death-related shapes and figures but is most commonly decorated with dough in the shape of human bones.

The orange flower water used in this recipe is available in many large supermarkets and specialty food stores. It gives a subtle orange flavor. One teaspoon of finely grated orange zest can be substituted, but the bread will have a bolder taste.


By hand: In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110°F and add it to the yeast along with the eggs, butter, orange flower water. salt, anise seeds, sugar, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time. until the dough is smooth and elastic.

By mixer: In the mixer bowl, sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 110°F and add it to the yeast along with the eggs, butter. orange flower water, salt, anise seeds, sugar, and 2 cups of the flour. Using the mixer paddle, beat on medium-low speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to the dough hook. Continue to add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just begins to clean the bowl. Knead 4 to 5 minutes on medium-low.

By Food Processor: In a large measuring cup or bowl. sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften. Heat the milk to 100°F and add it to the yeast along with the eggs, butter, and orange flower water. In a bowl, combine the salt, anise seeds, sugar, and 4 cups flour. Put the dry- ingredients in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the dough blade. Add the liquid ingredients and pulse 9 or 10 times until the ingredients begin to come together in a ball. Check the liquid-to-flour ratio. Once the dough begins to come together, process exactly 60 seconds.

By bread machine: Put the water, milk, eggs, butter, and orange flower water in the bread pan. Add the salt, anise seeds, sugar, and 4 cups flour to the bread pan, then sprinkle with the yeast. Select the Dough cycle and press Start. While the dough is mixing, check the liquid-to-flour ratio. The machine stops after the kneading cycle. You may let the dough rise in the bread machine or a bowl.

First Rise: Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Shape: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Remove a tennis-ball-sized portion of dough and set aside. Shape the larger piece of dough into a smooth ball and place on a parchment-lined or well-seasoned baking sheet. Flatten the dough into a 1-inch-thick disk. Divide the remaining dough in half and roll each piece into an 8-inch rope. Lay the ropes on top of the loaf parallel to each other about 3 inches apart. With scissors or a knife, cut into the end of each rope about 3/4 inch and spread the ends apart slightly to resemble bones.

Second Rise: Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat Oven: About 10 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Prepare topping: Beat the egg and sugar until the sugar dissolves, then brush the mixture on the top and sides of the bread.

Bake and Cool: Bake for 30 minutes until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190°F. Immediately remove the bread from the baking sheet and place on a rack to cool.

NOTE: This bread freezes nicely for up to 6 months. To serve, first thaw the bread, then reheat on a baking sheet or directly on the oven rack in a 375°F oven for 7 to 10 minutes.

Recipe Source: Celebration Breads: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions by Betsy Oppenneer, Simon and Schuster, 2003

Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead) - Recipes

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite. The Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, represents the melding of an old Aztec tradition with the religion of the Conquistadors. The celebration is actually a two day feast that coincides with the Catholic observance of All Saint's and All Soul's days. The first day of the celebration occurs on the 1st of November. It's called the Day of the Little Angels and it is set aside to remember children who have died. The second day is set aside to honor adults who have passed to the next life. It is important to understand that these are days of celebration rather than days of mourning. In homes that observe Dia de los Muertos, altars are built containing symbols of the four elements: fire, water, wind and earth. They are beautifully decorated and, because many believe that the deceased visit their homes during this celebration, food is placed on the altar to entice them to stay for the festivities. Feasting is an important part of both days of celebration. Good food, and clean homes are thought to entice the dead. Toy skeletons and skulls are welcome features and "dead" bread may even have a small skeleton, promising good luck, baked inside it. The second day of the celebration is usually spent outdoors with picnics in graveyards. It is a joyous time and seen as an opportunity for families to come together to honor the memories of those who have passed to the next life. It is hoped that the laughter and mention of the deceased will bring their spirits back to earth to visit with the assembled family members. To many, the Day of the Dead is a strange observance, but Mexican tradition views death as an important part of life, a natural consequence of living and one not to be feared. It's their belief that these celebrations connect families to each other and their deceased relatives, a proof, if you will, that the ties of love cannot be broken - even by the grave.

The Aztecs believed that death was a portal to another existence. Oral tradition tells us that the request of the dead before burial is, "Give me bread and sugar to help me on my journey." The bread of the dead, pan de muerto, is made only for the Dia de los Muertos celebration. It is a sweet, egg-rich bread and it can be found throughout Mexico, though its form differs vastly from one region to the next. The bread is supposed to resemble a skull and it is adorned with bones and sometimes tear drops.

I've chosen a very simple recipe for the bread and have opted for bare bones - forgive the pun - adornment. While this recipe appears in many places, I believe that its original source is "Look What We Brought You from Mexico." I actually had trouble with the first loaf I tried to make. I found 3 cups of flour produced a loaf that was heavy enough to be a door stop. The loaf you see in the photo was made with 2-1/2 cups flour. I've changed the flour measurement to reflect a range, but I strongly advise you mix with the lesser amount and use the last 1/2 cup for kneading. Here's the recipe, just in time for Dia de Los Muertos.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) . from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs, divided use
2-1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar

1) Bring milk to boil in a small saucepan remove from heat. Stir in butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.
2) In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.
3) Separate yolk and white of one egg, reserving white for glaze. Add yolk and 1 whole egg to yeast mixture. Stir in flour, blend until a dough ball is formed.
4) Flour a pastry board or work surface. Knead dough until smooth. Return to large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes.
5) Grease a baking sheet. Punch dough down. Knead again on floured surface. Divide it into fourths and set one piece aside. Roll remaining 3 pieces into "ropes."
On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side to form a circle. Use remaining dough to form bones. Place them on the baking sheet.
6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover bread with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.
7) Brush top of bread and bones with egg white, sprinkling only the loaf with sugar mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool. Yield: 1 loaf.

What Is Pan De Muerto? (with picture)

Pan de muerto is a relatively sweet yeast bread traditionally prepared and served during the Mexican celebration of Día de los Muertos, translated as “Day of the Dead.” It is usually prepared and sold or served in the weeks leading up to the holiday and is also featured in festivities on the day itself. Though different recipes can be used to prepare the bread, it is typically slightly sweet and often covered in a glaze or sugar after baking. It is usually shaped into hands, skulls, or other shapes associated with death.

Meaning “bread of the dead,” pan de muerto is often served and used in celebrations of Mexico's Day of the Dead in November. This celebration likely stems from a combination of Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, mixed together with ancient customs from Mexican civilizations prior to the introduction of Catholic and Spanish influences. The holiday is often celebrated with parades and other activities, including eating foods that were favored by dead relatives. Various foods are often left by people at the graves of dead loved ones, as well as altars created to remember those who have died.

Different recipes for pan de muerto are available, much like any other type of bread. In general, however, these recipes usually involve milk, butter, and water brought together in a pan and heated until hot but not boiling. This is then added to dry ingredients such as yeast, sugar, salt, some flour, and anise seeds and combined. Eggs are usually added once the wet and dry ingredients are combined and then additional flour is mixed in until the dough is soft but not sticky.

After kneading, the dough is allowed to rise in a warm, covered bowl. It rises once, then is punched down and shaped into loaves before being allowed to rise again. Some recipes call for the loaves to be brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sugar prior to baking, while other recipes have the bread coated in a sweet glaze after baking. This sugar or glaze may even be colored to make the bread colorful and visually striking.

When the loaves are formed for pan de muerto, it is quite common for them to be shaped into various symbols of death. Hands, especially skeletal hands, are quite common, as are loaves shaped like skulls. Round loaves are also frequently prepared, often crossed on the top with two pieces of dough to resemble bones.

Pan de los Muertos (Bread of the Dead) - Recipes

In celebration of Mexico's Day of the Dead, this bread is often shaped into skulls or round loaves with strips of dough rolled out and attached to resemble bones.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 5 to 5-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon whole anise seed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling.

Meanwhile, measure out 1-1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1-1/2 cups flour, yeast, salt, anise seed and sugar. Beat in the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for ten minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with "bones" placed ornamentally around the top. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and paint on glaze.


Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush.

If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.

Days of the Dead

Also visit Mexico and main Halloween pages.

Check out Inside My Skull for artistic sugar skulls in the Days of the Dead tradition.

This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.


Sweet fried dough is irresistible no matter the preparation or ingredients. Churros have become increasingly popular thanks to the arrival of numerous Mexican immigrants to the United States. Tasty churros are now found everywhere in the U.S, as easily as tacos or other Mexican treats.

Humble in origin, churros are liked by all and offered on altars to welcome the deceased. For this recipe, you need to make a simple batter of eggs, flour, buttermilk, butter, sugar, and vanilla. Once the dough is mixed and piped into the hot oil, stuff it with Nutella, dulce de leche, or jam or simply sprinkle it with sugar. Ready in 50 minutes.

Day of the Dead Bread

The dough for this classic-looking preparation is a little richer than most of the buttery egg breads that are created in Oaxaca. It’s based on a simple brioche recipe from Alice Medrich in Pure Desserts.

From Season 9, Mexico—One Plate at a Time


  • 3 cups (16 ounces) all purpose flour
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, each cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar, divided use
  • 5 large eggs, divided use
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican crema, sour cream or crème fraiche
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Salt
  • Coarse “sanding” sugar for sprinkling


Place the flour in a shallow baking dish, cover, and chill in the freezer for about half an hour. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cold butter until it is creamy and smooth. Scrape the butter onto a plate and refrigerate wash and dry the mixing bowl and paddle.

In the bowl, combine the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in ¼ cup warm water until just dissolved. Let stand a few minutes until foamy. (If the yeast doesn’t start foaming right away, it’s not fresh start again with fresh yeast.) To the yeast mixture, add the remaining sugar, 4 of the eggs, crema, salt and chilled flour. Mix with the paddle on low speed until the ingredients are blended. Replace the paddle with the dough hook, and knead the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes until very elastic and smooth.

Now, add the creamed butter in 4 additions, beating in each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape the dough into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight (it can stay refrigerated for a full day or so).

Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and press with your hands to deflate. Cut off a piece of dough that looks like about 1/5 of the total and set it aside. Divide the remaining dough into 12 even pieces. Cupping your hand over a piece of dough on an un-floured section of your work surface (you want the dough to have some traction on the surface), roll the dough in a circle while exerting slight pressure with the palm of your hand. Rolling the dough around about 10 times—if you’re exerting the right amount of pressure—should create a tight, spherical ball when you release your hand. As each of the twelve pieces is rolled, place them on a silicon mat or parchment-lined baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.

Divide the dough you set aside into 12 even pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 4 inches long. Cut them in half, then roll each half into 3-inch rope, pressing more firmly in the middle to make it thinner there. Brush each of the 12 dough balls with a little water to make them tacky, then drape two ropes in an X shape over the top to create the “crossbones” look. Cover the decorated breads with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until about double in size—between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the temperature. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk the remaining egg until it’s fluid, then carefully brush it over the entire surface of each bread. Sprinkle with sugar and bake until richly golden and lightly springy, about 15 minutes .

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