Pan de Muerto is a Day of the Dead staple that’s simple to make, and the perfect mix of subtly sweet and rich flavor. Pan de Muerto translates to “bread of the dead”, making it an important addition to your altar or Day of the Dead celebration.
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This Mexican sweet bread is commonly found in Mexican bakeries around mid-October. Its distinctive shape and flavor are an important representation for Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos.
Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 and 2nd where families make an altar with photos of loved ones and their favorite foods and items to commemorate them. It is believed that the souls of their deceased relatives are present with the families during this celebration.
What is Pan de Muerto?
Pan de muerto translates to “bread of the dead” and is meant to be both a sweet treat and Day of the Dead altar offering (or “ofrenda”) . This Mexican sweet bread has a distinctive flavor profile. It uses orange zest and anise seed, giving it a subtly sweet and earthy rich taste.
What does Pan de Muerto represent?
Its distinctive shape is hard to miss. The crisscrossed pieces are said to symbolize bones of the dead. The small ball on the top is said to symbolize many things, a teardrop from loved ones for their faithfully departed, a skull bone, or a heart.
Can you actually eat Pan de Muerto?
Yes! Pan de Muerto is meant to be shared and enjoyed on Day of the Dead. One loaf is placed on your altar as an offering to your loved ones who have passed on, and the other to be eaten and enjoyed.
Celebrations also include cooking your loved ones’ favorite dishes. Common dishes include conchas, champurrado, and tamales.
How to make Pan de Muerto
Pan de Muerto is a simple yet flavorful bread to make. Here’s how to make it.
1. Bloom the yeast: In a cup or bowl, heat the milk in the microwave in 15-second increments or on the stove until it’s just warm to the touch. A thermometer should read around 110°F. Stir in the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar until its combined. Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let it stand for a full 5 minutes.
2. Mix dry ingredients: Whisk together the bread flour, all-purpose flour, remaining sugar, salt, and anise seed.
3. Knead the dough: Add the yeast mixture, melted butter, eggs, and orange zest to the dry mixture, then mix on low-medium speed for 6-8 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic and pulls away from the bowl.
4. Let dough rise: Add the dough to a greased bowl and set it in a warm place to rise for 2 hours. I like to let my oven preheat for a few minutes (like 2-3 minutes), turn it off, and then place the bowl inside the oven to proof.
5. Shape the bread: Once the dough has doubled in size, divide it evenly into two loaves. Next, cut 1/4 of each loaf to create the bone shapes. To make the bones, roll out the dough into a strip, and then lightly pinch from the sides to the center to create the shape. Gently drape the bone shapes on top of the main loaf so they’re criss crossed on top of each other like demonstrated below.
6. Let loaves rise: Lightly cover the loaves with a kitchen towel and let them rise again for 90 minutes.
7. Bake and enjoy: Bake the loaves for 35-40 minutes at 350°F and then allow it to cool for 30 minutes. While the bread is cooling, make the butter glaze by melting mutter and adding orange zest to a small bowl. This helps the sugar topping stick to the bread and also adds more orange flavor. Roll the loaves in granulated sugar and enjoy!
Day of the Dead is an important celebration in Mexican culture, with Pan de Muerto being one of its staple recipes. Enjoy this recipe with your families or make it for your Day of the Dead celebration!
- This recipe yields 2 large loaves, but it can be divided to make 6 small loves.
- Add 1/2 tsp of cinnamon to the sugar mixture for extra flavor.
- Enjoy this bread with a cup of cafe de olla or atole!
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- ⅔ cup whole milk
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup granulated sugar, divided
- 2 ½ cups bread flour
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 teaspoon anise seed
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 4 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons orange zest (about 2 medium oranges)
- 1 teaspoon oil
For the topping
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon orange zest (about 1 orange)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- In a cup or bowl, heat the milk in the microwave in 15-second increments or on the stove until it's just warm to the touch. A thermometer should read around 110°F-115°F.
- Stir in the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Stir to combine, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let it stand for 5 minutes until it gets very foamy.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the bread flour, all-purpose flour, remaining sugar, salt, and anise seed.
- Attach the dough hook to the mixer and add the melted butter, eggs, orange zest, and yeast mixture. Mix on medium-low speed for 6-8 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic and pulls away from the bowl.
- Coat a large bowl with oil and transfer the dough to the bowl, shaping it into a ball. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 2 hours until doubled in size.
- Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Divide the dough into two equal pieces, then cut 1/4 of the dough off of each piece and set it aside to create the bone shapes that will drape across each loaf.
- Shape the two large dough pieces into balls and place each of them on the prepared baking sheets.
- Make the bone-shaped decoration for each loaf by hand rolling each of the smaller remaining dough pieces into two long log shapes. Tear off a small piece from the end of each log and shape into two balls. Then slice the remaining logs in half. Pinch each log with your fingers in three spots to create a bone shape (as pictured above in the blog post). Drape the two long bones over each of the loaves in a cross shape, the top with the two balls.
- Lightly cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 1 ½ more hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Uncover the loaves and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and the bread is fully cooked through. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes.
- Make the topping by whisking together the melted butter and orange zest in a small bowl or cup. Brush the melted butter mixture all over the top of the loaves, then roll or brush in the granulated sugar.
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