Pan de Muerto – How to make Bread of the Dead at home.

Learn how to make Pan de Muerto, a traditional Mexican sweet bread that is deliciously soft and fragrant. Our recipe will guide you step by step to make this treat at home and enjoy it with café de olla or hot chocolate.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) makes a great gift for family and friends. A way to show love and care to others, specially in the weeks prior to Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Mexican pan de muerto displayed with various decorations.

What is Pan de Muerto?

Pan de Muerto is a traditional Mexican sweet bread that was prepared to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Depending on the state or region where it is prepared, this sweet bread may have a different appearance, shape and ingredients.

For example, some versions can include sugar sprinkled on top while others may have some sesame seeds. Sometimes, the bread is brushed with egg wash before baking, which gives it a shiny appearance.

Its elaboration dates back to ancient times, when the pagan traditions of the Aztecs were mixed with the Catholic rites of the Spanish conquerors. If you want to know more about the origin of this bread, I recommend you read this article about the History of Bread of the Dead.

During this celebration, is very common to prepare other traditional dishes, besides this bread of the dead; such as tamales rojos, or pozole (red or white), various flavors of atole and also café de olla. The food is not only for eating yourself but also to place some in the ofrendas (altars).

A ofrenda for Dia de Muertos.
Altar (ofrenda) for Day of the Dead

How to store Pan de Muerto

Like most soft breads, this Pan de Muerto keeps perfectly for up to a week in a container with a tight lid.

If you want to freeze it, it is possible to do it once the bread is completely cold. You can individually wrap it with cling film and place in the freezer for up to 3 months.

To defrost it, just take it out of the freezer and let it thaw at room temperature. My recommendation is that after defrosting you give it a quick warm-up in the microwave (10 seconds maximum) or in the oven (for 3 minutes).

Bread of the dead, a.k.a pan de muerto displayed on a marble surface.

About the ingredients

It is important to prepare and have all the ingredients ready when we make Pan de Muerto, as well as having everything at room temperature so that the proofing will work perfectly.

I also really recommend of measuring all ingredients using a kitchen scale, as doing with cups may not be as accurate as required and possibly the results won’t be same.

Ingredients for pan de muerto displayed on a concrete surface.

Pan de Muerto Recipe (step by step)

We start by preparing the poolish: Place yeast in a bowl. If you using fresh yeast, crumble it with your fingers.

Add the milk, a tablespoon of sugar and one or two tablespoons of flour to form a semi-liquid paste without lumps. Mix well and let it rest for 30 minutes in a warm place.

Mixing poolish on a bowl.

Sift flours together, add salt and sugar and mix everything to combine. On your work table place the flour and make a well in the middle. Then add the orange zest.

Adding orange zest to flour.

In another bowl, put the orange juice, the essence of orange blossom and the eggs. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate the ingredients.

Mixing eggs with orange juice.

Add the egg mixture into the middle of the volcano flour, then start to incorporate with your fingers very carefully to not make the mixture go out the flour borders.

Mixing egg mixture with flour.

Add the butter (it has to be softened) and continue incorporating the ingredients with your fingers.

Mixing butter with fingers.

You will notice that at the beginning the dough will be very sticky and difficult to handle, but you can use a spatula to collect the mixture that is stuck to the surface.

Mixing the dough with the help of a spatula.

Add the poolish you make at the beginning, which by now should have a bubbly texture.

Adding poolish to the dough.

When the flour has absorbed the liquids well, start to knead. Grease your hands a little with butter and continue kneading until the flour has absorbed all the liquids and fat completely.

It may seem that the dough is a bit sticky but with the kneading and the strong flour it will finish absorbing all the liquids. In any case, if it’s necessary and the dough is too sticky (it depends on the kneading time and the quality of the flour) , add one or two tablespoons of flour.

Kneading the dough.

Place the dough in a greased container, cover with a clean cloth and leave it to proof in a warm place until the dough has almost tripled in volume (about 2 hours if the room temperature is about 75°F/24°C).

Divide the dough into 8 equal parts and remove a small piece about the size of a chestnut from each part. With the larger parts, form balls trying not to handle the dough too much. Arrange them on one or two previously greased baking trays.

Divide the small portions into three equal pieces and with these, form the typical ornaments of the Pan de Muertos, as follows:

Sprinkle with flour all dough’s portions, then stretch two of the pieces into a tube, using your fingers and pressing so that some sort of “bones” as you see in the picture below:

Forming the "bones".

It is important to add a little more flour to these small portions of dough so that it acquires a more compact consistency and is easier to work it, also to avoid the “bones” from deforming in the last proofing.

Take two “bones” and place them crossed on top of each dough ball.

With the remaining small portion, form a small ball and place it on top the cross on each big ball. Cover with a clean kitchen cloth and let it proof in a warm place for as long as it takes to double in volume (about 30 minutes in warm environment).

Placing a dough small ball onto the unbaked bread.

You can now proceed with baking, or, if you want the bread to have a crisp, shiny crust and a more golden color you can brush each piece with egg wash and then sprinkle some sesame on top.

Bake

Preheat the oven to 360°F/180°C and bake the bread for about 16-18 minutes. Or until the top starts to brown.

Just as you take them off the oven, brush them with melted butter and then coat them in sugar.

Brushing bread with melted butter.

Recipe notes

  • If you don’t have a strong flour (I use Manitoba, which is very easy to find in the supermarket), you can use the full amount of all-purpose flour. In this case you have to use a little less liquids, reducing the amount of milk and orange juice by approximately 20%.
  • The entire process of making the dough can be done in an stand mixer, which makes all the preparation a lot more easier.
  • You can skip the milk and use just water instead, the texture of the bread changes just a little but the taste is delicious anyway.
  • With the ingredients in this recipe, you can make 8 buns of about 10 cm (about 4 inch). If you want your bread to be bigger you can divide the dough into fewer portions, for example 2,3 or 6 … just remember that depending on the size the proofing time vary and also the baking time is a little bit longer.
  • The proofing time can vary depending in the temperature in your kitchen. My recommendation is to place the dough to proof inside the oven with the lights on to create a warmer environment.

More Mexican sweet treats

Pan de muerto recipe.

Pan de Muerto

Learn how to make Pan de Muerto, a traditional mexican sweet bread that is deliciously soft and fragrant. Our recipe will guide you step by step to make this treat at home.
PREP 30 minutes
COOK 18 minutes
TOTAL 3 hours 48 minutes
No ratings yet
Print Pin Rate
Servings: 8 buns

Ingredients 

  • 10.5 oz all purpose flour
  • 7 oz strong flour
  • 5 oz butter (cut into small pieces )
  • 1.7 fl oz lukewarm milk (or water)
  • 1.7 fl oz orange juice
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp dry yeast (or 25g fresh yeast)
  • 2 medium eggs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp essence of orange blossom
  • orange zest

for decorating

  • white sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter (melted)

optional:

  • sesame seeds
  • egg wash (1 egg + 1 Tbsp water)

Instructions

Make the poolish

  • Place yeast in a bowl. If you using fresh yeast, crumble it with your fingers.
  • Add the milk, a tablespoon of sugar and one or two tablespoons of flour to form a semi-liquid paste without lumps.
  • Let it rest for 30 minutes in a warm place.

Make the dough

  • Sift flours together, add salt and sugar and mix everything to combine. On your working table place the flour and make a well in the middle. Then add the orange zest.
  • In another bowl, put the orange juice, the essence of orange blossom and the eggs. Whisk thoroughly to combine the ingredients.
  • Add the egg mixture in the middle, then start to incorporate with your fingers very carefully to not make the mixture go out the flour borders.
  • Add the butter and continue incorporating the ingredients with your fingers.
  • Add the poolish and mix with the help of a spatula until it absorbs with the dough.
  • When the flour has absorbed the liquids well, begin to knead. Grease your hands a little with butter and continue kneading until you'll have a smooth and elastic dough (about 25 minutes if you kneading by hand).
  • Place the dough in a greased container, cover with a clean cloth and leave it to proof in a warm place until the dough has almost tripled in volume ( 2 hours if the room temperature is about 75°F/24°C).

Make the bread

  • Divide the dough into 8 equal parts and remove a small piece about the size of a chestnut from each part.
  • With the larger parts, form balls trying not to handle the dough too much. Arrange them on one or two previously greased baking trays.
  • Divide the small portions into three equal pieces and with these, form the typical ornaments of the Pan de Muertos, as follows:
  • Sprinkle with flour all dough’s portions, then stretch two of the pieces into a tube, using your fingers and pressing so that some sort of “bones” as you see in the picture below:
    Forming the "bones".
  • Take two “bones” and place them crossed on top of each dough ball.
  • With the remaining small portion, form a small ball and place it on top the cross on each big ball.
  • Cover with a clean kitchen cloth and let it proof in a warm place for as long as it takes to double in volume (about 30 minutes in warm environment).

Bake

  • Preheat the oven to 360°F/180°C and bake the bread for about 16-18 minutes. Or until the top starts to brown.
  • Just as you take them off the oven, brush them with melted butter and then coat them in sugar.
Tried this recipe?Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram! @maricruzava.blog

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating