World Traveler: Pan De Muerto

In Mexico, Los Dias de Los Muertos occurs every Nov. 1 and 2. It's a celebration to remember loved ones who have passed away. Revelers set up shrines with elaborate skeletons and bring offerings like marigolds and sugar skulls to the graves. They also enjoy the loved one's favorite foods and a traditional bread called pan de muerto.

The sweet and buttery bread is topped with dough that's shaped to resemble bones. Like any yeast bread, it takes time to make, but with its exceptionally light and airy texture, it will not disappoint. Served with coffee or Mexican hot chocolate, it's wonderfully delicious.

While you might not celebrate Los Dias De Los Muertos to its fullest, this bread is a great way to get a taste of traditional Mexican fare. If you are interested in making your own just keep reading for the recipe and photos.

Pan De Muerto

Pan De Muerto


  1. For the bread
  2. 1/2 cup whole milk
  3. 2 3/4 oz. (5-1/2 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  4. Two 4- by 1-inch strips of orange zest (use a vegetable peeler; avoid the white pith)
  5. 1 Tbs. orange blossom water
  6. 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  7. 1/4 oz. (1-3/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
  8. 15 3/4 oz. (3-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
  9. 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  10. 1 tsp. kosher salt
  11. Vegetable oil as needed
  12. For the topping
  13. 2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, melted
  14. 1/4 cup granulated sugar


  1. Make the dough: Put the milk, butter, and orange zest in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir until the butter melts, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool until warm. Discard the orange zest, add the orange blossom water, and whisk in the eggs.
  2. Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water (no hotter than 110 degrees F) and let stand until the mixture bubbles slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. (If the yeast doesn’t bubble, discard it and start again with new yeast.)
  3. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt on a work surface. Make a well in the center. Gradually pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the well while mixing with your hand. Knead until you have a nice, uniform dough, about 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth but still slightly sticky. If it seems too sticky, add more flour as needed.
  4. Put the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and leave in a warm place (about 70 degrees F) until doubled in size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  5. Shape the bread: Cut off a piece of dough about the size of a lemon and reserve. Divide the remaining dough in half and shape the pieces on a lightly floured surface into 2 rounds. Lightly oil a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet or line it with parchment; put the dough rounds on it and flatten the tops with your hands.
  6. With some of the reserved dough, form 2 balls the size of large marbles; set aside and cover with plastic. Divide the remaining dough into 6 pieces and roll them with your hands from the center out, making ropes that are slightly longer than the width of the loaves. As you’re rolling, press with your index and middle fingers spread about 1 inch apart to make knobs that represent bones. Arrange 3 of the ropes on top of each dough round, overlapping the ropes in the center. Cover loosely with a cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Dab a little cold water on the top center of each round where the ropes meet and put the reserved dough balls on top, pressing slightly so they adhere.
  8. Bake until the loaves have an even golden color, 30 to 40 minutes. Cover the loaves loosely with foil and continue to bake until their bottoms are browned and the internal temperature is 190 degrees F, 10 to 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes on a wire rack.
  9. Top the bread: Brush the loaves all over with some of the melted butter. Holding one from the bottom (if it’s too warm, use an oven mitt or a piece of cardboard), sprinkle half of the sugar all over the top, tilting the loaf slightly to help coat it evenly. Repeat with the other loaf and remaining sugar. Cool to room temperature before serving. The bread is best eaten within a day of baking.

Makes 2 loaves.

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