Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) Recipe

This recipe is for the traditional bread used in Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) holiday celebrations.

½ cup butter
½ cup milk
½ cup water
5 cups of flour
2 packages dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole anise seed
½ cup sugar
4 eggs

Heat the butter, milk and water in a saucepan over medium flame until very warm but not boiling. Meanwhile measure out 1 ½ cups flour and set the rest aside.  In a large mixing bowl combine the 1 ½ cups flour, yeast, salt and 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 the dough is soft but not sticky.  Knead on lightly floured board for 10 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 ½ hours.  Punch the dough down and shape into loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with “bones” placed ornamentally on the top.  Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 40 minutes.   Remove from oven and paint on glaze.

For glaze, you’ll need:

½ cup sugar
⅓ cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest

Bring this mixture to a boil for two minutes, and then apply to bread with a pastry brush.  If desired, sprinkle on colored sugar while glaze is still damp.


“Pan de Muerto recipe.” Tucson Citizen.  October 27, 2004. Page E1.

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Updated 11/3/2021