Celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)? Here’s your chance to fill your house with the aroma of fresh-baked pan de muerto, or Day of the Dead bread.
First, what is this celebration all about? Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, is actually a multi-day holiday celebrated throughout Mexico. The holiday involves gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and helping to support their spiritual journey. Traditionally, November 1 is the day to honor children, and November 2 honors adults.
Families often create elaborate altars to honor the dead. Those altars (ofrendas) typically include food, such as the traditional pan de muerto.
This sweet bread often features rolled shapes that represent bones and tears. Bakers then glaze and sprinkle the bread with sugar.
Pan de Muerto
Pan de Muerto is a traditional sweet bread served on Dia de los Muertos, or the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour divided
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/3 cup margarine
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
In a large bowl of a mixer, thoroughly mix 1 cup of the flour, plus the sugar, salt, and yeast. Set aside.
In a saucepan (or in a microwave-proof bowl), combine the milk, water, and margarine. Head until the liquid is warm and the margarine begins to melt. The mixture should not be hot.
Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and beat two minutes at medium speed of the mixer. Add the eggs and orange zest, plus another 1/4 cup of flour. Beat again. Then stir in enough additional flour (approximately 1 1/4 additional cups) to make a soft dough. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about one hour).
Punch down the dough and fold it over several times. Cut off approximately 1/4 of the dough and set that portion aside. Take the remaining large portion of dough and shape it into a large ball. Place the large ball of dough on a greased baking sheet and set it aside.
Divide the smaller piece of dough into three sections - two long pieces of rope, and one small ball. Pinch the pieces of rope to form knobby "bones." Then drape the two ropes across the large ball of dough so that they cross each other. Finally, place the small ball in the center on the top. Cover again and let rise until double in bulk, about one hour.
Place the risen bread into an oven heated to 350 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
For the topping: Melt the butter and brush it over the top of the bread. Sprinkle the sugar generously over the bread until it is covered.
Notes on Making Pan de Muerto
First, don’t fear the yeast dough (or the amount of time it takes). Most of it is resting time anyway. After you mix up the ingredients, you can then set it all aside for a nice hourlong rise.
Then once it rises, you can punch it down and have fun making your knobby “bony” shapes to drape on top.
Then bake it, glaze it, and you’re done.
One note about this recipe: Yes, it calls for margarine. Yes, we cannot think of any other recipe for which we use margarine. And yes, we tried making it with butter instead. But for some reason it is just not quite right with butter. We tried it again with actual margarine and it was once again the bread we know and love.
P.S. Looking for something else to serve for your Dia de los Muertos celebration? Try our Mexican Spiced Brownies, filled with rich and complex spices.