Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead Bread)

October  3, 2017
Photo by Ren Fuller
Author Notes

This insanely delicious bread is traditionally made in the last days of October into the first days of November for Mexico's Dia De Los Muertos. There are different kinds of Pan de Los Muertos, but this variety is one of my favorites: a soft, lightly sweetened loaf flavored lightly with orange and anise, then doused in vanilla sugar after baking. The pieces of dough on the top are meant to resemble bones, and can be as detailed or as freeform as you like (the dough is pretty easy to work with)! To read more on the background of the bread, as told to me by Nancy Mendez of Hot Bread Kitchen, see the full article. —Erin McDowell

  • Makes one large loaf
  • 1/4 cup (114 g) whole milk
  • 3 cups (361 g) bread flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (5 g) instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon (4 g) fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon (8 g) anise seeds
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 large (113 g) eggs
  • egg wash, as needed for finishing
  • 2 tablespoons orange marmalade or simple syrup (optional, for finishing)
  • 1/2 cup (99 g) vanilla sugar, or as needed for finishing
In This Recipe
  1. Heat the milk with a few blasts in the microwave until it reads about 85-95° F on a thermometer.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, mix the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, anise seed, orange zest, warm milk, and eggs on low speed for 3 minutes. (Read the full article to see how you can do it without a mixer.)
  3. Raise speed to medium and mix for 4 minutes more. Transfer the dough to a medium greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1-1 1/2 hours. It won’t quite double in size.
  4. Remove 5 ounces (about 1/8 of the total dough) from the dough. Divide this piece into five 1 ounce pieces.
  5. Roll the remaining large piece of dough gently into a round. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment. Press your thumb gently into the center of the loaf to make a deep indentation in the surface.
  6. Roll one of the 1 ounce pieces into a round and place it inside the indentation. You can use a little water to brush onto the dough ball to help it adhere.
  7. Take the remaining 1 ounce pieces of dough and roll each into long ropes that are thicker at the ends than in the center. The idea is to make them kind of look like bones (but no need to go crazy—it will look cool no matter what).
  8. Brush each of the dough “bones” lightly with water and arrange in a circle around the dough ball on top. The pieces should wrap around the sides of the bread.
  9. Cover the dough with lightly greased plastic wrap and let it rise for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until noticeably larger and puffy. Towards the end of the rise time, preheat the oven to 350° F.
  10. Remove the plastic wrap and egg wash the loaf all over. Bake the loaf until golden brown, 35-45 minutes. The internal temperature of the loaf should read at least 190°F on a thermometer.
  11. While the loaf is still warm, toss the vanilla sugar evenly over the outside. If you do it while the loaf is warm, it will adhere easily. If you have trouble, you can brush the loaf lightly with 2 tablespoons of orange jam or simple syrup, then sprinkle again to make sure it has something to stick to.
  12. Let the loaf cool completely before slicing and serving.

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I always carry three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's pie. My first cookbook, The Fearless Baker, is out on October 24, 2017.