Fall

Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead Bread)

October  3, 2017
6 Ratings
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 Jeanne McDowell

  • Makes one large loaf
Ingredients
  • 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
Directions
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Alex Tringali
    Alex Tringali
  • Christine
    Christine
  • Christina
    Christina
  • CailynS
    CailynS
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, The Book on Pie, is out on November 10th, 2020.

11 Reviews

Christine November 3, 2020
I made this yesterday for Dia de los Muertos and came into the same issue as a few other commenters - was glad I read the comments. I ended up using approximately 1 cup of milk, but that was too much so I think the 3/4 cup commenters are likely spot on. I will say we loved the texture of the bread and the crust and will likely use this for a rosca de reyes base come January. :)
 
Christine November 3, 2020
Ugh, my bad... just realized this did have sugar in it. I put in about half... so no wonder I wanted it to be a bit sweeter. :)
 
Christine November 3, 2020
I made this yesterday for Dia de los Muertos and came into the same issue as a few other commenters - was glad I read the comments. I ended up using approximately 1 cup of milk, but that was too much so I think the 3/4 cup commenters are likely spot on. I did also question the absence of sugar (my Mexican husband had told me it wasn't a super sweet bread, but when he tried it his feedback was that it was usually a little sweeter than how it turned out). I will say we loved the texture of the bread and the crust and will likely use this for a rosca de reyes base come January. :)
 
Christina November 2, 2020
This recipe worked out just fine for me but then, I weighed my ingredients so I was sure I had just 361 grams of flour no matter the humidity or measuring method. I used 2 duck eggs so they were slightly over sized (135g) but 1/4 of milk seemed enough to make a smooth and supple dough with good rise. I don’t care for anise seed so I omitted since I don’t have any in the house. The vanilla sugar is the perfect end to this (I keep spent vanilla beans in a jar of sugar =vanilla sugar, for the reviewer who asked how to make it).
 
CailynS November 1, 2020
Sadly this recipe was just wrong. My first dough was dry and hard as a rock. I luckily looked at the comments and tried again. I added almost triple the milk. I probably needed another egg as well. Next time I'm reading the comments first!
 
LULULAND October 8, 2020
I read that the measurements are wrong for the milk. Please fix Erin. I've seen your video on making bread, you are really knowledgeable. This has to be a mistake.
 
CalamityintheKitchen October 26, 2019
Why is this recipe still up and still wrong? This is a mean trick for newbie bakers, who won't know that 1/4 c milk is never going to moisten 3 cups flour (2 eggs notwithstanding) and will just think it is their fault and they can't bake.
Please fix this recipe.
 
Alex T. November 2, 2018
I'm wondering what's up with this recipe!! I followed it exactly, and it's super dry and crumbly...I'm definitely thinking there needed to be more milk.
 
Judy N. March 25, 2018
I agree with MN that 1/4 C milk is a mistake. We used 1/2 C.
 
MN December 28, 2017
1/4 c milk must be a mistake. Maybe for 3/4 c? I needed to use a cup of milk for the dough to bind. (And 114g doesn't match up...)
The flavors of this bread are fantastic. I'm glad that I made it.
 
Donelle November 13, 2017
Wondering why you don’t provide the recipe for the “vanilla sugar.”