Day of the Dead bread, or pan de muerto, is an authentic and sweet tradition throughout Mexico and several other cultures.
During Mexico’s Days of the Dead, which occur on November 1 and 2, it’s believed that the souls of the departed are allowed to return to earth. Friends and relatives welcome these spirits at their tombs with food, music, and small gifts. Nowadays most families celebrate the holiday with a simple gathering graveside to pay respects, followed by celebrating at home. Many celebrate with a rich, sweet yeast Day of the Dead bread recipe. The recipes are modeled after the altar breads that are special feast-day offerings in Europe. The Mexican imagination placed a new spin on it by shaping the loaves into different images. The famous pan de muerto (bread of death) comes in the shape of human figures, alligators, lizards, and other animals, though most often skulls and crossbones or teardrops and crosses, all gaily decorated with colored sugar crystals. Originally published May 9, 1995.–Zarela Mártinez
How To Decorate Day Of The Dead Bread
Authentic Day of the Dead bread, or pan de muerto, share certain commonalities, although there are plenty of variances. Some recipes stir a little anise into the dough. Others glaze the baked bread with colored sugar. But all of them tend to decorate the top of the loaf with some sort of symbolic shape, such as a bone for a lost soul, tears to express sorrow, or any other soulful expression.
Day of the Dead Bread
- Quick Glance
- 1 H, 30 M
- 4 H
- Makes 3 plain or 2 decorated
IngredientsEmail Grocery List
If making undecorated loaves; shape the dough into 3 equal-size round loaves.
If making decorated loaves; cut off about one fourth of the dough and set aside. Divide the rest of the dough into 2 equal portions, shaping each into a ball. Place side by side on a buttered and floured baking sheet, remembering that the loaves will expand during baking. Fashion skull and crossbones with the remaining dough by first dividing it into into four portions. Roll 2 pieces between your palms into long, narrow strips for crossbones. Cut each strip in half and then crisscross 2 strips over each loaf. Shape the two remaining pieces into 2 small balls and lightly press them into the loaves above the crossbones, trying to shape them into skulls. (If you have difficulty in getting them to stick, make gashes in the loaves with a small, sharp knife and press the balls into the gashes.) Cover lightly with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Recipe Testers Reviews
This Bread for Day of the Dead was delicious for the living! The history of the bread was interesting, and the recipe produced a slightly sweet bread, very similar to brioche. I made the three round loaves instead of the traditional “bread of death” shapes. I used four cups of flour, and the dough was soft and spongy. The resulting bread was beautifully golden colored from all the egg yolk in the dough and made fantastic toast for breakfast. I’ll definitely keep this bread around for all year long — not just during Mexico’s Days of the Dead!