Inside: Learn how to make this delicious and authentic “pan de muerto” recipe so that you can celebrate the day of the dead this year with your family and friends.
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What is “Pan de Muerto”?
Pan de muerto is a homemade bread that is very popular in Mexico. It is traditionally made in October and November to celebrate the festivities related to the day of the dead (or dia de los muertos in Spanish).
You can decorate it and make it in different ways, but it should always have a base flavor of orange, which gives it a great taste!
What is the Day of the Dead?
Day of the Dead is celebrated each year on the first and second of November and the tradition is that our family members who have passed on are permitted to visit their family members who are still living.
If you are familiar with the Disney movie “Coco“, you probably know what I am talking about since it does a great job of explaining the tradition. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend it so you can understand this cherished tradition. It is definitely one of my favorite movies!
The Day of the Dead is so special to me, because it gives me the opportunity to remember loved ones who have departed. As I have shared many times, many of the recipes that I share on this site are as a homage to my abuelita (grandmother) who I grew up calling “mama” out of love and respect. She was the person who taught me everything about cooking and not a day goes by that I do not think about her.
Each year on the Day of the Dead, I put her picture on our altar, along with my other ancestors, and I remember and share the memories that I have of all of them. Besides adding pictures to the altar, I also make some of their favorite foods and add them to the altar. For my abuelita, her favorites were always tamales and coffee. On those days, I love to sit and talk to them and I can always feel them close by.
It is important to me that my children learn about my culture, including the Day of the Dead. To make that day even more fun, I always invite them to help me make this delicious pan de muerto. It has a delicious orange flavor and a great texture. After making the pan de muerto, we always watch “Coco”, invite family over and eat some authentic Mexican food.
At the end of the night, we sit down in front of the altar and share stories about the people whose pictures we placed on the altar so that the new generation of family members can learn about them and remember them.
One of my most treasured memories from growing up is of the morning of the Day of the Dead. I remember that my abuelita always woke us up early to go and tidy up the headstones and take flowers to the cemetery. The cemeteries were always full of people on those days of people who were going to visit their ancestors as well and leaving them their favorite objects and food.
While the adults would clean up, all of the kids would play in the surrounding area and it was always like a big party. After a little while, my abuelita always called us over to eat the extra food that she had prepared. This was important, because the tradition said that you couldn’t take anything from the tombs of the dead. If you did, you would be cursed and they wouldn’t be able to visit you anymore.
We always would sit underneath a big tree and listen to my abuelita as she shared stories about her mom and dad who had passed away when she was still very young. Through those stories, I was able to feel like I knew them personally and that I knew who they were. That is one of the reasons that the Day of the Dead is so important to me – because I want my kids to get to know their ancestors through the stories that I can share about them.
After returning home from the cemetery, the rest of the day was a big party. We would light candles to show the way, we added more food to the altars, and we made pan de muerto with hot chocolate.
Pan de muertos represents the tomb, and the designs on top represent bones. It is so delicious and such a special way to celebrate and remember our loved ones who have passed on.
How do you celebrate the Day of the Dead?
Check Out These Other Great Mexican Recipes
- Rosca de Reyes Recipe (Kings Day Bread)
- How To Make Authentic Sweet Tamales (3 Different Varieties)
- How to Make Authentic Mexican Tamales
- Authentic Mexican Birria Recipe (3 Methods)
- The Most Delicious and Authentic Chocoflan Recipe
Authentic Pan de Muerto Recipe
- 4 Cups Bread Flour
- 3/4 Cups Sugar
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- 3/4 Cup Milk Lukewarm
- 1/4 Cup Orange Juice
- 3 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast
- Zest from one orange
- 1.5 Sticks Butter
- 3 Eggs Room Temperature
- 2 Egg Yolks
- 2 Tbsp Orange Blossom Water Optional
- 1 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 Tbsp Salt
- 1/4 Cup Melted Butter For coating bread after it bakes.
- 1 Cup White Sugar For coating bread after it bakes.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the milk, the yeast, 2 tablespoons of flour, and 1 tablespoon of sugar and then cover it and let it rest in a warm place for about 10 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients, including the orange zest. Then add the butter and the eggs (one by one) as you mix it all together with a stand mixer or a hand mixer. Add the vanilla, orange juice, and orange blossom water (if using).
- At this point, add the mixture that you set aside, which should be activated and ready to use.
- Continue mixing until a slightly elastic dough is formed. It should not be very sticky. This can take up to 20 minutes depending on the temperature where you live.
- Place the dough in a pre-greased bowl and cover with a paper towel or slightly damp towel. Make sure to roll the dough around so that it has some of the oil on all sides so it doesn't dry out as it rises. Let rise for one hour in a warm place.
- After the dough has doubled in size, cut it into 4 equal-sized pieces. Take three of them, and form three smooth balls of equal size and place them on a pre-greased baking sheet. Cut the last piece into three equal pieces, forming the "bones" that you will then add on top of each piece of bread. See image.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C) and bake for 25 minutes, or until the bread is cooked through.
- Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter before rolling and coating each piece with white sugar.
- Serve hot and enjoy!