Pan de Muerto

October 28, 2015

For the past five years now, I’ve made a batch of pan de muerto, day of the dead bread, to place on my grandmother’s altar.  I would say, the bread making ritual is very therapeutic for me and it makes me very happy and at peace.  The smell of dough rising in the kitchen is an unforgettable aroma that reminds me of those brisk evenings at my grandmother’s house, the night before we visited the cemetary on Dia de Los Muertos.

Pan de Muerto

As soon as the bread was out of the oven, I helped my grandmother wrap the warm bread in crochet cloth napkins and prepared ourselves to head to the cemetary the next day.  The morning of November 2nd consisted of a basket full of tamales, tortas or gorditas, a thermos full of sweet cafe con leche and the snuggly wrapped pan de muerto made the night before.

With a trunk full of the day’s feast, brooms and buckets to sweep and wash the grave sites, we made a gladiola stop at a florist near the cemetary and took our place in line for our floral purchase.

This year is no different.  My pan de muerto is out of the oven and I am now ready to look back, remember and honor my dearest loved ones I’ve lost throughout the years.  It’s a celebration of their lives and the impact they had towards mine.

Pan de muerto


Pan de Muerto

Yield: Makes 3 loaves


  • 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • plus additional, divided
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 packets (1/4 oz. each) rapid-rising
  • dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup (5 fl.-oz. can) NESTLÉ®
  • CARNATION® Evaporated Milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • GLAZE:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • Granulated or coarse ground sugar


  1. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, anise seeds, salt and yeast in large mixer bowl. Heat evaporated milk, water and butter over low heat in medium saucepan until mixture reaches 115° to 120° F and butter is melted. (If too hot, let it cool a bit before adding to dry ingredients.)
  2. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; pour in milk mixture. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed until blended. Add eggs and 1 1/2 cups flour; mix well. Gradually add remaining 11/2 to 2 1/2 cups flour (1/2 cup at a time) mixing well after each addition until dough is smooth but not sticky (You may not need all the flour).
  3. Place dough on lightly floured surface; knead 10 to 15 minutes or until dough is moderately stiff, smooth and elastic. Additional flour may be needed to help prevent sticking. Place dough in large greased bowl; turn over. Cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 60 to 75 minutes or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch dough down. Cut dough into 4 equal portions to make 3 “loaves” and 1 for decorations.
  5. On lightly floured surface, kneading as necessary, shape 3 of the portions into round loaves. Place on greased baking sheet(s). Keep all dough portions covered with greased plastic wrap to prevent drying of dough. Shape remaining dough portion into 3 small balls, tears, braids and/or bones. To decorate, place 1 small ball on top of round loaf, surrounding each ball with the remaining decorations. To adhere shapes to dough, gently score decorations, as well as areas on each loaf that decorations will be attached to. Adhere with dabs of water. Loosely cover with greased plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature for another 30 minutes or until nearly doubled.
  6. Preheat oven to 350º F. Meanwhile, prepare Glaze. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and orange juice in small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until syrup is formed, about 5 minutes. (Mixture may bubble up; remove from heat if it does, stir and then return to heat.) Remove from heat.
  7. Bake loaves for 20 minutes. Brush loaves with syrup. Sprinkle with sugar; return to oven. Continue baking for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.

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