Mexican Day of the Dead Bread (Pan de Muerto) Recipe

Pan de muertos — translated as "bread of the dead" — is a sweet bread placed on an ofrenda to honor the deceased on Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead. Learn how to make this light and airy treat with hints of anise and orange zest.

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Dia de Muertos — Day of the Dead — is a 3,000-year-old tradition in Mexico where we honor those who have passed away. Taking place on Nov. 1-2, it is a celebration of the cycle of life, which means not fearing death but accepting and embracing it as part of our journey. There are many meaningful elements to the holiday, the biggest of which is to build an ofrenda (altar) to honor a loved one and help guide their spirit back for one day. Photographs, candles, sugar skulls, food, marigold flowers, their favorite items while on earth and delicious pan de muerto are all set on the ofrenda.

Pan de Muerto


Pan de Muerto. Typical Mexican sweet bread that is consumed in the season of the day of the dead. It is a main element in the altars and offerings in the festivity of the day of the dead.

Photo by: Sergio Hayashi

Sergio Hayashi

Pan de muerto is a sweet bread placed on an ofrenda in honor of the deceased. It is light and airy, fragranced with hints of anise and orange zest. Atop this round loaf are fashioned bread pieces resembling bones laid out in a cross formation, with a teardrop shape in the center to symbolize sorrow. A light glaze is added for shine. Extra loaves are often baked so families and friends can come together, share stories and savor the bread, making it a delightful bridge between the realms of the living and the departed.

Pan de Muerto ingredients


Pan de Muerto, ingredients for Mexican bread recipe traditional for day of the Dead in Mexico

Photo by: Marcos Castillo

Marcos Castillo


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons active-dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup of butter at room temperature + 1/8 of a cup to brush the bread after baking
  • 1/4 cup of unsalted margarine room temperature plus more for bowl and pans
  • 4 large eggs room temperature
  • orange zest from 2 oranges
  • 1/4 cup warm water about 110 degrees
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water or orange essence
  • 1 large egg lightly beaten to brush the bread
  • sugar to decorate the bread at the end

Place the 4 eggs, margarine, salt and half the sugar in the mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, start mixing the dough for about 2 minutes. Add the all-purpose flour in small amounts alternating with the water. Add the dry active yeast and mix until well combined.

Dough for pan de muerto


Process of elaboration of dough for pan de muerto with kneading machine. Bakery concept.

Photo by: Maria Castellanos

Maria Castellanos

Continue adding one at a time the butter, the orange zest, the rest of the sugar and the orange blossom essence, mixing well after each addition until soft dough forms.

Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and place on a clean counter that has been lightly floured. Knead dough until smooth, dusting the work surface lightly with flour if the dough begins to stick. Coat the interior of a large bowl with margarine; transfer dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Dough for pan de muerto


Process of elaboration of dough for pan de muerto. Bakery concept. Copy space.

Photo by: Maria Castellanos

Maria Castellanos

Transfer the dough from the bowl onto the working surface, set aside about 1-1/4 cups of the dough to form the decorative bones later on. Cut the rest of the dough into two equal pieces if making two large loaves. Prepare two baking sheets or one large baking sheet, line with parchment paper (or grease) and set aside.

Brown parchment paper


two female hands cover with brown parchment paper an iron rectangular baking sheet, top view

Photo by: NDanko


Shape each piece of dough into a tight ball rolling it on the surface. Place each tight ball on the prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart.

Fresh dough


fresh dough for baking,

Photo by: Galyna Myroniuk

Galyna Myroniuk

Place the remaining dough reserved for the bone decorations onto the work surface. Dust with flour if the dough is sticky and hard to handle.

Take a small portion of dough and roll it in small logs applying a little pressure with your fingers to form the bones. You’ll want to form at least two bones for each bread loaf; crisscross them on top of each loaf.

Day of the Dead bread


A young Hispanic baker is placing dough bones to prepare day of the dead bread. Concept of dia de muertos traditional food. Close up

Photo by: Miguel Serrano Ruiz

Miguel Serrano Ruiz

With the leftover dough, form small balls and place them at the center of the buns where the bones come together. Cover baking sheets with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until buns are touching and doubled in size, 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush the top of each loaf with a mixture of the remaining beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of water. This will give the pan de muerto a nice shine. Add a pinch of salt to the egg wash and brush the buns before placing them in the oven.

Transfer buns to the oven and bake until golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes, approximately, if making the small buns. If you are making the larger version, the baking time will be a little longer.

Pan de Muerto


Freshly baked mexican traditional pan de muerto on a baking tray for the día de los muertos celebration on november 2nd

Photo by: javogarciaphotography


Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Day of the Dead celebration.


Day of the dead celebration

Photo by: Suriel Ramzal

Suriel Ramzal

Let the pan de muerto cool completely, then brush with the remaining butter and dust with sugar or sesame seeds.

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