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Pan de muerto: a sweet roll for the Day of the Dead

For the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities in Mexico, it’s a tradition to offer a special kind of bread to the loved deceased ones, along with beautiful flowers, songs and dishes like enchiladas, tamales, chiles en nogada, and much more. This “pan de muerto” (or bread of the dead) recipe has a very particular shape and a delicious orangey sweet aroma that fills the room as you bake it. It’s so sweet, soft and delicious that Mexicans long for the Day of the Dead to be able to finally taste this bread one more time.

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The preparation takes a little effort, but it’s well worth it. Baking bread is a very comforting activity that lets you forget about the everyday fuzz and it’s also a way to pamper your family (and yourself!) with a unique treat.


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  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup of water
  • ¼ cup of whole milk
  • The juice and zest of one orange
  • ¼ cup of butter, shortening or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon of dry active yeast
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of whole aniseed
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • Additional sugar and butter for glazing and decorating


1. Place the flour in a large bowl and make a hole in the middle, like a flour volcano.

2. Pour all the liquid ingredients in the hole and start mixing everything with your hands. Incorporate the flour from the outside of the volcano little by little.

3. Add the butter and the sugar and work the dough. Add the orange zest and aniseed and keep kneading.

4. The last ingredient must be the salt because it takes water away from the dough, and it prevents the gluten networks to form and make a nice elastic dough.

5. When everything forms a compact dough (you can add extra flour if you need to) start kneading over a floured clean surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes

6. Roll it into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and then a tea towel.

7. Let the dough rest or ferment in a warm, draft-free environment for half an hour or until it doubles its size.

8. When it’s ready, take the dough out of the bowl and knead it a little just to get the air out and form a loaf.

9. Cut in similar sized pieces and roll them into balls. Decorate the balls with strips of dough, that you must roll pressing down with your fingers to give them that unique bone-shaped form. Place them in the shape of a cross over the bun and crown it with a tiny ball.


10. Place the buns over a greased baking sheet leaving enough space between them to allow them to grow.

11. Let the buns rest before baking, covered in cling film and a towel for another half an hour.

12. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F or until golden brown.

13. Let the buns cool over a rack and glaze them with melted butter, then sprinkle them with sugar while they are still warm.

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Enjoy for breakfast or with a nice cup of earl gray tea for a chill afternoon… Or even better, how about a cup of comforting hot cocoa and some delicious pan de muerto for this Day of the Dead?

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