Pan de Muerto

Pan de Muerto
Photo: Angie Mosier
2 Round Breads

In Mexico, Día de los Muertos is when the deceased come back to visit their living loved ones and enjoy the pleasures of the world they left behind. A delicious draw is pan de muerto, a rich brioche scented with orange zest and anise. Here, chef Pati Jinich, author of Treasures of the Mexican Table ($24.87,, shares her recipe with us. Jinich's version follows the most common style of this bread: shaped into a round to represent the circle of life and topped with an X and a circle to mimic a skull and cross-bones.



  • ½ cup whole milk, heated to lukewarm

  • 1 envelope (¼ ounce) active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour


  • 2 tablespoons orange-flower water, rosewater, or water

  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest

  • 1 ½ teaspoons anise seeds

  • 4 large eggs, beaten

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting if needed

  • cup sugar

  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

  • ½ pound unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into ½-inch cubes, room temperature, plus more for bowl


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • cup sugar


  1. For the Starter: Whisk together milk, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Whisk in flour. Cover with a clean kitchen towel; set in a warm, draft-free place and let stand until mixture begins to bubble, 20 to 25 minutes.

  2. For the Dough: Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add orange-flower water, orange zest, anise seeds, eggs, flour, sugar, and salt and beat on low speed until combined. Scrape bowl and beater and switch to the dough-hook attachment. Beat on medium speed until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and starts to make a slapping sound, 10 to 12 minutes.

  3. On low speed, add butter in four to six additions, incorporating each before adding the next. From time to time, scrape down bowl. When all of butter has been added, increase speed to medium and beat another 8 to 10 minutes, until dough slaps against bowl again. (It will still be sticky, but don't be tempted to add more flour.)

  4. Butter a large bowl. Shape dough into a ball and place in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Gently deflate dough with your fist, gather it into a ball, and turn over, so bottom is now on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours, and up to overnight.

  5. Remove dough from refrigerator and set, still covered, in a warm, draft-free spot until it comes to room temperature and rises, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Turn dough out of bowl. Cut off a quarter of dough and divide into two equal pieces; set aside. Divide larger piece of dough into two equal pieces, shape each into a ball, and place on separate baking sheets.

  6. To make skull and crossbones, cut one of smaller pieces of dough into three equal pieces. Shape one piece into a ball for the skull. For the bones, roll the other two pieces into ropes and pinch at intervals, so they look like joints. Repeat with other smaller piece of dough. Flatten one of smaller dough balls into a 6-inch round. Place 2 bone strips on top of a large dough round, crossing them to make an X and pressing them lightly into dough. Place "skull" in middle and press down lightly to secure. Repeat with other round of dough. If dough seems sticky, dust lightly with flour. Cover breads lightly with kitchen towels and let rise in a warm, draft free spot until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

  7. Preheat oven to 350°F, with a rack in middle. Bake, one loaf at a time, until lightly browned on top, 25 minutes. Cover bread loosely with foil; bake another 25 minutes, or until bread is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom. Let cool on wire racks.

  8. For the Topping: Meanwhile, brush about a quarter of the top of one bread with melted butter and immediately sprinkle with a generous amount of sugar, so it adheres before butter cools and dries. Continue with rest of bread, then top second bread. Let topping cool before slicing. Wrapped in foil or in a cake keeper, bread will stay fresh up to 5 days.

Cook's Notes

Traditionally, pan de muerto is made as a very large bread, but Jinich prefers to divide the dough into two smaller loaves for easier handling.

Adapted with permission from Pati Jinich: Treasures of the Mexican Table. Copyright © 2021 by Pati Jinich. Photography © 2021 by Angie Mosier. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All Rights Reserved.

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