Famed Mexican Chef Pati Jinich Gives Us a Primer on Pan de Muerto, the Delicious Bread Enjoyed on Día de los Muertos

It's day of the bread!

pati junich holding beverage
Photo: Angie Mosier

Every fall, Mexico is filled with even more color and flavor than usual, as people erect Day of the Dead altars heaped with the adored foods, drinks, and flowers in honor of their dearly departed. "Other items are left, too—mementos of their hobbies or favorite things, like a soccer ball, playing cards, or a baseball hat," says Mexico City-born and -raised Pati Jinich, resident chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute, in Washington, D.C.; host of the PBS series Pati's Mexican Table; and author of the new Treasures of the Mexican Table ($24.87, amazon.com). But pan de muerto is a treat for the living as well. It's a rich brioche scented with orange zest and anise. "I always make a few loaves for guests and Mexican friends," Jinich says. "It builds a bridge between our home in the U.S. and our home country.

Here, Jinich shares her recipe—it's to die for—and a few helpful tips for preparing the beloved recipe at home.

pan de muerto
Angie Mosier

Sweet Symbols

You'll find regional variations in the flavors, shapes, and décor of pan de muerto all over Mexico. Her version follows the most common style. It's round to represent the circle of life, and topped with an X and a circle to mimic a skull and cross-bones. Traditionally baked and enjoyed in the days before, during, and after Día de los Muertos (November 1 and 2), it's usually served with coffee or hot chocolate.

Pati's Pointers

Start Early: A few days early, that is. "The recipe isn't difficult," says Jinich. "But it does take planning." That's because the dough requires four rises in all, including a three-hour (or overnight) rest in the refrigerator.

Divide and Conquer: Her instructions make a generous amount of dough, but you don't need to bite off more than you can, um, knead. "Traditionally, pan de muerto is very large," Jinich says. "But I prefer to split the dough into two loaves for easier handling."

Wait to Top and Slice: Let the bread cool before adding the butter-and-sugar coating; allow that to dry before slicing so it sets into a powdery finish.

Baked to Order

More interested in eating than kneading? These shops ship the confection across the country from mid-October to mid-November: La Estrella Bakery in Tucson, Arizona; La Newyorkina in New York City; MexGrocer.com in San Diego; and Masa Madre in Chicago.

Adapted 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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