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Pan de Muertos for Day of the Dead

Pan de Muertos or Day of the Dead Bread, is a classic recipe for Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead. It is traditionally baked as bread or rolls and is an important part of the Day of the Dead Celebration.

Day of the Dead Bread

I chose to make both the bread and rolls once I realized the bake coincided with a GBBO Bake-Along Bake for Festival Week, Festival Buns. It was meant to be, right? You know I make bread for the Bake-Along whenever I can, like this Cottage Loaf?? Oh Yeah!

fresh pan de muertos
pan de muertos rolls

How could I resist? I had already been working on a Day of the Dead Bread recipe. And knew it was also made as buns from my research on the festival.

full loaf of Day of the Dead Bread

This Day of the Dead Bread is traditionally made to be placed on the altars families set up to honor their loved ones who’ve passed on. The bread “bones” on top of the bread signify the skeletons of the departed.

unglazed pan de muertos

Make Bread or Rolls!

Make Pan de Muertos, two ways. The first is a large loaf of bread. The other is to make individual rolls or buns with the dough. My recipe makes two loaves or 6 rolls.

fresh day of the dead rolls

You can make a sugar and orange juice glaze to put over the top. Or brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Or sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. I don’t think you can go wrong with your topping.

pan de muertos bread brushed with butter

Enriched Dough

It’s an enriched dough which means it uses eggs, milk, and sugar in the dough. Those can all slow the growth of yeast so make sure to check your yeast by mixing it was a little water and flour before you get started to make sure it’s active. All you need to see once you do that is a little bubbling and you’re good to go.

Shaping Pan de Muertos

The hardest part of the whole process of making Day of the Dead Bread is making the “bones” on top. You’ve got to divide the dough, roll it out, and then roll a few places very thin for the bones.

shaped pan de muertos

It’s NOT hard, it’s just not as easy rolling rest of the rope. It helps if you use one finger to roll that and let the rest of the dough flop around. OR take your three middle fingers, spread them wide and roll the dough rope that way. It will create the thinner pieces of dough.

shaping pan de muertos

In my Pan de Muerto, I’ve added the zest of a lemon and an orange. I love the soft enriched dough with a citrus tang. And to give it a little flair I also added a pinch of saffron threads to the milk when I was heating it. It makes the dough a lovely golden color. You don’t have to add saffron it’s totally optional.

Yield: 2 loaves/6 rolls

Pan de Muertos

fresh pan de muertos
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes 20 seconds
Additional Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 55 minutes 20 seconds


  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • zest of lemon
  • zest of orange
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3-4 cups flour
  • 3 Tablespoons butter for brushing on top, optional
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup sugar, optional


  1. put the yeast, water, and 1/2 of flour together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, set aside to let it bubble
  2. melt the butter and milk together, along with the half the lemon zest and half the orange zest and the saffron if using, once melted let cool a bit
  3. when the yeast is bubbling add a cup of flour and start the mixer running
  4. stir the sugar into the milk mix
  5. add the eggs stir to combine
  6. pour in the mixer bowl
  7. add the salt
  8. add roughly 1 1/2 cups flour for a total of 3 in the bowl and let the machine run
  9. knead in 1/4 cup of flour at a time until a smooth dough forms, usually about 1/2 cup total, it can be more though
  10. knead for another 5-8 minutes
  11. then put the dough in a greased bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm place for 60 minutes or until it is doubled in size
  12. when its doubled in size punch it down and let it rest for 10 minutes
  13. line one or two baking trays with parchment paper
  14. for loaves divide the dough in half break off roughly 1/3 of each portion
  15. roll the large pieces into two round loves, set on baking pan and flatten slightly
  16. take the reserved portion for one loaf, divide that in 4 parts, roll three out to be bones, rolling them thin in three places, make a ball out of the last piece
  17. lay the three pieces across the top of the bread loaf as pictured and press your finger all the way through the bread
  18. lay the ball on top
  19. repeat with the remaining dough
  20. for rolls divide the dough in six pieces and follow the directions for the loaves, dividing the rolls between two baking trays
  21. cover and let them rise about 40 minutes or until they're almost doubled
  22. pre-heat the oven to 350˚
  23. once the bread or rolls are ready to bake remove the covering and place in the pre-heated oven
  24. bake bread for 35-45 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom
  25. bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes
  26. cool for ten minutes on the pan
  27. melt 3 Tablespoons, zest in the rest of the orange and lemon
  28. sprinkle with sugar if desired


  • a stand mixer works great for this recipe
  • if not using a stand mixer, simply follow the directions up to step 8
  • then put it on a clean counter and knead in flour unitl a smooth

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