Pan de Muerto - Food and Drink

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Pan de Muerto
Food and Drink

Pan de Muerto (’Bread of the Dead’) celebrates the return of the spirits. Traditionally these breads are made by village bakers using lots of egg yolks and anise seeds. These round beautifully decorated breads are stacked on home ofrendas for the spirits to enjoy as well as being eaten by the living. Regional variations exist: in Oaxaca, loaves are sprinkled with sesame seeds representing happiness, while in Michoacan, pieces of dough are used to form skulls and bones to ornament the top of the round loaf, which are then dusted with colored sugar.


One-quarter cup lukewarm water

One tablespoon dry yeast

Four cups all-purpose flour

Three-quarter cup sugar

Two whole eggs plus five egg yolks

One-half cup melted butter

One teaspoon salt

One tablespoon anise seed

Two teaspoons nutmeg

Egg wash made from one egg white and one teaspoon melted butter

Sesame seeds (optional)

Sugar for decorating (colored sugar is most dramatic)

1. Proof yeast by dissolving in warm water.

2. Add 1/4 cup of flour and blend with a spoon.

3. Allow the mixture to rest until it doubles in volume, approximately 30 minutes.

4. Place the rest of the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the center and add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, melted butter, salt, anise, and nutmeg. Beat thoroughly.

5. Add the yeast mixture and blend.

6. Knead on a lightly floured board until the dough becomes elastic and not sticky, approximately 15 minutes.

7. Place the ball of dough into a greased bowl, cover with a cloth and allow to rise in a warm spot for approximately 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume. (Check by poking your fingers into the side of the dough; when your fingerprints stay in the dough, it’s ready.) You may also raise it overnight, covered in the refrigerator.

8. Punch down the dough and knead five times. Do not add additional flour.

9. Cut one-third off the dough and set it aside.

10. Shape the remaining dough into a round loaf.

11. Pinch off a ball from the reserved dough and form a “skull” with it, placing it on top of the loaf.

12. Roll the rest of the reserved dough into a long rope. Pinch it off into approximately 3-inch long pieces and shape them into bones. These are traditionally placed onto the loaf like spokes on a wheel.

13. Cover the loaf and let it rise until doubled in size in a warm spot on a greased cookie sheet.

14. Brush it with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

15. Cover once again and let it rise once more.

16. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.

17. Bake the Pan de Muerto on the center rack for approximately 45 minutes or until golden brown.

18. After the loaf has cooled on a rack, sprinkle the bread with colored sugar or decorate it with icing. Traditionally names of departed loved ones are inscribed on the bread.

See also Anisette, Bread; CALENDAR: Days of the Dead; HAG: Black Annis.