Pan de muerto, also known as bread of the dead or dead man's bread, is a traditional Mexican sweet bread that is eaten during the Day of the Dead.
In the days and weeks leading up to the Day of the Dead, the inviting scent of pan de muerto wafts through the air of local markets and bakeries all throughout Mexico. It's an ancient culinary tradtion of the Day of the Dead, and it's often seen as a symbol of the holiday, like candy canes at Christmas.
There are countless variations of the popular bread made in Mexico and around the world, as the Day of the Dead has spread into other cultures. It is traditonally shaped like a round loaf with rolled strips of dough layered on top that resemble the bones of the dead. A glaze of melted butter and orange zest is then brushed on top, followed by a generous sprinkling of sugar. The simple recipe consists of flour, eggs, milk, butter and yeast. Aside from sugar, the bread is typically flavored with anise seed, but cinnamon and orange zest are also used.
Pan de muerto demonstration in Mexico.
Photo credit: Chupacabras
In addition to the traditional loaf, dead man's bread is also made in a variety of different shapes. It is often shaped into skulls, sometimes resembling the deceased, and decorated with brightly colored icing, like the iconic sugar skulls. Other common shapes include angels, animals, and figures.
Pan de muerto for sale
in Santiago Tianguistenco, Mexico
Photo credit: Alejandro Linares Garcia
Bread of the dead is enjoyed at parties, festivals, and graveyards, when the living gather to remember and toast the dead. While it may seem morbid to go to a gravesite and eat bread shaped like bones, it is all part of an effort to reconnect with lost loved ones and rejoice in their memory. This isn't a somber ritual but a celebration. That's why pan de muerto is so sweet and delicious!
Pan de muerto is also placed on altars, which are built as a tribute to the dearly departed. The bread, along with other food and drink the deceased person enjoyed, is offered as nourishment because they will be hungry after their journey from the "other side".
You don't need to be in Mexico to enjoy pan de muerto. The Day of the Dead is now practiced all over the world and people are making their own bread and trying all kinds of fun and interesting variations.
If you'd like to make your own pan de muerto, visit Day of the Dead Bread, where I demonstrate how I made the delicious slice that you see below.