Photo of Pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread) by WW

Pan de muerto (Day of the Dead bread)

Total Time
3 hr 25 min
20 min
35 min
This lightly sweetened, anise-spiced yeast bread is often served during Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations, which honor loved ones who have passed away. It is enjoyed by family members and/or left on altars or gravesites as an offering to the departed. Though usually made with a lot of butter, we use a smaller amount of olive oil to lighten it up, but we stay true to the traditional orange and anise flavors. The decorations on top of the bread are meant to resemble a skull and crossbones, in keeping with the spirit of the holiday.


Cooking spray

4 spray(s)


½ cup(s), heated between 100°F to 110°F


4 Tbsp, divided


1½ tsp, active dry

Extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp

Anise seed

1 Tbsp

Table salt

1 tsp

Orange zest

2 tsp


2 large egg(s), at room temperature

Bread flour

3 cup(s), 13.5 oz

Fresh orange juice

2 Tbsp


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together warm water, 1 tbsp sugar, and yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 2 tbsp sugar, oil, anise seed, salt, orange zest, and eggs. Stir in flour. With dough hook attachment, mix dough on medium-low speed until smooth and elastic, 3 to 4 minutes. (Dough will be slightly sticky, but resist adding any more flour.) Alternatively, mix the dough by hand, and turn out onto a lightly floured surface; knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl coated with nonstick spray, place dough and turn to coat top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, 1½ hours.
  3. Pull off roughly one-fifth of the dough. Pinch off a golf ball-sized piece and roll into a ball. Divide the rest into four equal pieces, shaping each into a 4- to 5-inch rope; press ends of each rope to slightly flatten (to make them loosely resemble bones). On a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, shape the remaining four-fifths of dough into a ball. Make an indentation in the center of the ball, and place the round dough piece in indentation. Arrange “bone” pieces in a crossbones pattern over dough. Cover dough with plastic wrap coated with nonstick spray. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake dough until lightly browned on top and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, 32 to 35 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small microwave-safe bowl, combine remaining 1 tbsp sugar and orange juice. Microwave on High until mixture begins to boil, about 30 seconds. Stir until sugar dissolves. Brush mixture over warm bread.
  6. Serving size: 1 slice