An honest take on life and parenthood

Recipe: Pan de muerto (for bread machine)

on January 21, 2016

If you know sweet bread from Mexico, you are familiar with pan de muerto, the special bread that is made only around the time of the Day of the Dead in early November.  This buttery, orange-scented bread is reminiscent of brioche, and tastes wonderful with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.

For two years running now, I have made pan de muerto at home for the Pooh’s class and for friends. I always intend to publish the recipe and my method here on my blog. But in both years, I let it slip. Ah, good intentions…

I’ve decided that I will publish it here and now in January regardless, and repost it again in late October and early November. If I don’t do it now, I might not get to it again. Besides, why not?

The first time I made this bread, I used Fany Gerson’s recipe for pan de muerto on Fine I liked it because the recipe was straightforward and most closely resembled the bread that is made in my birthplace, Celaya, in the beautiful state of Guanajuato.

Fany’s wonderful recipe, along with a demonstration slide show for making the bread manually, can be found here:

The first year, I followed her recipe exactly. The second year, in a flash of lazy inspiration, I decided to use a bread machine.

I adapted the recipe slightly and ended up with fabulous results. (Why didn’t I use the machine last year? Mensa.) This past year, I was churning out loaves of pan de muerto so fast that my kitchen started to resemble a pop up panaderia.

Without further ado, here you go, bread fiends:

Pan de Muerto  (Bread Machine method)

Bread Ingredients:

  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 5 ½ tablespoons unsalted softened butter, cut into small pieces
  • Freshly grated orange zest from 1/3 of a navel orange
  • 1 Tablespoon of orange blossom water
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 1 ¾ teaspoon (or one standard packet) active dry yeast


  • 1/3 stick of butter (2 1/2 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar

Oven: 350 degrees Farenheit


  1. As your first layer, place these liquid ingredients in the bottom of your bread machine baking pan: milk, butter, orange zest, orange blossom water, eggs 20151124_085046
  2. As your second layer, add the sugar and salt
  3. For the third layer, add the all-purpose flour or bread flour (all-purpose flour will work just fine) 20151124_085137
  4. As your fourth and final layer, sprinkle yeast all over the top 20151124_085159
  5. Set your bread machine for the white bread setting for a two-pound loaf. Turn on the machine and let the machine knead the dough and let it rise twice. (This process takes about 2 hours with my machine.) 20151124_101222
  6. Be careful. If you can set the machine for rising only, do so. Keep an eye on it otherwise.
  7. REMOVE DOUGH BEFORE IT STARTS TO BAKE IN THE MACHINE. Time to create the round loaves! 20151124_124909
  8. Grease a cookie sheet and take out plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel to prepare for the last rise of the bread.
  9. Remove a lemon-sized ball of dough and set it aside.20151124_125009
  10. Divide the remaining dough in two.
  11. Form a round with each half, and place the rounds of dough on the greased cookie sheet. 20151124_125130
  12. Take the lemon-sized ball of dough, and pull off a piece the size of a large marble. Divide it in two and set aside. Take the remaining dough and cut it into six small pieces, which you will make into long ropes about 5 inches long each, representing bones.
  13. Place three pieces of rope onto the top of each loaf, crisscrossing them to result in six arms. 20151124_125757
  14. Pick up the last piece of dough and divide it in two. Form each into a small ball and place in the middle of each loaf, right at the intersection of the ropes. This represents a skull. 20151124_125844
  15. Cover the bread with plastic wrap, and then a clean towel. Place in a warm spot to rise for 30-45 minutes.20151124_130042
  16. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
  17. After 30-45 minutes, check your loaves. They should be nice and puffy. 20151124_133643
  18. Put the loaves in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes. Make sure there is room in the oven for the bread to rise again, as it will swell during baking.
  19. Enjoy the delicious smell while it is baking – and keep an eye on it!
  20. Remove the bread from the oven. It should be golden brown. 20151124_135757
  21. As soon as you can handle a hot loaf, take a stick of butter and smear it over the top of the first loaf, including all crevices. 20151124_140129
  22. Immediately sprinkle sugar on top while the bread is warm and the butter is glistening. 20151124_140324
  23. Let it cool on wire racks.
  24. Enjoy! 20151124_143609

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