Pan de Muerto is a Mexican Delicacy Full of Symbolism

The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday in which families celebrate their loved ones who have passed away in multi-day festivities. These celebrations include music, dance, parades, and of course delicious food and drink. One of the traditional foods of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is pan de Muerto.

Pan de Muerto


Pan de muerto, meaning bread of the dead in Spanish, is a sweet bread placed on the altars that families create to honor their loved ones. These altars, called ofrendas in Mexico, are made to welcome back the dead, with pictures, incense, candles, their favorite foods, and other traditional delicacies of the holiday like sugar skulls.

Day of the dead Bread has over a thousand variations, each region using different ingredients and shapes like human figurines, angels, a moon, hearts, instruments, and the classic round pan de muerto.

Along with the many versions of pan de muerto, there are many interpretations of what it symbolizes. The classic round loaf shape is said to represent the circle of life and death, with a round dough ball on top to symbolize the skull of the deceased and another piece of dough across the bread symbolizing their bones and tears.

Although it depends on the region and the baker's individual bread recipe, this bread is typically is covered in white sugar, and often decorated as well with red sugar, sesame seeds, and sprinkles. Orange zest and anise seeds are also traditional flavors of this Mexican sweet bread, or pan dulce in Spanish.

Because of its popularity and significance, every panaderia (or bakery) in Mexico makes this sweet Mexican bread around this holiday, which falls at the same time as Halloween does in the United States. From Mexico City to Oaxaca to Guadalajara, you can smell the scent of pan de muerto wafting through the streets and see golden brown loaves in the windows in September and October.

Even those who don't observe Dia de Muertos enjoy a piece of this tasty bread during this time of year, and many love pairing it with a mug of hot chocolate.

Pan de Muerto Recipe

This pan de muerto recipe by Mely Martínez is made with all purpose flour, active-dry yeast, sugar, salt, room temperature butter and margarine, large eggs, orange zest, and orange blossom water. Although the prep time is only 20 minutes and the cook time is only 15, you do need to let the dough rise for about an hour, so it's best to plan ahead. After enjoying it, cover in plastic wrap to keep it from going stale.

Enjoy this Pan de Muerto in honor of Dia de los Muertos! Get the recipe here.