An Untraditional Dead Bread

An Untraditional Dead Bread

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Growing up in the southwest we learned Spanish in school and at the start of every November we would celebrate Día de los Muertos with our class. Día de los Muertos is a three day celebration in Mexico, during which families celebrate their relatives that have passed. It is believed that during these three days, family members return to the living world to visit, therefore offerings are made to help them celebrate. You can read more about Día de los Muertos here. One of the most common food offerings is Pan de Muerto, or Dead Bread.

During school we would make and eat this bread at our Spanish class festivities. Traditional Dead Bread is an enriched yeast bread, made wth milk and eggs and flavored with anise seeds. However today we wanted to present an alternative to the traditional Dead Bread.

Our first variance from the tradition is the omission of anise seeds. Al is not a fan of anything licorice tasting at all, therefore we left them out.

Our next variance was born purely out of an accident. Our original recipe included sweetened condensed milk instead of whole milk. While perusing the options at the grocery store, we picked out a couple of cans of our go to brand, Eagle Brand but then we also decided to try a different brand, La Lechera. The La Lechera brand also had some other interesting options including Dulce de Leche Caramel. Very pleased with our purchases of all the different options, we waltzed home to make our Dead Bread. We decided to try the La Lechera sweetened condensed milk but with all the cans looking similar, instead of opening the correct can, we opened the Dulce de Leche Caramel. This is probably the best baking mistake we have ever made! The bread turned out extra moist with a deeper yellow color than other versions we have made with whole milk or sweetened condensed milk.

Another switch we made from tradition is the finishing of the bread with granulated sugar, which is usually sprinkled on right right after the loaf comes out of the oven. We love cinnamon so we decided to substitute cinnamon sugar and then we helped it adhere better by brushing melted butter on the top then sprinkling the cinnamon sugar onto the loaf.

Forming the shape of the Dead Bread is probably the most challenging step of this whole process. Traditionally the loaf is topped with a skull and crossbones. How elaborate this decoration is, is up to the baker. We kept it pretty simple. We took 8 ounces of the dough after the first rise and separated it into 5 pieces. With the remaining dough, we formed it into a round loaf and then made a golf ball sized indentation in the middle. Next, we formed the skull and crossbones. We rolled four of the pieces into cylinders, lightly brushed one side with water and placed them on the main loaf, meeting in the middle. The fifth piece we rolled into a ball and then flattened it slightly. We also brushed a little bit of water on the underside of this piece and placed it in the center, covering the mesh points of the crossbones, to be the skull.

One last tip before we share our recipe. While baking, leave the loaf uncovered for the first half of the baking time to allow the loaf to brown, then tent the loaf with a piece of aluminum foil to protect it from over browning and drying out.

An Untraditional Pan de Muerto

An Untraditional Pan de Muerto


  • 1/2 cup warm water (110-115°F)
  • 1 packet (7 grams) active dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup La Lechera Dulce de Leche Caramel
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 to 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 scant tablespoon cinnamon


  1. Pour the warm water into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, add yeast and pinch of sugar. Mix to wet the yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. In a small sauce pan, heat butter on low until just melted. Add Dulce de Leche Caramel. Whisk to combine. Make sure not to heat over 115°F.
  3. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl, whisk in salt and the warm butter and caramel mixture.
  4. Carefully add the egg mixture to the yeast mixing bowl.
  5. With dough hook attachment, mix to combine all of the liquid ingredients.
  6. While mixing, slowly add the flour a cup at a time. Once you have added 4 cups, keep adding a little until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl.
  7. Let the dough knead fro 5 minutes in the stand mixer.
  8. Spray a large mixing bowl with oil. Add the dough and cover with an oiled piece of plastic wrap. Let rise for an hour, until doubled.
  9. Cover a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper.
  10. Remove 8 ounces of the dough and set aside.
  11. With the remaining dough, shape by folding it onto itself, forming a round loaf. Place on prepared baking sheet. Make an indentation in the center of the loaf about the size of a golf ball.
  12. Divide the 8 ounces of dough into 5 pieces (1.6 ounces) roll four into long cylinders (bones), roll the fifth portion into a ball (skull).
  13. Brush a small amount of water onto one side of each of the long cylinders (bones) and form a cross with each piece meeting in the indentation of the main loaf. Brush a small amount of water on the ball (skull) and press into center of loaf.
  14. Cover with oiled piece of plastic wrap and let rise for 40-60 minutes, until doubled.
  15. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  16. Bake for 35-45 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 200°F. Tent the loaf halfway through baking to avoid over browning.
  17. Remove loaf from oven.
  18. Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon.
  19. Working in sections, brush melted butter onto the loaf and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
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