Pan de Muerto (Day of the dead bread)

This is a soft buttery sweet bread to help us bring back the sweet memories of the people who cannot be with us anymore. It is traditionally made in Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebration. It is flavored with orange zest or anise seeds and brushed with a glaze and sprinkled with sugar. The preparation depends on the region as everybody has their own recipe. This recipe is from the Mexico City region.

Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead is a celebration in Mexico between October 31st and November 2nd. During this time period, Mexicans remember their ancestors who have past away. It is not a scary, spooky time but rather a joyous, spiritual time. People go to the cemetaries, to the altars of their deceased friends and relatives. They also lavishly decorate an altar in their homes with candles and memories.

This celebration’s roots are in the Prehispanic times. Native Americans celebrated this time period because they belive that our ancestors’ spirits return to Earth to be with us during this time period. After the Catholic Spanards arrived, they had combined this tradition with their own celebration, All Sain’t Day and this unique holiday that the Mexicans celebrate today was born.

As I have mentioned before, it is a festive, spiritual celebration. There is music, candles and special foods served. One food they serve is a special bread called Pan de Muerto. It is given as an offering to the ancestors’ spirits and has special meanings. While the exact meaning is not known, it is believed that the crosses on the top represent the bones. The circular shape in the middle could be a tear dropp, or a skull or the heart.

Traditionally, they always use oranges to make the bread and anise seeds are sometimes added too. I don’t have oranges so I ended up using almond extract and anise seeds. I belive they worked nicely here and the anise seeds are used traditionally anyway.

My recipe is from the following source.

For another Halloween treat for this special time please try my Barmbrack bread recipe from last year (source).



  • 4 oz butter (110g) at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup of sugar + more for the top
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 cups of flour + more for kneeding the dough
  • 4 eggs + 1 egg for the top (room temperature)
  • 1 1/4 cup warm milk
  • 2 pkg dried yeast or 5 tsp
  • zest and juice of 2 oranges
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp anise seeds


For clarification, please view the video provided at the end of the blog.

Makes 2 loaves

Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare the yeast. Add the yeast to warm milk (104-108F). Cover. It is ready when the yeast comes up. Set aside.

Mix the butter, sugar, salt and 1/2 cup of flour. Set aside.

Mix eggs, 1/2 cup flour, orange zest and juice or almond extract and anise seeds.

Combine all above ingredients plus 1/2 cup of flour.

Slowly add the rest of the flour 1 cup at a time and mix untill all ingredients are incorpoated.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.

Cover it with a clean, damp cloth for 90 miutes.

Seperate about 1/4 of the dough and use it to make the decorations for the top. These are the bone shapes to drape across the top and the balls to place them in the middle.

Divide the rest of the dough into two ball shaped loaves and place them on lightly oiled cookie sheets.

I divide this 1/4 piece from the original dough into 6 parts, four for the bone shaped decorations and two for the middle part.

For the bone shaped decoration, shape the dough into a flat-bottomed semi-sphere. Position them on top of the bread and press lightly down to make sure they adhere. Put the little balls in the middle to connect the bones.

Let the assembled loaves rest for 1 hour.

Spread lightly beaten eggs and sugar on the surface of the loaves.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.

When cool, glaze the loaves with melted butter and sprinkle on some sugar.



Please feel free to watch this Mexican women how to make the bread.

Halloween/Harvest bread (barmbrack)

In honor of Halloween, I would like to post a recipe for a special treat called barmbrack (bairín breac). It is kind of the ancestor of the store bought Halloween candies that kids get at night when they go out trick or treating.

Halloween originated from the beautiful ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-een). It means end of summer and is the celebration of the Celtic new year. Samhain divides the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the new year, the dark and the light. Also, they believed that on this day the division between the old (deceased people) and the new (living people) is the thinnest and we get to the souls of our ancestors the closest. It is a mysterious celebration that other cultures observe as well like in Diwali or Mexican Day of the dead.

People offer food for the spirits that appear on Earth during this time period. Barmbrack is the food that is given on Samhain to make sure that the spirits don’t play tricks on us. So yes barmbrack is the ancestor of the Halloween candies. Everybody in the family gets a slice and then they offer some to the spirits. People also went out to sing songs and tell scary stories on this night and received food in exchange.

This is a simple Irish soda bread with the addition of fruits, nuts, seeds and I also added chocolate chips for the occasion. You can add whatever you wish, whatever grows around you. I used fresh cranberries because they are available here right now but traditionally crab apples were used. Otherwise, I tried to keep the recipe to its original form. The Irish also soak the dried fruits in a strong brew of tea for the night but at least for one hour. I really enjoyed this moist sweet bread, there was a surprise in every bite … sometimes cranberries or raisins or prunes or cherries but the most special treat was the bite with the chocolate chips …



  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 5 Tbsp sugar (1 Tbsp if apples are used instead of cranberries)
  • 1 mug of strong English tea (double strength)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup of dried fruits ( I used currants, cherries, prunes)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 nutmeg, 1/4 cloves
  • 1 cup of sliced fresh cranberries or shaved apples
  • 5 Tbsp poppy seed
  • hand-full of roughly chopped nuts of your choice – traditionally hazelnuts were used.
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups of buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp of a spirit of your choice (I used whisky) – (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cups of chocolate chips


  • Make a strong English tea. Pour it on the dried fruits and leave it on overnight but for at least 1 hour.
  • Wash and slice the fresh cranberries. Put the slices in a small bowl and put in the sugar, whisky and the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves). If you use apples instead of cranberries, use 1 Tbsp sugar only! Let it stand until it releases its liquid.
  • Set oven to 375 F.
  • Measure out the 4 cups of flour, add the baking soda, salt. Whisk together. Work in the butter with hand, knives or electrical mixer. Mix in the poppy seeds.
  • Squeeze the liquid out the dried fruits.
  • Mix in the dried fruits, the cranberries( with the liquid), nuts, chocolate chips. Mix well.
  • Make a well in the middle, add eggs, buttermilk and mix. Add more flour if needed.
  • Put dough on lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball shape.
  • Put it in a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Check to see if it is done. If the blade of a knife doesn’t come out clean, turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake longer 5-15 more minutes.
  • When done, let it cool for half hour before serving.



Recipe, photos and text by