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Corazón Contento: Bread of Death

Pan-de-Muerto (1)


By Karla Ortiz


The Bread of Death, prepared only for ofrendas (altars) on November 2, is one Mexico’s richest traditions.

Its origin goes back to pre-Hispanic times, when it was prepared with amaranth seeds and bathed in the blood of people sacrificed to honor the gods. It was not until the arrival of the Spanish that the tradition ended.

The bread continued to be made, but the recipe changed greatly. After the Conquest, it was made with wheat and bathed only in red sugar to represent the blood. Since then, it has been used for offerings.

Now the Bread of Death is decorated in sugar with four or five “bones,” with a small ball in the middle, together representing a skull. Although some bakeries have added flavors and fillings, the original recipe written here comes to us from Panadería San Sebastián.


Pan de Muerto

For 1 kilo of dough:

1 kg flour

10 gr salt

250 gr standard sugar

600 ml of eggs

300 gr margarine for sponge cake or Danish bread

30 grams of pasta yeast (per kilogram)

1/4 of Crisco

1 stick butter



In a clean area, form a small mound with the flour and clear the center. It is important that the edges of the mound are well sealed to the surface so that the egg does not run off. Add 10 gr of salt, 250 gr of sugar, 30 gr of yeast, and, at the end, about 400 ml of egg. With your hands, start turning the dough as much as possible. With a plastic spatula, gradually integrate the flour from the edges.

When the mixture is consistent and without danger of draining, mix in the remaining 200 ml of egg. After the dough is shaped, add the margarine and knead it with strong, slow movements. (Be careful not to push your abdomen close to the table. This will make your arms lose strength).

Once kneaded, divide the bread into small parts and knead in pieces until all the ingredients are well mixed. You’ll know that the dough is ready when it’s lumpy and has a consistency similar to pizza dough.

Let it rest on a flat surface with enough flour beneath to avoid sticking, and put a blanket of flour on top. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then give dough a final kneading to keep it uniform. With your hands, form a long roll of dough that you will cut into pieces to your needed size and quantity of pieces. Reserve some dough to shape for the bones and the ball that will represent the skull.

Once the dough is cut into pieces, form balls to be placed on a tray previously greased with Inca butter. The bones will be cut depending on the size of the balls. Try to cover them from end to end.

Using three fingers in a rolling movement, shape the bones (small breads have two bones and big ones three). After this process, let the dough stand for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the weather (one hour if it is very cold, 30 minutes if it is hot).

Mix the balls with a little water to stick them to the bread (this last step prevents the ball from being crushed).

Preheat oven to 170º C, then bake for10 or 15 minutes until the surface is golden.

Let cool. With the melted butter stick, coat each loaf of bread. Let stand for about five minutes and then sprinkle bread with sugar, taking care that your fingers don’t become sticky with the butter from the bread.

Prepare some hot chocolate to enjoy with your Bread of Death.


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