Let’s Talk Food: Pan de Los Muertos

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Decorations for Dia de Muertos.

Pan de los muerto, which is Mexican for “bread of the dead” is traditionally baked in Mexico during the weeks leading up to Dia de Muertos or the Day of the Dead, celebrated on Nov. 2 this year.

This bread has its roots during the times of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s and some even say it originated in Mesoamerica, when the Aztes made a type of bread with amaranth, honey, and human blood as an offering to the gods.


Pan de los muertos is a round bread with strips of dough rolled out and attached on top to represent bones and skulls. It is eaten and left on grave sites or on altars for the dead when they return.

Pan de Los Muertos

Makes 3 small loaves

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm until butter has melted:

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup water

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

1/2 cup flour

2 packages active dry yeast or 4-1/2 teaspoons

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon whole anise seed

1/2 cup sugar

Slowly beat in:

Warm butter and milk mixture

2 tablespoons orange extract

Zest of one orange

Mix well. Add:

4 large eggs, one at a time

Mix thoroughly. Slowly add:

1 cup flour

Continue adding additional flour until the dough is soft but not sticky.

Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If the dough is dry add some water and if too wet, add some flour. Form the dough into one ball and cut into four equal pieces.

Lightly grease a cookie sheet and place three dough rolls on it.

Keep the fourth dough ball to make bones and place over the loaves.

Form small portions of dough and roll in small logs putting a little pressure with the fingers to form the bones. Once the bones are already formed (4 per bread), brush each roll with a mixture of:

One large egg

1 tablespoon water

Varnish the center of the dough and brush the top in a cross pattern to place four bones on top.

Cover the bread with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until buns are touching the doubled in size, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Add a pinch of salt to the egg-water mixture and brush the buns before placing them in a preheated 350 degrees oven.

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes, depending on the size of your bread. If you have made a larger bread, adjust your baking time accordingly.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

‘Coco’ was a popular movie a few years ago and it was centered around the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos. On this day, the souls of the dead returned to visit their living family members. In the movie, the dead were only allowed to return if the family had a photo of them on the altar. Coco’s father did not have his photo on the altar and the movie was about how he got his photo up thanks to the main character, Miguel Rivera. This good deed made Mama Coco happy to know that her father was a good and honorable man.

Toys are offered to dead children and bottles of alcohol are offered to dead adults. Most families decorate the graves with marigolds as it is thought that these flowers attract the souls of the dead and the bright petals and strong scent guide the souls from the cemetery to their family’s homes.

I went to Oaxaca, Mexico, a week before Dia de los Muertos several years ago and found so many decorations and items at the markets for the families to decorate their home altars. There were also skeletons available for home decor. My grandson knew all the bones in the body so I bought him a full- sized skeleton there, which we hung on the door of our bedroom (unfortunately we lost it in our house fire).

Foodie bites

Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Program’s Cafeteria and Da Ohana Corner Cafe is open from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. For take-out orders call 808-934-2559 for the Cafeteria and 808-934-2591 for Da Ohana Corner Cafe during business hours. Please provide your name, phone number, and pick up time when you place your order. Observe the one-way signs in the cafeteria and cafe. Face masks are required.

Da Ohana Corner Cafe has breakfast selections, salads, burgers, bentos and musubis while the cafeteria offers hot plate lunches which include rice, vegetables, a fresh baked bread roll and a soup. Half orders come with 1/2 rice, 1/2 vegetables, and 1/2 entrees. Menus do change, but last Tuesday there was Hamburger Steak with Gravy and New England Chowder for soup, and on Thursday, there was Korean Fried Chicken and Eggplant Parmesan, all for under $10.


Support the culinary students so they can get the experience.

Email Audrey Wilson at audrey wilson808@gmail.com.