A Baker’s Take on Pan de Muerto

October 29, 2021

Every Día de los Muertos, family and friends gather together to celebrate their loved ones with ofrendas filled with their favorite food and beverages. While dishes prepared for the holiday vary from familia to familia, there’s one item you’re guaranteed to find on almost all ofrendas: Pan de Muerto.

Pan de Muerto is a special type of Mexican sweet bread only sold around Día de los Muertos. This traditional pastry has been around for centuries, serving as a symbolic treat to be enjoyed while remembering loved ones. 

Since recipes vary region to region, there are many types of Pan de Muerto. We talked to two different bakers to get their unique takes on this special treat.

A Family Tradition

Every Día de los Muertos, Martha Rodriguez Caballero celebrates the memory of some of the most important people in her life who’ve passed away—including her mother, Lupita.

Caballero got into baking because her mother loved it. Her mother passed down many recipes that had been in their family for generations, and Caballero now uses those same recipes with her own daughter. Like the one for Pan de Muerto her mother used to enjoy with coffee and tequila.

Caballero’s family recipe is specific to Puebla, Mexico where she grew up. This type of Pan de Muerto is denser and flatter than other versions. Her mother used to use cempasúchil, or marigold, to brush butter on the bread before sprinkling it with colored sugar. It’s a method Caballero still prefers to use today, even though she has more kitchen tools available to her now.

But there’s still one step to the recipe Caballero values above all else: Adding a pinch of love as she remembers her loved ones.

An Oaxaca Take on Pan de Muerto

Daniel Martinez first decided to get into baking because he wanted to teach his nieces and nephews about their culture and traditions. His family and friends were especially interested in Pan de Muerto because of the elaborate artisanal process used to make it and the bread’s unique shape and flavor.

Martinez got his Pan de Muerto recipe from his older brother who bakes it at a bakery in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it’s known as “Pan de Yema.” This version of the bread is coated with sesame seeds and features colorful, edible figurines.

For Martinez, baking Pan de Muerto with others is an opportunity for storytelling. A way to explain the significance of the tradition and share his culture. He looks forward to Día de los Muertos every year as a time to remember what his loved ones have taught him and celebrate their memories with joy.

Martha Rodriguez Caballero Photo Credits: Kathleen Sheffer
Daniel Martinez Photo Credits: Sergio Ruiz Tello

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