The best-known food associated with Day of the Dead is this slightly sweet and fragrant loaf. Typically formed into a round and decorated with additional dough rolled out to resemble bones, it is offered on altars for returning spirits as well as consumed by anyone involved in the holiday celebration. I asked a Santa Fe friend, Bill Ackerman, for his recipe because it’s the best I’ve tasted in either the United States or Mexico. Here’s his wonderful rendition, enhanced with anise oil and orange oil, which add much more flavor than the often-called-for aniseed and orange zest. All are available from online sources.


  • 4 to 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 packages instant dry yeast
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
  • 1 teaspoon orange oil
  • ½ teaspoon anise oil
  • 1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled but still liquid Additional butter for greasing bowl


  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar

Makes 1 large round loaf, enough for 8 to 12 people

  1. For bread dough, first sift together 3 cups of flour with sugar and salt. In bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine yeast, water, eggs, egg yolks, orange oil, orange flower water and anise oil. As soon as it’s blended together, pour in melted butter and continue mixing until completely blended. With mixer running, gradually add sifted dry ingredients ¼ cup at a time. Switch to the mixer’s dough hook. Add additional flour, ¼ cup at a time, allowing each addition to be incorporated, and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add flour only until dough comes away from sides of mixer bowl and forms a ball around dough hook. Knead in mixer for 6 minutes, adjusting the speed to ensure hook is kneading dough rather than just pushing ball around bowl. Slower is usually better. The dough should become very soft, smooth, and not sticky.
  2. Place dough in large buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size. This can take several hours. Punch down dough. Pull off ¾ cup dough to decorate top of loaf later, wrapping tightly in plastic and placing it in the refrigerator. Form remaining dough into a very tight ball. Place dough ball on parchment paper on a baking sheet, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in volume. Allow a couple of hours again. Patience here is key to a light, soft crumb.
  3. Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  4. Shortly before the dough has fully risen, remove the reserved dough from the refrigerator to make the decorations. Remove a small piece and shape into a 1-inch ball. Flatten bottom and place this gently on top center of the bread. Roll out remaining reserved dough into a cylinder and cut it into 8 pieces. Form each piece into a bone shape. Carefully place bones on dough in whatever pattern strikes your fancy.
  5. Mix glaze, combining egg and water in small bowl. With pastry brush, apply a very light of coat of glaze over dough and decorations. Use only about half of glaze. The lighter the coat, the more delicate the crust. You will need to apply more halfway through baking. Sprinkle sugar evenly over entire surface, saving a little for the second glaze.
  6. Bake bread for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Briefly remove bread from oven, apply egg wash to any unglazed surfaces created by expansion of dough, apply sugar to those surfaces, and return to oven. Bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until internal temperature of bread, measured on an instant-read thermometer, is 185° F. If browning too quickly, place a sheet of foil on top of loaf for the last few minutes of baking. Cool pan de muerto on a baking rack. Serve in wedges or simply pull loaf apart and enjoy.