Pumpkin Spice Pan de Muerto is the traditional Day of the Dead bread flavored with sweet pumpkin, cozy spices, and a sprinkling of sugar.
Pan de Muerto is the traditional yeasted, slightly sweet bread made around this time every year for Dia de los Muertos. You’ve seen me make many variations over the years but I’ve fallen especially hard for pumpkin spice this year and it upped and slipped its way into my pan de muerto too.
What is Pan de Muerto?
Upon first glance pan de muerto may seem a little intimidating but if you’ve made any sort of yeasted bread before than this is no different. The shaping of the “skull” and “bones” on top is really the hardest part (aside from waiting for it to rise) and that takes little more than rolling the dough into ball and snake shapes which is something you’ve been doing since preschool so I know you’ve got this.
How Do You Make It?
For step-by-step pictures on how to shape the loaves go to my Chocolate Anise Pan de Muerto recipe which breaks it down in photos plus features a very adorable 3-year-old Hiro. Just make sure you read the recipe all the way through once or twice because it does involve about 4 hours of rising so you want to make sure you give yourself enough time to make the bread all the way through.
I made this Pumpkin Spice Pan de Muerto recipe for the big Dia de los Muertos fiesta that I threw with This Mess Is Ours and Salt and Wind which if you are thinking of throwing a get together to celebrate Day of the Dead you should definitely check out. There are decorating ideas, ideas for making your own altar, a complete menu, and lots of photo inspiration.
Pan de Muerto Recipes From Years Past
First and last photos courtesy of This Mess Is Ours
- 2/3 cup milk (I used almond milk but any type of milk works)
- 1 (7-gram) package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dried yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
- 2 large eggs
- 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) softened unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
- Pour milk into a glass measuring cup and heat in the microwave to between 105°F-115°F (about 20 seconds). Or you could heat gently in a small pan over low heat on the stove. Use a thermometer to be accurate.
- Pour milk into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Sprinkle yeast and 1/4 cup of the flour over the top and whisk to combine. Let sit about 10-15 minutes until creamy and slightly puffed.
- Add 3/4 cup of the sugar and pumpkin and stir on low to combine. Add the 2 eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated. Add pumpkin pie spice, orange blossom water, salt and 3 cups of the flour and mix on low until a dough forms, about 1 minute.
- Increase the speed to medium and knead dough for 8 minutes. The dough should be slightly sticky and mostly pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it is really wet, add more flour 1/4 cup at a time until it forms a soft dough.
- Lay dough out on a clean surface push down to flatten into a rectangle. Lay as many pieces of the cubed butter as will fit on the dough. Fold the dough up over the butter and begin to knead the butter into the dough. Add the remaining butter as you go. It will be messy at first, but keep kneading and the dough will come together into a smooth, elastic ball. If you don't want to do this step by hand, you can add pieces of the butter into the dough, one at a time, while mixing the dough on medium speed in the mixer.
- Grease a large bowl and transfer dough to the greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until doubles in size, about 1-2 hours.
- Transfer dough to a clean surface and cut into 3 equal pieces. Use a kitchen scale if you have one to be completely accurate.
- Take each piece and cut off a third of each piece of dough. Set these aside.
- Form the larger pieces of dough into round loaves. You can use a little flour if you need to prevent sticking but try to use as little as possible.
- Grease two baking sheets and line them with parchment paper. Place two round loaves on one of the baking sheet at least 2-inches apart. Place the third loaf on the other baking sheet. Press each loaf down slightly so the top is a flat surface.
- With the smaller pieces of dough you will cut each one in four equal pieces (again, use a scale if you have one). Now you have 12 small pieces of dough. Take three of those pieces and make three small balls. Set these balls on the baking sheets next to the larger balls of dough.
- With the remaining 9 pieces of dough, roll them into long snake-like shapes that are a bit longer than the larger balls of dough on the baking sheets. Make an indentation in the middle of each and two more indentations about an inch from the ends so they look like bones.
- Brush the tops of the large round loaves with water.
- Criss cross three of the "bones" across the top of each loaf with the middle indentations overlapping. Press gently to adhere.
- Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.
- Heat oven to 350°F. Brush the middle of the loaf with a bit more water and attach the small balls of dough to the top of each loaf. This is the "skull".
- Bake in the middle rack on the oven until golden and hollow sounding when tapped, about 40-50 minutes.
- Let loaves cool slightly then coat generously with the melted butter and sprinkle with remaining sugar or even cinnamon-sugar when they come out of the oven, if you'd like.
- Let rest at least 20 minutes before slicing.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 18 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 295Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 55mgSodium: 51mgCarbohydrates: 39gFiber: 1gSugar: 17gProtein: 4g