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Pan de Muerto de Mitla, Oaxaca

Pan de Muerto de Mitla, Oaxaca

 One of the Oaxacan staples, Pan de Yema (Yolk Bread) is available on all Oaxacan markets around the year, and it is the basis for the traditional Pan de Muerto de Mitla (Bread of the Dead from Mitla), made only during a couple of weeks prior to the famous Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday. Dedicated artisans gather during those two weeks to decorate the breads with the "color" made of flour and water, an attention to detail and appreciation for the tradition (you can watch a video here).
This is the recipe for the traditional Pan de Yema de Oaxaca, and the tips on how to decorate it for the Day of the Dead season just like the traditional Mitla bread.
You can compare this recipe to the traditional Bread of the dead recipe by the maestro Yuri de Gortari here


Mexico 1492 - Pan de Muerto de Mitla Oaxaca and Day of the Dead decoration  

Pan de Muerto de Mitla
Serves 10
You Will Need:
  • 1 kg (4 cups) flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 120g (1/2 cup) melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoonful anise seeds
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 25g (2.5 teaspoonful) dry yeast
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk for the glaze
 For the Glaze
  • 1 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • ½ lemon juice


 Mexico 1492 - Pan de Muerto de Mitla Oaxaca

Pan de Yema

The yeast needs warm liquid and sugar to rise. The water shouldn’t be too hot (if it’s hot to touch, it’s too hot for the yeast). Mix the yeast and the warm water in a bowl, add a spoonful of sugar and 2 of flour. Stir until you see a consistent mass, cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and leave at a warm spot for 30-40 minutes to ferment, until you see bubbles forming at a surface.

Mexico 1492 - Pan de Muerto de Mitla

Mix the eggs and sugar in another bowl until the sugar melts and eggs are well beaten.

Place the rest of the flour in a large bowl, forming a whole in the middle and pour melted butter, the beaten eggs and sugar, a pinch of salt, the anise seeds and the yeast mix. Mix it all well and knead until you achieve uniform and elastic dough.

Grease a bowl with a piece of butter and place your ball of dough in it, covered with a clean kitchen towel. Leave it in a warm, draft-free spot, just like the yeast, and let it grow until it reached twice its initial size (about 1 hour).

After an hour, take the dough out on a table or a flat surface and knead again. You can make 2 or 3 large breads with this amount of dough or divide it in 10 smaller balls and create individual portions. Place the round dough balls on a greased oven pan, allowing enough space between each ball and leave them to grow for a little longer, until they double their size again.


The traditional Mitla Bread of the Dead represents the body of the dead. It has an elongated shape and a little head made of flour and water dough or similar. You can either skip this altogether and create a little ball, or play with your dough and create a little round head that would keep the same symbolism.

Before placing them in the oven, glaze them with the extra yolk. If you are preparing a regular Pan de Yema, sprinkle some sesame or anise seeds on top of each dough ball at this point. If you are preparing the Pan de Muerto, skip this step. Place them in the oven at 190°C (375°F) for about 40 minutes.


If you are preparing the Pan de Muerto, leave the breads to cool before starting the next step.

 Mexico 1492 - Glaze for the Pan de Muerto de Mitla

Pan de Muerto Glaze

This glaze (a.k.a. Betún)dries our quickly and allows you to “draw” on a bread. It is different from the sugar glaze you would use to pour over the cinnamon rolls.

Beat the egg white until it’s stiff. Slowly, and little by little add sifted powdered sugar and lemon juice and continue beating. If you feel that the glaze is too dense, add a little bit of water, but have in mind it needs to be firm and dry fast.

Mexico 1492 - Pan de Muerto de Mitla glaze preparation

Pour the glaze in a plastic bag and tie the top well. Cut a small corner of the bag, big enough to let the glaze slide out but small enough to form a glaze line. Start decorating your breads.

Mexico 1492 - Pan de Muerto de Mitla decoration

You can use our photos for inspiration, or watch these videos of the Oaxacan artisans and learn from the best in this video here
Mexico 1492 - decorated Pan de Muerto de Mitla

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