Traditional Day of the Dead Recipe and Foods

It seems Day of the Dead is going mainstream. I just saw Sugar Skull cakes, Marigold martinis, Apple Habanero Margaritas (?), Skull cookies and Catrina costumes all over the internet when you search Day of the Dead.
None of these commercial recipes or DIY cakes and cookies, cocktails and margaritas have anything to do with Day of Dead. Nothing. Sorry, I hate to burst your bubble, but sadly they are not.

Thankfully when this important holiday is observed in Mexico, you will witness the true meaning and rituals of Day of the Dead, a holiday that remembers and honors family and friends who have passed from this life.

After the frenzy of free candy and costumes of Halloween, you will see family alters in front of people’s house with photos of the deceased. The alter is decorated with the deceased favorite food, favorite drinks (both alcoholic if it applies and non alcoholic) and favored items.

The official flower that is used to decorate the alters and put on the headstone of the deceased is the marigold.

Family members will gather and open their doors to the spirits of their deceased family members. People share stories about their loved ones, and will spend the evening in the cemetery honoring those who passed.

This is a deeply rooted cultural holiday that honors past friends and relatives. There are beautiful rituals that are observed each and every year. There are traditional foods shared with family that represent both the deceased (Pan de Muerto) and the cultural event.

As much as others like to create cool recipes that make them look savvy, there are only a few traditional Day of the Dead recipes that are culturally correct.

Pan del Muerto – Bread of the Dead Recipe

The shape of the bread is what makes this a traditional recipe for the holiday. The round base represents the body, and the rolled strips on top represent bones. The bread is used during the family celebration of the deceased, which is why is it sweet! Day of the Dead is not a sad event, it is a sweet celebration of both life and death.

Make this traditional bread at home. If you are celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico, you will this bread everywhere!! And it is delicious!

What you need!
• 1/2 cup whole milk
• 5-1/2 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
• Two 4×1-inch strips of orange zest (use a vegetable peeler; avoid the white pith)
• 1 Tbs. orange juice
• 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1-3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
• 3-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
• Vegetable oil as needed
Sugar Topping
• 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar

How To Make It!

Put the milk, butter, and orange zest in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir until the butter melts, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool until warm. Discard the orange zest, add the orange blossom water, and whisk in the eggs.

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water (no hotter than 110°F) and let stand until the mixture bubbles slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. (If the yeast doesn’t bubble, discard it and start again with new yeast.)

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt on a work surface. Make a well in the center. Gradually pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the well while mixing with your hand . Knead until you have a nice, uniform dough, about 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth but still slightly sticky. If it seems too sticky, add more flour as needed.

Put the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and leave in a warm place (about 70°F) until doubled in size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

How To Shape The Bread Loaves

Punch down the dough that doubled in size. Cut off a piece of dough about the size of a baseball and set aside. Divide the remaining dough in half and shape the pieces on a lightly floured surface into 2 rounds. (this recipe will make two round loaves of Bread) Lightly oil a baking sheets and put one round dough loaf on each sheet. Place the bread dough in a warm place, loosely covered in plastic wrap and let it rise again.

Using your other dough form 2 balls the size of large marbles; set aside. Divide the remaining dough into 6 pieces and roll them into long ropes with your hands. Place 3 of the ropes on top of each dough round after it has risen. Overlap the ropes in the center and place your small ball of dough on the top. Cover until your oven reaches the desired temperature of 350°F.

Bake until the loaves have an even golden color, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes on a wire rack.

How to Sugar Coat the Bread

Brush the loaves all over with some of the melted butter and sprinkle the sugar all over the loaf.

This is best eaten the day of baking!!!

Other Traditional Day of the Dead Foods!

Hot Chocolate, Champurrado (Hot chocolate made with masa for a thicker drink), muchipollo (the biggest and most delicious tamale you will ever eat!) and pumpkin seed salsa in the Yucatan, Riviera Maya and Costa Maya.

Celebrate Day of the Dead the Traditional Way


If someone offers you a marigold martini, or a personal skull cake, take it but know that these products are not from any Day of the Dead celebrations. This festival and cultural tradition is rooted in family, remembering past friends and family members, and getting together with family and friends. It is not a party, nor is it scary. It is a beautiful pagan celebration of those who have passed and those who remain with us.

Read about other Mexican Festivals and Traditions that are worth traveling for.

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