The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pan de Muerto Cactus (Bread of the Dead Cactus)

bakingbadly's picture

Pan de Muerto Cactus (Bread of the Dead Cactus)

Inspired by Karin's (hanseata) pan de muerto, I took her recipe, adapted it, and transformed it into a disaster---well, not entirely. I was content with the shape, the crust, and the crumb, but the flavour was... Bleh! Ick! Eww! And other interjections denoting disgust.



I was captivated... lured... by the traditional figure of the "Bread of the Dead", a boule grasped by a single hand, with segmented but bulbous fingers, topped by a spherical tear drop. Even more so, I was enamoured by the connotations and imageries associated with the pan de muerto. It's simply beautiful.

... But I had to deviate.

In no way do I mean to disrespect the customs or culture of Mexico, but my experimental thoughts were spurred and it had to come into fruition. I wanted a dead cactus.


Behold, the product of my perhaps twisted imagination: Pan de Muerto Cactus (Bread of the Dead Cactus).

Similar to the traditional pan de muerto, the bones remained but the tear drop was replaced by a withered (and burnt) flower. Moreover, the boule was sheathed by rows of thorns, made by tediously cutting the dough with scissors.


Keep this prickly monstrosity away from small children and pets. For a loaf of bread, it's rather hazardous. Heck, if you're desperate enough, it could be used as a non-threatening weapon.



Adapting Karin's recipe, I added rye flour and spices (i.e., ground anise, cloves and cinnamon), threw in a morsel of orange zest,  substituted the sugar with palm sugar, and replaced the orange flower water with brandy...

BIG mistake! 

The brandy overpowered the subtle taste notes of the cactus bread and proclaimed itself as its dominant flavour. Do you know that feeling after imbibing a shot of hard liquor---like hot fumes thrusting itself from the pits of your stomach, through your throat and onto the back of your eyeballs? To a much, much lesser degree, that's what I felt after ingesting a piece of the Dead Cactus.


Perhaps contributed by the addition of a "water roux" or "tangzhong", the crumb was rather soft and springy---just what I was aiming for.

I'm not disappointed with my results. No, not completely. I've several reasons to be content, actually: For the first time I bulk retarded a dough; I discovered the smooth and well rounded caramel taste of palm sugar; I properly cooked a water roux; and I learned that prolonged proofing and convection baking helps retain the intricate shape of a bread loaf.

Thanks for dropping by and reading my post. I wish you a better bake than I. :)



Janetcook's picture

Hi Zita,

What an interesting twist to this bread :-)

I enjoyed reading about your experience.   Seems like I learn more from my 'goofs' than I do from the loaves that turn out perfectly and it seems like you learned a lot from this loaf.  

I have tried the water roux too and was surprised how easy it is.  I learned about it by reading notes here on TLF or else I never would have known about it.  Not something written about in my baking books.  I also learned about overnight bulk fermenting and that is what I do all the time now because it fits into my schedule the best and I like the results.  The doughs are always so nice and easy to handle the following day.

Thanks for the post and photos.

Take Care,


bakingbadly's picture

Greetings Janet,

You're right, I did learn a lot from my latest "muck up" and in return gained a bit of baker's wisdom. :) 

Much of what I've done is a mimicry of what other members have tried in this great community. Most times I get unexpected results but at least there are valuable lessons to be learned. I think that's what most baker novices shouldn't forget. Mistakes and learning from them shapes us into better bakers (and in general better people), and it's something we should take the time to appreciate.

Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

Have a happy baking,


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I've been sneaking up on something similar in taste, been saving my orange peel and got my gingerbread spices lined up.    I just love your textures!  Wow and double wow!  

Next time just hollow out the bread from the bottom and leave the sculpture!  (Saw that done with a pumpkin not too long ago.)  I can see you snipping away as fast as you could go to stay ahead of the proof.  

Been playing with paper cuts for decorating for upcoming holidays.   You're giving me ideas, you inspire-er you!  What if one were to take the ball of dough, wrap it with an thin outer layer of dough and cut thru it like you did?  Maybe even put something between the layers, some kind of filling like cinn. or nut or poppy or thin sliced fruit or vegetable and see what that does as the scoring opens.   Or swing the loaf savory, mist the loaf  and catch pine nuts or rosemary in the needle pockets.    A  lizard skeleton crawling (but didn't make it, the oven got him) over the dead cactus bread.  Think a final proof would make him look to healthy?


bakingbadly's picture

Those are excellent suggestions! Each and every one of them! Perhaps I'll try them out, just to see the results. Good, bad, doesn't matter, as long as my creativity is in overdrive. 

Hey, should you ever get the chance to apply any of your decorative ideas on your breads, please take photos and post them. I shall look forward to seeing them. :)


AnnaInMD's picture

growing green rosemary  :)

varda's picture

the texture is remarkable and quite unique.   And I think your teardrop/dead flower is fantastic.  Perhaps you should work in clay as well as dough so you can preserve your creations.   -Varda

bakingbadly's picture

Hmm, working with clay does sound interesting. Perhaps when I have the time I'll look into it and give it go.

Thank you for the suggestion and compliments. Well appreciated. :)


dabrownman's picture

coolest bread sculptures I've ever seen,   Being from the desert, dead cactus don't have spines as they are the first things to fall off. Still, your dead cactus sure looks like a real piece of bread art to me.

Very nice sculpting !

bakingbadly's picture

Oh... I should have done my research. I suppose it would be more accurate to call it "Bread of the Dying Cactus". :P

I'm glad you found my loaf amusing, nonetheless.


dabrownman's picture

cactus was somehow green then you have a Bread of the Living Cactus too.  I'm so going to bake one of these for our Holiday guests from the East Coast.  Perhaps the flower bearing 6 legged sectapus should be a mottled green and the bread left alone.  What a great idea you had that sparks the imagination!

Mebake's picture

That is a beautiful bread inside out, Zita! It is hard to believe that the flavor was off given the superb result.


bakingbadly's picture

Thank you, Khalid. You're too kind. :)

AnnaInMD's picture

Must have taken you quite a while to do all this with scissors !

bakingbadly's picture

:) Thank you. Indeed, it did take a while to snip into shape but it was well worth it.

breadsong's picture

Hello Zita,
What painstaking work to create your beautiful cactus!
Palm sugar sounds like a wonderful ingredient, and spices and brandy seem like gorgeous additions to your dough; next time you make this I hope you get the flavor you're looking for.
The shaping, baking and crumb all look very good and it is interesting to read about the techniques you've learned with this bake.
:^) breadsong

bakingbadly's picture

Thank you for your well wishes, Breadsong! I hope, too, that I'll hit my target and get the flavour I want. Although, I feel this may take some time and numerous lessons. That's okay! It's the journey that matters, not the destination. :)


longhorn's picture

What an effort! And wonderful result! 


I simply don't have enough patience to do that!

Great Work!


bakingbadly's picture

Thank you, Jay.

I'm positive that you have the patience to do something similar to my Dead Cactus. All you just need is the motivation. :)

Take care and happy baking,


hanseata's picture

With spotty internet access during our vacation in Mexico I couldn't see your post earlier, Zita. You turned the bread into an amazing sculpture!

As for the taste - I don't think I would add rye to this kind of bread, perhaps spelt, but nothing to change the taste really radically. Anise is another traditional flavoring for Pan de Muerto (I haven't tried it, yet). But the lovely orange flavor is one of the bread's great assets, if I would add some liquor I would rather go for Grand Marnier or Triple Sec.

The Pan de Muerto is all eaten now here in the Yucatan, only the bland white squishy breads remain - and, of course, all the ghastly scull and skeleton souvenirs for all your tasteful home decoration needs!

Greetings from Tulum, Mexico,