Last year my family started celebrating el dia de los muertos, the day of the dead. It’s a hispanic holiday, which we’re not, but it celebrates and honors your family that has passed. We build an altar with their photos and some of their belongings, light candles for them and share memories. One of the Mexican traditions associated with it is a sweet roll called pan de muerto. This year me made them ourselves since the bakery in town didn’t have any.

I found a recipe on and started there. Their recipe either is broken, or I screwed up. Pan de muerto is an oven baked yeast roll, the recipe called for the dough to rise for one and a half hours before you make it into the rolls. For some reason mine never rose. So here we are staring at this puddle of bread dough wondering what to do when it occured to me; we’re southerners, what do we do that makes everything better? We fry it. And donuts de muerto were born.

Donuts de muerto

This makes A LOT of donut-hole sized donuts.


1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cup water
6 cups flour
2 packets dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons whole anise seed
2 tablespoons orange zest
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
Enough oil to give you about 2 inches in whatever pot you’re frying in. We used vegetable oil but peanut might be better. Or a deep fryer with oil.
Granulated sugar to coat.

Bring all ingredients to room temperature (except for the water which should be very warm) before beginning.

In a large bowl, mix together butter, sugar, anise, orange zest, salt and 1/2 cup of the flour. In a seperate bowl combine the eggs and the water. Add the egg/water mixture to the first mixture and add in another 1/2 cup of the flour. Add in the yeast and another 1/2 cup of flour. Continue to add the flour 1 cup at a time until a dough forms.

Knead on a floured surface for about 1 minute.

Heat your oil. I don’t have a temperature on this for you. I was using a gas range on low with a heavy bottomed pot and vegetable oil. You’ll have to mess with it, if your donuts are browning quickly and the middle is still gooey then turn down your heat.

Form gumball sized balls of dough and place on wax paper or a floured surface. They will stick together if they touch so keep that in mind. Well oiled hands make this so much easier.

Drop the dough balls in your hot oil. The puff up quickly and cook for maybe a minute on each side. The easiest way is to turn it over after it’s doubled in size and cook the whole thing until its a nice golden brown.

After the donuts are cooked, put them on a cooling rack over a pan to drain a bit. Once drained, roll in granulated sugar. I recommend small batches of sugar at a time since it absorbs oil and gets chunky.