Eating Pan de Muerto is one of the ways to celebrate Día de Muertos in Mexico. Día de Muertos is a day to remember and celebrate the lives of the dearly departed ones. Yet another example of the religious synchretism that is so deeply rooted in Mexican culture, it is a mixture of the pre-colombian cult of the dead and the Christian celebration of All Saints Day or Toussaints.
On all saints day, it is common for people to visit the graves of their dead, leave food and drink offerings, play music and remember “those who started the long journey before us”.
On many homes or public places altars are set, adorned with zempazuchitl (calendula) flowers, cut out china paper banners, pictures of the remembered one and offerings of food and drink, including loaves of Pan de Muerto. According to legend, the spirits of the honored dead will come at night to visit the altar, being ethereal they won’t consume the physical food, but will take the smell and the essence of food and drink.
Pan de muerto, with tamales, atole or hot chocolate are the basis of supper for día de muertos, usually shared with friends and neighbors invited to visit the altar and share the meal.
Pan de muerto must have been created during colonial times, when baking and bakeries started to grow in Mexico. The basis for pan the muerto are the same as for a Brioche; a fine bread leavened with yeast and lots of eggs and butter, flavored with sugar and orange zest, kneaded to a fine and elastic dough, formed into balls and adorned with some of the rolled dough crossing the ball, representing bones. Once baked and cooled, the loaves are painted with melted butter and generously covered with confectioner’s sugar, giving it its enticing appearance.
Here are some pictures of the Pan de muertos we baked at home, as well of the altar we set up for my grandparents, aunt, sister in law and a film critic friend recently deceased.
What better way to let our loved ones know, wherever they may be, that we remember them and that we keep them a part of our lives through our fond memories of them.