This bread goes way back to the times of human sacrifices when the Mayans used to offer the beating heart of women to the gods to go in a pot with Amaranto, an Andean cereal rich in nutrients. The Spaniards horrified by this tradition created a heart made of wheat and sugar, which was painted with red simulating the blood.
Others believe the bread tradition came from the foods the dead were buried with, which was a common practice in Mesoamerica. Books on Mexican traditions talk about a bread made with crushed and toasted amaranth seeds, mixed with the blood of the sacrificed in honor to Izcoxauhqui, Cuetzaltzin or Huehuetéotl.
Pan de muerto is essential when celebrating “El Día de los Muertos” simply because it carries tradition and it is the bread Mexicans share with families at the table. Other foods we use “El Día de los Muertos” are “el mole negro,” los dulces Oaxaqueños like pumpkin preserve, “las manzanitas de tejocote,” along with chocolate. We also use seasonal fruits to decorate the altares.
Meaning and Classification of Pan de Muerto
The bread evolved to take the shape we enjoy today. The circle on the top is the cranium that has bones underneath, and the flavor is sweet in honor of the memory of the deceased.
There are breads that represent the human figure and others that represent animals like birds, rabbits, butterflies, etc. which are more commun in Tepoztlán, Mixquic and Iguala de Telolapan. Some pan de muerto represent trees, flowers and vegetables, while others represent magical beings.
Day of the Dead Bread Recipe
I included this delicious and relatively easy Day of the Dead bread recipe for you to try. It yields 2 loaves, and takes 20 minutes of Prep Time and 25 minutes to Cook. Enjoy!
- 1 package granulated yeast
- 4 1/2 cups flour
- 6 eggs
- 6 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 200 grams butter
- 1/4 cup orange blossom water
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- Icing and sprinkles
- Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Mix in 1/2 cup flour. Leave mixture in a warm place until it doubles in size.
- Sift together salt, sugar, cinnamon and flour.
- Add the remaining ingredients, but only half the butter.
- Add the yeast dough and mix until it forms thick dough but not hard.
Tip: Make sure dough doesn’t stick to the table before placing it in a large greased bowl. Cover it.
- Let dough rise until it doubles in size. Pound it again, and add the rest of the butter.
- Divide the dough into three equal parts. Use two for the loaves and one to decorate the loaves.
- Let loaves double in size.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until nicely browned.
- Sprinkle with sugar while warm.
- After the loaves have cooled, decorate with icing and other pastry confections to create skulls, bones or names of the deceased.
Day of the Dead bread is one important tradition that joins our families in love and appreciation for the ones gone. I love making or simply buying a Day of the Dead bread to share with our family, children learn our Hispanic culture by practicing our traditions.
Day of the Dead Decor for Your Table
Once you make your pan de muerto think about decorating your table to set the mood. Here are some ideas:
- Use special napkins that represent the holiday, they are inexpensive and decorate well the table.
- Use candles around the house. Could be in the center of the table or in places where they can be a focal point.
- Spread small figurines and skeletons in the center of the table surrounding the candles.
- Use Day of the Dead ceramic tiles as coasters. They are so unique and your guests will appreciate them.
Day of the Dead is not only about foods. This is one of the best holidays to have fun Hispanic style. Crafts, decorations and traditions all come alive during El Dia de los Muertos!
I started celebrating this holiday after my son was born. Honeslty, I want to keep him close to his Latino roots.
Then, many people started asking me about this holiday, so I created this 65-page Dia de los Muertos skull coloring and sugar skull making guide.
- It includes a complete background of the holiday, and a separate section for the meaning of calacas and skulls in Day of the Dead and their purpose in the altars.
- This is not only for teachers! I created this eBook because I knew many moms like me, love to create projects at home like we do. This is for parents and teachers (complete lesson plans for children K+).
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