The sweet Mexican bread commonly eaten for breakfast takes on special significance this time of year in celebration of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
Pan dulce, as the traditional yeast bread is known, is given as an offering to the dearly departed during this two-day observance of ancient folk religions and Catholic traditions celebrated on All Saints' Day on Nov. 1 and on All Souls' Day on Nov. 2.
"You celebrate the person who passed away, what he liked," said Omar Rojas, manager of the Lander Avenue La Perla Tapatia in Turlock. The store's bakery, under the direction of Jose Torrez, will begin supplying pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, to the area's La Perla stores this week.
Smaller operations like Samantha Yniguez's Little Pink Boxes Bake Shop on Main Street in Merced will have the bread available Nov. 2 but also are taking special orders now.
The round loaves topped with a crisp sugar coating striped in seashell patterns so ubiquitous at Latino stores year-round is instead baked for the holiday in the form of angel wings, or round shapes decorated with bones or a skull or to resemble a face. The dough recipe for pan dulce and Día de Los Muertos bread is the same.
Yniguezsaid thesugar toppingis replaced with a syrup made with sugar and orange juice and applied on the loaves near the end of the baking time.
Rojas said families honor the dead by cleaning the headstones of loved ones and building personal altars to them. Events are centered on the belief that the spirits of loved ones float back to Earth to reunite with their living relatives and friends for a brief moment and to eat their favorite foods. Altars serve as focal points, displaying the mementos of the loved ones. They're adorned with orange marigolds, the flor de muerte, the deceased person's favorite foods and drink, candles and the bread. All are thought to attract the spirit of the dead during a time of year when the spirit world and real world come close together.
After the festivities, families eat the sweet bread.
Bread of the Dead
Makes: 3 large loaves
This recipe is from Samantha Yniguez of Little Pink Boxes Bake Shop, 433 W. Main St., Merced; (209) 723-0720.
2 packages active dry yeast
5 tablespoons warm milk
7½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1¼ cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Glaze: ¼ cup each granulated sugar and orange juice; 1 tablespoon orange zest; 2 tablespoon sugar, for sprinkling
Dissolve yeast into warm milk. Pour flour into a large bowl. Cut butter into pieces and then combine with the flour until it resembles a coarse texture. Make a well in center of flour and add sugar, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. Mix with spoon and then with your hands until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If it's too soft, add a little more flour and knead. Shape into a ball, oil and flour lightly. Return to bowl, cover and let stand in warm place for 2½ hours, until doubled in size. Refrigerate overnight. Shape chilled dough into 30 balls the size of peaches or cut dough into thirds for larger loaves. Place on greased baking sheets and let rise until doubled, about 1½ hours. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes; they are done when the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.
For glaze: Over medium heat, combine ingredients and, stirring, bring to a boil. Let boil two minutes. Brush over breads, then sprinkle with sugar.