Festivals and Events, Food and Drink

Bread and Other Offerings on Day of the Dead

Ofrenda - offerings on Day of the Dead

The first and second days of November mark one of the most important cultural and religious events on Mexico’s annual calendar: Day of the Dead, a festival that emphasizes remembrance of past lives and celebration of the continuity of life.  Traditionally, November 1st honors deceased children and November 2nd honors deceased adults.

An important tradition that surrounds the occasion is the creation of an ofrenda – an offering – that usually manifests as an altar in people’s homes.  The alter is layered and features photographs of the remembered dead, religious symbols, traditional foods enjoyed by the remembered, and other decorations including caramelized pumpkin, small sugar skulls, and Mexican orange marigold flowers called cempaxochitl—colloquially referred to as flor de muerto.

Another traditional food oftentimes found on ofrendas is Pan de Muerto: literally translated, Bread of the Dead.

Like Easter eggs, or turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, Bread of the Dead is a treat that people look forward to when it arrives and miss when its season passes.  In years past, Pan de Muerto was only available between late September and early November; however, Mexican supermarkets, in their constant drive to ‘de-seasonalize’ product lines and extend their sales opportunities, Pan de Muerto can now be purchased from supermarkets as early as August and as late as December in some places.

Bread of the Dead is like any other bread—except that it has a few treats added into the mixture which serve to make it special.  The generous quantity of butter mixed into the bake, accompanied by a citrus glaze and a good helping of sugar dusted on top make this particular loaf a high calorie sweet feast that, when fresh, also happens to melt deliciously on the tongue.

A remarkable feature of the bread is the presence of “bones,” formed from the same mixture, and laid over the dome-shaped dough. These give the bread a somewhat macabre look, but rest well with the theme.

The recipe for Bread of the Dead is quite simple and you can find a range of recipes online, examples here. The succulent citrus undertones are bestowed by the addition of zest from the juice of a fresh orange, or orange-blossom water.

The bread is best when taken on the same day it was baked, accompanied with a cup of hot chocolate made the Mexican way. (Add ground cinnamon to the chocolate and whisk.)

One of the long-standing traditions of people who attend the graves of their loved ones now deceased, is to take Pan de Muerto and drink Mexican hot chocolate; usually after dark, when the cool November temperatures begin to make their presence felt in the night air.

Pan de Muerto is one of those Mexican foods which many foreigners have yet to try. If you live in Mexico, or visit between late October and early November, then you’ll know (or come to know) about Day of the Dead and taste the delicious bread that accompanies this important festival.

You can learn more about the traditions of Day of the Dead, including the alters and catrinas on our article about Celebrating Life on Day of the Dead in Mexico

Experience Day of the Dead with Mexperience

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1 Comment

  1. Teresa Aguila-Moncada says

    thank you so much for your newsletter, I is an honor to me to read your articles. I hope you all have a great Dia de Muertos y sus fiestas y actividades sean siempre para recordar a los que no tenemos la fortuna de vivir en nuestros paise de origen por lo menos disfrutar por este medio con fotografias y articules especiales como los que ustedes nos hacen el favor de mandarnos.
    Muchas gracias!!

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