Mexico and Beyond
PAN DE MUERTO
In Mexico, Death is Sweet
There is an element that can’t be missed In Mexico’s celebration of the Day of the Dead: the pan de muerto (literally, “bread of the dead”). Its origin dates back to pre-Hispanic times, as a central part of the offerings for Huitzilopochtli, the most important deity for the Mexicas. The version we know today is the result of a mixture of two cultures: before the arrival of the Spaniards, this bread was made with amaranth and honey; after the Conquest, its ingredients became wheat and sugar.
There are many varieties of pan de muerto bread in Mexico, especially in the center of the country. The traditional pan de muerto is made with a mixture of eggs, wheat flour and vegetable shortening or butter. It has a circular shape and it’s crowned with a small ball of dough in the center that symbolizes the skull of the dead person. The four strips of dough oriented towards the four cardinal points have two symbolisms: first, they are the extremities of the dead person (legs and arms), and, secondly, they represent the tears shed by their absence.
These days, Mexican bakeries offer different versions of the bread of the dead: the dough can have an orange or orange blossom flavor, and it can be filled with cream, chocolate or custard. A very sweet tradition.