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.
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