A Little Story Behind the Traditional Pan de Muerto
A few days to celebrate the Day of the Dead and with this celebration comes one of the most delicious breads that exist.
The bread of the dead is a special type of bread prepared in Mexico. It is not a bread for everyday consumption, since it is intimately associated with the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a festival that can last from a day to a week during the month of November, depending on the region.
The origins of the bread of the dead go back to pre-Hispanic ceremonies in honor of Huitzilopochtli, god of war in Mexican mythology. During these celebrations a type of bread with amaranth was elaborated, which was molded to represent the figure of the warrior god who, after being sacrificed in a symbolic way, was shared and eaten by the people.
After the conquest of Mexico, and as part of the process of evangelization, the Spanish friars used some symbols of the pre-Hispanic religion to induce the conversion of the Indians to Christianity. This is how they began to make the first bread of the dead with wheat flour, which was decorated with red pigmented sugar in allusion to the blood that was offered in pre-Hispanic rituals.
Nowadays, this type of pigmented bread is still produced in the bakeries of the most traditional towns and neighborhoods.
It is very common that the season in which most is used and sold is around the date of the day of the dead, on November 2, since by tradition it is one of the pieces that is placed on the altar to pay tribute to the deceased. The peculiar decoration of this festive bread exposes many of the symbols that frame the tradition of the Day of the Dead.
Crowning the central part of the bread, there is a protuberance that represents the skull of a skeleton from which four cannellons or rows of bread in the form of bones are detached; These bones are placed in the shape of a cross and symbolize the four directions of the universe in the pre-Hispanic cosmogony, although they are also associated with the four cardinal points related to deities such as Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca and Xipetotec. As for the circular shape of bread, it is believed that it is a representation of the constant cycle that passes between life and death.
The bread varieties of the dead depend a lot on their place of origin. In some areas of the country, especially in those towns and neighborhoods where rustic bakeries still survive, breads are made with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures, while other variants can be presented in the form of donuts covered with caramelized red sugar or sesame seeds. The types of dough also vary and in some incorporate ingredients such as orange zest, crystallized figs and walnut or anise.
In addition to the production of bread of the dead offered by bakeries throughout the month of October and part of November, each year there are some gastronomic festivals where you can taste the most original varieties of this bread.