|Alternative names||Bread of the dead|
|Place of origin||Mexico|
Pan de muerto (Spanish for '"bread of the dead"'), is a type of pan dulce traditionally baked in Mexico and the Mexican diaspora during the weeks leading up to the Día de los Muertos, which is celebrated from November 1 to November 2.
It is a sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun, often decorated with bone-shaped phalanx pieces. Some traditions state that the rounded or domed top of the bread represents a grave. Bread of the dead usually has skulls or crossbones added in extra dough. The bones represent the deceased one (difuntos or difuntas), or perhaps bones coming out of a grave, there is normally a baked tear drop on the bread to represent goddess Chīmalmā's tears for the living. The bones are often represented in a circle to portray the circle of life. The bread is topped with sugar, sometimes white and sometimes dyed pink. This bread can be found in Mexican grocery stores in the U.S.
The classic recipe for pan de muerto is a simple sweet bread recipe, often with the addition of anise seeds, and other times flavored with orange flower water or orange zest. The bread often contains some fat, such as butter. Its texture has been described as similar to that of challah, brioche, or falling between a concha and a hamburger bun.
Other variations are made depending on the region or the baker. The one baking the bread will usually wear decorated wristbands, a tradition which was originally practiced to protect from burns on the stove or oven.
Pan de muerto is eaten on Día de Muertos, at the gravesite or alternatively, at a domestic altar called an ofrenda. In some regions, it is eaten for months before the official celebration of Dia de Muertos. As part of the celebration, loved ones eat pan de muerto as well as the relative's favorite foods, but not those that have been placed on the ofrenda. It is believed the spirits do not eat, but absorb its essence, along with water at their ofrenda, after their long journey back to Earth.
Pan de muerto is a syncretic practice between indigenous and Christian traditions, the origins of which do not have a clear consensus.
Its Mesoamerican influences lie in pre-Columbian indigenous practices and Mesoamerican religion. The offering of amaranth cakes called tzoalli was documented in the writings of Bernardino de Sahagún. Such offerings were linked to commemoration of the deceased, or as offerings in various shapes to certain gods, such as Huītzilōpōchtli, Tlāloc and the Cihuapipiltin. Other scholars tie it to seasonal changes, or the growing cycle of maize (corn), in which offerings to the dead encouraged a good harvest. Some scholars describe the tradition as an outgrowth of human sacrifices, in which a heart was placed in amaranth, which under the influence of the Spaniards led to the development of a heart-shaped, amaranth-based baked good.
The National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) has related pan de muerto to the papalotlaxcalli, a butterfly-shaped tortilla, and to a tamale called huitlatamalli.
In medieval Europe, it was customary for some parishioners to prepare loaves or sugar sweets in the form of relics (bones or skulls) for All Saints and All Souls' Day. These breads were blessed by the priest and placed next to the fruit and other foods as an offering to the dead.
As a wheat bread, pan de muerto is one of many classic Mexican breads – such as bolillo, pan bazo and telera – that has counterparts in the bread of Spain, particularly those made of masa enriquecidaneed quotation to verify]('enriched dough', made of flour mixed with milk and eggs).[
The specific soft, sweetened, yeast bread known today as pan de muerto has been linked historically to Mallorcan ensaïmada. Equivalents to pan de muerto can be found in Spain. For example, in the Madrid area it is traditional to put hueso de santo ('saint bones'; a sugar dough filled with egg yolk) on the graves, and in Catalonia, there is pà d'ànimes ('bread of souls'), a votive bread offered to the deceased. In Toledo, Spain, bread for the deceased was formerly prepared in the shape of a shrouded corpse. In Corsica, it was typical to meet after the funeral to eat together, with bread being the main product of the table. In Portugal, "widow's bread" is still prepared, although the tradition is being lost. In Sicily, breads of the dead are prepared in the shape of a person with their arms crossed. Elsewhere in Europe, doughs were shaped like human bones and covered with sugar. With the industrialization of Europe, the traditions of deceased panels disappeared from the old continent, but the tradition is still alive in Mexico.
Until the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, pan de muerto was not common in celebrations of what was then largely called All Saints’ Day, but the rise of Chicano cultural activism lead to an embrace of the bread, public altars, and the name Dia de los Muertos. In Latinx communities in Los Angeles, for example, many public altars serve as protests, such as those dedicated to the victims of police brutality.
With the rise of globalized cultural awareness starting in the 1990s, pan de muerto has become a cultural ambassador for Mexican popular culture. A 2019 Japanese exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnology on Mexican folk art, for example, included a baking demonstration and samples of the bread for visitors. As a form of cultural outreach and collaboration with local communities, some American museums and institutions create public altars that include pan de muerto.
In San Andrés Mixquic, despeinadas (literally, unkempt ones) are made with sprinkles and sesame seeds.
Muertes (deaths), made in the State of Mexico, are made with a mix of sweet and plain dough with a small amount of cinnamon. Other types in the region include gorditas de maíz, aparejos de huevo (egg sinkers, apparently after fishing weights) and huesos (bones).
In Michoacán, breads include pan de ofrenda (offering bread), the shiny pan de hule, (rubber bread) and corn-based corundas, made with tomato sauce and chile de árbol.
In Puebla, and in diaspora communities, the bread often is coated with bright pink sugar. Within Puebla, there are further regional specializations, with towns such as San Sebastián Zinacatepec known for baking pan de muerto.
While the bread has always been an expression of popular religious celebrations, by the late 2010s, pan de muerto had become more known through several American pop culture representations. It appeared in the 2017 Pixar film Coco, which broadened recognition of the bread outside the Mexican diaspora. In the award-winning young adult novel Cemetery Boys by Latinx author Aiden Thomas (2020), pan de muerto is a central component in a Dia de los Muertos celebration.
Furthermore, Suzuki also emphasized the importance of multisensory installations and programming, and echoed Nakamura in feeling that these creative elements in the exhibition could communicate the language of Mexican culture sensorially rather than visually. … Suzuki described his delight when part of his museum became a bakery for making pan de muerto (“Day of the Dead bread”), and talked about his transformation from curator to baker.