Dead Bread Rising

Break pan with the muerto

As the rest of the Valley heads to Walgreens for another bag of Kit Kat bars, some Mexicans will be rushing out for a loaf of pan de muerto.

For a proper Day of the Dead celebration, be sure you have plenty of tequila on hand -- if that was the deceased's libation of choice. Dust off your dancing shoes. Most important: Prepare your loved one's favorite meal.

And if you want to be sure your ofrenda, or offering, is accepted with open arms -- even if they are a bit bony -- be sure to pick up a holiday staple, pan de muerto. Bread for the dead.

Phoenix is no Oaxaca, but the Valley does have a few purists who make the sweet bread that looks like a metallic flying saucer the size of a football. La Purisima Bakery in Glendale is a great place to pick up a loaf -- but be warned that supplies are not unlimited.

"Every year we run out," says Irma Arrellano, who runs the bakery with her husband, Jose, and his parents.

The small panederia cranks out hundreds of the large round disks for customers looking to add the finishing touches on a meal prepared specifically for lost loved ones.

The loaves are placed on altars and gravesites, then eventually eaten by the living. For those who have time to bake their own, the bigger the loaf, the more love you show to the deceased. "For my grandfather, we made a huge one for him with his name and a lot of things on it," Irma says. "In Mexico, my grandparents used to put the initials of the person they were making it for."

The exact recipe varies from region to region. Jose mixes eggs, water, milk, sugar, salt, butter, vanilla flavoring, flour, yeast and cinnamon (optional), and lays strips of dough on top of the bread to create what look like six spokes on a wheel. A little ball is placed at the hub, symbolizing the head. The loaves are baked at 300 degrees, and when done, melted butter is brushed on top; a mix of sugar and red food coloring is sprinkled on because the dead dig sweet stuff.

"On the 31st you see all these crazy people running for their pan de muerto. I tell them to order ahead of time, but we're last-minute people," Irma says. After a short pause, she adds, "We're going to make extra this year."

 
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