Pan del muerto is a common item found on many ofrendas – the food and mementos set out on the altars during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is an observance that allows those living, from any culture, to pay homage to the dead.

The observance began as a ritual that the Aztecs and other Meso-American indigenous people practiced over 3,000 years ago. The Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. To make the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided with All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd.

Today it is recognized by many as a Mexican tradition combining the native Aztec and Roman Catholic practices and beliefs, and still observed by Mexicans and many in the United States.

As Luis Ramiro Jimenez, of Lubbock, intricately shapes dough to form small caricatures that look like people for the observance, he remembers his father – Lucio Cruz Jimenez, a panadero who made pan de dulce – Mexican pastries.

“Mi apa nos enseñó a mi hermano y yo cómo hacer el pan Mexicano,” says Jimenez who is one of the two members of his family that took on the skill as a Mexican baker.

He continues discussing how his father was dedicated to making the Mexican pastries and used that skill as a means to make a living, and as a way to teach his 12 children to sustain themselves and their Mexican culture.

“La cultura es importante para toda la gente (Culture is important for all people).  No deben olvidarse de sus raíces (They should not forget their roots),” said Jimenez recalling the words of his father.

He explained that when there was an interest he too would teach his sons and nephews the timeless art of making pan de dulce.

As he reminisced about his father he worked unceasingly, gently giving the dough a final egg wash before popping it into the oven. This he says will give the pan de dulce a beautiful glaze.

Quickly the scents of fresh cake and bread fill the kitchen and carry out into the street drawing those passing by. The aromas and the colorful array of pan de dulce displayed in the glass case greet customers and continue to entice them as they make their selections.

The Jimenez family has been in the restaurant and bakery business for 36 years; 25 of those years have been in downtown Lubbock, next door to La Famosa bridal shop, another historical Latino-owned business in downtown Lubbock.

“The mornings are very busy… people come to have coffee and some pan de dulce,” he says as he showcases over 30 varieties of Mexican bread prepared using the family’s recipes.

He pulls out a tray with the pan de muerto and huesitos explaining that the bread signifies someone who is dead, but rather then making the event sad the bread is a comical way to make it happy.

“El pan es chistoso,” he says as he talks about how it is used as part of an ofrenda.

He holds up a round pastry that looks like a skull and points at the two bones formed out of dough explaining this is how this bread, huesitos,  got its name.

El panadero goes on to tell that many schools, churches, and art groups call on him annually to order the bread. The baker explains that he will continue to make the bread as long as he is able because it is an important part of the Mexican culture.

“Día de los Muertos es una época para recuerdar (Day of the Dead is a time for remembrance),” he says.

“Es una ocasión hablar de ellos (It is an occasion to speak of them), y una ocasión de no olvidarse de ellos (and a chance not to forget them),” he concludes as he returns to his customers.

Infobox

Dia de los Angelitos is Nov. 1, and Dia de los Muertos is Nov. 2.

Many visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for dead children and or other mementos to adults. They sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.

Pan del Muerto can be purchased at the Jimenez Bakery, located in downtown Lubbock at 1217 Ave. G. Orders for the bread can be called in at (806) 744-2685.

Recipe for Pan del Dia de los Muertos

The famous pan de muerto (bread of death) comes in the shape of human figures, alligators, lizards, and other animals – but most often skulls and crossbones or teardrops and crosses, gaily decorated with colored sugar crystals.

The following recipe is a typical modern version of the pan de muerto. Like the European altar breads, it was originally made with flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, and some aromatic flavoring like orange-blossom water. Today Mexican home bakers often enrich and sweeten the bread with condensed milk.

Yield: 3 plain round loaves (about 6 inches across) or 2 decorated loaves (about 7 inches across)

· 2 envelopes dry yeast

· ? cup lukewarm water

· 3?-4 cups all-purpose flour (or more as necessary)

· ? teaspoon salt

· 9 Tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon) softened butter cut in small pieces, plus additional for greasing

· 3 eggs (2 for dough, 1 for glazing loaves)

· 3 egg yolks

· 7/8 cup (half of one 14-ounce can) condensed milk

· 1 Tablespoon orange flower water

· Sugar (or colored sugar crystals if desired) for sprinkling loaves

In small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let sit in a warm place for 5 minutes. Make a sponge by stirring in 4-5 tablespoons flour. Cover with a damp towel and let sit in a warm place until full of bubbles and about doubled in bulk, roughly 45 minutes.

Combine a scant 3? cups flour with salt. Place in large mixing bowl or on a pastry board or clean counter. Cut or rub in the butter with pastry blender or fingers until dough resembles the texture of coarse cornmeal.

Beat together 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks. Have ready the condensed milk and orange flower water. Gradually add these ingredients to the dough, working them in with fingertips. Add the yeast sponge and work it in, adding flour as necessary to make a soft but kneadable dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and silky. (Alternatively, use dough hook of electric mixer.) Lightly grease a large bowl with butter and place dough in it, turning to coat both sides with butter. Let sit in a warm place, covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap, until doubled in bulk, about 1?-2 hours.

Punch the dough down. If not making a decoration, shape into 3 equal-sized loaves. Or to make 2 decorated loaves, proceed as follows: Cut off about of the dough and set aside. Divide the rest into 2 equal portions, shaping each into a ball. Place side by side on a greased and floured baking sheet, remembering that they will expand in baking. With remaining dough, shape skulls and crossbones: First divide dough into 4 parts. Roll 2 pieces between your palms into long, narrow strips for crossbones. Cut each in half. Crisscross 2 strips over each loaf. Shape remaining pieces into 2 small balls for skulls. Lightly press them onto the loaves just above the crossbones (if you have difficulty getting them to stick, make gashes in the loaves with a small sharp knife and press the balls into the gashes). Lightly cover with damp towels and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Beat the remaining egg and brush lightly over loaves and decorations and bake 40 minutes. Sprinkle the loaves with sugar and return to oven for about 1 minute to melt.