Bread of the Dead

'Tis the season for the Mexican tradition of pan de muertos.

Bones — sugar-dusted dough ones — radiate out over the top of Panaderia La Favorita’s round huecito. If you didn’t know that it was a pan de muertos, or “bread of the dead,” or that the little knob on top was supposed to be a skull, the light, eggy bun might look like a chrysanthemum. Nothing leaches the fear out of death imagery like sugar.

November 1 and 2 mark the annual celebration of Día de los Muertos, Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. During Day of the Dead, a holiday as mixed-blood as the country itself, those who have passed on are said to return home to celebrate with their families. In the days leading up to the festival, bones sprout up like weeds all over Mexico. Many Mexican and Latin-American families build altars in their homes, which they cover with ofrendas to loved ones — photographs, sugar skulls and paper skeletons, bouquets of marigolds, favorite foods, and pan de muertos.

“Pan de muertos is baked for the living and the dead,” says Evelyn Orantes, cultural arts developer for the Oakland Museum, which mounts a popular Day of the Dead exhibit every year. (This year it runs through December 4.) “You make it as an offering, but then it’s something you purchase to eat as a meal for that celebration.” The bread can be shaped like a skeleton, angel, animal, or as a bone-covered round, or huecito.

Panaderias all over the East Bay sell pan de muertos in the days leading up to Day of the Dead. Many bakeries flavor the sweetbread with anise and orange zest, others — such as La Favorita — more simply with cinnamon. A few of the bakeries selling pan de muertos:

Panaderia La Favorita, 1433 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland; 510-261-2200.

Casa Latina Panaderia, 1805 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; 510-558-7177.

Panaderia El Pueblo, 10228 International Blvd., Oakland; 510-569-4707.

Panaderia Corona, 1162 W. Tennyson Rd., Hayward; 510-783-6355.

La Borinqueña Mexicatessen, 582 7th St., Oakland; 510-444-9954.

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