Pan de Muerto, or Bread of the Dead, is a traditional food shared during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican holiday celebrated between Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. A sweet bread made with eggs, butter and milk, it is prepared in honor of deceased loved ones and placed on their altars, also known as ofrendas.
PAN DE MUERTO IS TOPPED WITH SEEDS BEFORE BEING BAKED IN THE OVEN AT ESTRELLA DE MEXICALI BAKERY IN GARDEN GROVE. PHOTO BY DREW KELLEY/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
It is believed that the souls of the departed are nourished by the bread following their long journey from the spirit world.
MOISES GUTIERREZ, HEAD BAKER AT ESTRELLA DE MEXICALI BAKERY IN GARDEN GROVE, BRUSHES PAN DE MUERTO WITH BUTTER PRIOR TO BAKING. PHOTO BY DREW KELLEY/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
Topped with rolled strips of dough made to look like human bones, it is often decorated with seeds, colored sugar or an orange-flavored glaze.
At Estrella de Mexicali bakery in Garden Grove, granulated sugar is hand blended with brightly colored gels and left to dry for three days before it’s used to decorate the bread.
The family owned and operated business located not too far from Christ Cathedral, Pan de Muerto is sold for a limited time beginning in early October through early November.
AT ESTRELLA DE MEXICALI BAKERY IN GARDEN GROVE, GRANULATED SUGAR IS HAND BLENDED WITH BRIGHTLY COLORED GELS AND LEFT TO DRY FOR THREE DAYS BEFORE IT’S USED TO DECORATE THE PAN DE MUERTO. PHOTO BY DREW KELLEY/DIOCESE OF ORANGE
“It’s very popular during this time of year,” said owner Blanca Hurtado. “This is something that is placed on altars and given to our loved ones as an offering.”
Estrella de Mexicali is named after the colony in which Blanca’s husband Jorge Hurtado and his family are from in Mexicali Baja California, Mexico. Blanca’s parents were both born in Mexico as well. She was born and raised in Orange and is a current parishioner at Holy Family Catholic Church in Orange.
The couple purchased the bakery from another family member in January 2022.
“For me, the holiday is all about our culture and how we were raised,” said Hurtado. “We celebrate every Dia de Los Muertos by setting up altars that have pictures and trinkets that reminded us of them [loved ones]. The altars are decorated with yellow and orange Marigolds nonperishable foods, candies and pictures of the loved ones. Their favorite foods are made, and the living relatives will spend mealtime together eating, listening to music with our loved one in spirit, either at home or at the cemetery.”
Head baker Moises Gutierrez is from Sahuayo, State of Michoacan, Mexico. He’s been baking since he was 14 years old and takes great care in preparing the Pan de Muerto.
“Making Pan de Muerto is a tradition in Mexico that I grew up practicing from the knowledge of other bakers that I worked with,” said Gutierrez. “Traditional Mexican bread making generally is not learned in a classroom setting but from on-the-job experience.”
At the store level, Hurtado said she expects to sell over 2,000 pieces of Pan de Muerto to the general public this season. Catering quantities are already in progress for public and private events, and she expects a lot more orders as the holiday gets closer.
“Handcrafted Mexican breads take talent and the right team,” she said.
Estrella de Mexicali is located at 12859 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove. To learn more, visit www.estrellademexicali.com