MEXICO CITY – It fell into young hands like manna from heaven – only this was Day of the Dead bread, commemorating the annual return of souls of the deceased.
Entire families crowded around two wood-fired ovens in Mexico City’s central square on Tuesday to watch a team of bakers fire tiny loaves of “bread of the dead.”
Mexicans honor the dead on Nov. 1, when the souls of deceased children are believed to arrive, and on Nov. 2, when adults are believed to return. The annual rite is accompanied throughout Mexico with light, sweet bread sprinkled with sugar and topped with strips of crust symbolizing bones and a knob representing the skull.
Mexico’s bread baking chamber encouraged the tradition with a baking demonstration and a dead-bread baking contest, where handouts went to children and the elderly first.
The key ingredients include “love and determination,” said baker Elizabeth Luna. On a more practical note, she said a traditional recipe calls for flour, butter, baking powder, salt, sugar and orange juice or flavoring.
For many, the bread represents a fusion of prehistoric, Indian tradition and Western civilization, which brought flour to the New World with the Spanish conquest.
Legend has it, the Spanish were shocked to find mass graves protruding from the ground in Mexico – a sight recreated now in each mound of bread topped with a skull-like lump, Luna said.
Regional twists on Day of the Dead bread include the “knee of Jesus” – three lumps of bread smeared with strawberry jelly to resemble a bloody human joint.