Dia de los Muertos, celebrated November 1-2, is a time to honor the dead. It is believed that during this time, spirits of loved ones return to Earth to visit their families. In order to welcome them from their long journey, ofrendas (altars) are set up to nourish the souls and honor the memories of those who have passed.
Each altar is as unique as the individual being memorialized, but most include several key elements. Marigolds with their strong fragrance and bright colors, along with candles and incense, help guide the dead back to Earth. Water and salt help restore lost fluids and nutrients. A photo is prominently displayed in the center of the altar surrounded by personal items and favorite foods of the loved one. Among the foods typically offered is pan de muerto (bread of the dead).
Pan de muerto is a slightly sweet, dense bread shaped into a bun. It is typically flavored with orange flower water, anise or cinnamon. The top of the bread features a skull and bones design and is generously sprinkled with sugar. Pan de muerto is made only during the weeks preceding Dia de los Muertos. Family members purchase pan de muerto to place on altars and to consume during the two-day celebration.
This unique bread comes in all shapes, sizes and colors and can be found in Mexican bakeries all throughout the Houston area from now until November 2. Most have plenty on hand, but for large orders, be sure to call ahead. Here are five suggested places to purchase some for your own festivities.
Arandas Bakery, 5307 Airline
Arandas Bakery has five different locations around the Houston area. They are open seven days a week and pan de muerto is baked daily. The pan is light and airy and almost cakelike in texture. It's also a bit on the sweet side. At just $1 each, they typically run out toward the end of the day.
El Bolillo, 2517 Airline
Once you step inside this popular bakery, you will see racks and racks of pan de muerto coated in white, pink and yellow sugar. The pan here is dense in texture and slightly sweet, with just a hint of orange. $1.50.
Horno Monterrey Bakery, 7110 Louetta
This small family-owned bakery is easy to miss when you're heading down Louetta. Owner Carlos Alvarez bakes his pan de muerto in small batches, so it tends to sell out quickly. The pan here is larger than most, but has a great brioche-like texture and a beautiful bone design on top. $3.49.
House of Bread (La Casa del Pan), 25227 Borough Park
House of Bread is a family-owned bakery and cafe. Its pan de muerto is coated with either sesame seeds or colored sugar. The pan is dense, with a wonderful orange aroma and taste. It's somewhat smaller in size than others, but has just the right amount of sweetness. $1.10.
La Guadalupana Bakery & Cafe, 2109 Dunlavy
This hidden gem of a cafe has the most unique-tasting pan de muerto. The pan is topped with delicate hand-shaped bone figures and either sugar crystals or sesame seeds. There is an intense cinnamon aroma that hits you as soon as the bread is cut into, and the taste is exceptional. Owner Roberto Diaz says that as long as the demand is there, the cafe will have pan de muerto on hand well into November. The pan de muerto at La Guadalupana is excellent on its own, but it's even better paired with a cup of the Mexican hot chocolate. $7.50.
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