Bakers Dare to Mess With Mexico's ‘Bread of the Dead’
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this switched-up sweet bread is more than just a new cupcake.
By Deborah Bonello
Mexico is creeping toward November, when it celebrates its famous Day of the Dead tradition: decorating graves to celebrate the dead and eating candy skulls and pan de muerto (literally translated, this means bread of the dead), the traditional sweet bread that goes with the season.
Only this year, an interloper has snuck into the city’s supermarkets and bakeries. The mantemuerto — or bread of the dead “cupcake” — is rattling the bones of Mexicans at home and abroad.
The original pan de muerto is a round, fat bun about the size of the palm of a hand that is decorated with strips of pastry to resemble bones and then sprinkled with sugar. Made from the same dough as the original bread — a combination of milk, flour, eggs, shredded orange peel, yeast, sugar and spices — the only real difference between a pan de muerto and its newer, bastardized version is that the latter has been baked in a cupcake shell.
They have the same sweet, orange-tinted buttery taste and sugar sprinkles as the original.
Still, some call the mantemuerto an aberration that betrays tradition: “I don’t like it — I prefer the original,” says Lucrecia Soto, a hairdresser in Mexico City. “It’s good to innovate, but not with traditional things.”
But many in Mexico love the new mantemuertos — they have the same sweet, orange-tinted buttery taste and sugar sprinkles as the original. Despite being created some eight years ago, the new pastry is seeing a surge in popularity. The fact that at least one major supermarket chain has started churning them out has given rise to the cake going from niche to mainstream. Creator Fabiola Galván says she has been inundated with orders for the corpse cupcake in recent months. “People used to order it very close to the dates of Day of the Dead, but people already started ordering it with two months to go,” Galván says.
Galván wanted to put a new spin on cupcakes, which she sells through her business Dream & Bite. “You know the cupcake is not a Mexican product — it’s not from here. But our idea was to adapt it and make some changes because Mexican tastes aren’t the same as the United States,” she says. “I wanted to make cupcakes more exotic — more Mexican.”
The Superama chain owned by Walmart has started to make and stock the mantemuerto, copying Galván’s example. The supermarket versions are significantly smaller and cheaper than hers — costing 11 pesos compared to her 35. It doesn’t seem that cost will be a barrier to the sweet bread’s success either way.
“It gives another angle to our traditions because they keep making the original one as well. It’s just another product on the market, and it’s great that bakers are thinking of new ideas,” said Cynthia Padilla, a psychologist.
“Bread of the dead in whatever form — it’s delicious and I love that they’ve redesigned it this way,” said Fabiana Diaz De Leon, a sommelier. “It’s wonderful!”
- Deborah Bonello, OZY Author Contact Deborah Bonello