The Guadalupana Bakery is extra busy answering seasonal demand for "bread of the dead," reports Rachel Wharton in The New York Times (10/30/13). The Bedford-Stuyvesant bakery sets aside its usual displays of "sandwich rolls and coffee" in favor of "an elaborate altar known as an ofrenda … festooned with sugared skulls, flowers" and "pan de muerto … a soft round of sweet, yeast-risen bread, similar to challah and topped with two crossed links of dough meant to symbolize crossbones." Some customers buy "10 loaves at a time."
It’s all in preparation "for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, on Saturday," when the bread and other baked goods are "offered up … to the spirits of the dead, along with their favorite foods such as tamales, mole, tequila and coffee prepared however they liked it." "Food is the essence of the Day of the Dead because it’s by the scent of their favorite foods that the dead are driven back to the living," says Magda Bogin of Cocinar Mexicano, a cooking school in Mexico. The idea is that "families feast with the visiting spirits of their loved ones."
Fashioning the treats is its own special craft. Guadalupana’s Maria Rojas "deftly forms the basic dough into smiling skulls, dolls with braids and frilly dresses, or fluffy rabbits meant to honor children. She will give the dough a kiss of orange blossom water or almond extract, add cinnamon and raisins, paint on whimsical pink sugar swirls or add a patchwork or tiny crossbones that bake into flowery forms." Specialties also include a salty "flatbread covered with bright pink sugar loosely shaped into the form of a sleeping woman with crossed arms, as if in a coffin."