One of the top-selling holiday periods of the year is fast approaching for Hispanic bakeries across the country on Nov. 1-2 when Día de los Muertos arrives. “During those days, we hire more people because we have to make more product in advance,” says Jaime Suarez, owner of Panadería Tres Hermanos in Salinas, California. “We also decorate the store with posters. It’s one of the biggest days of the year for us.”

Other bakery owners share similar sentiments about the tremendous importance of this key holiday. Melesio Fernandez of Fernandez Bakery in San Jose, California, estimates they will sell 5,000 pan de muerto breads during Día de los Muertos. His bakery uses a traditional Mexican recipe to make pan de muerto in both small and large sizes. “People are looking for the traditional breads during this holiday,” he says.

The most familiar symbols of Día de los Muertos are skulls, skeletons, angels, animals and faces of the honored deceased. At Garcia’s Bakery in Sonoma, California, they make a creative type of bread for this holiday that is decorated with hand-painted decorations of a face. The decorations are made of flour and painted by hand prior to baking for one minute.

Miguel Garcia, the owner of Garcia’s Bakery, says he purchases bags of these special decorations in advance from Oaxaca, Mexico, where they are made, and stores them in a cooler to preserve them until needed. Typically, they place one decoration on the top of a special loaf bread in a celebration that is customary to his home state of Oaxaca.

“This is the offering,” he says. “This bread represents celebration of the honored deceased.”

Beyond breads, you can create colorful displays leading up to Día de los Muertos by making cutout cookies decorated with skeletons or skull designs. Candies molded or shaped into skeleton heads are another creative way to feature an eye-catching product display.

Pan de Muerto

Breads that are shaped to resemble bones (pan de muerto) are the centerpiece of this holiday. Traditionally, pan de muerto is prepared with yeast-risen sweet dough and flavored with orange emulsion (or orange zest), anise or ground cinnamon. Pieces of the dough are shaped into strips, or “bones,” that are layered on top of the round dough prior to baking.

At Panadería Tres Hermanos #3, they make a unique flavor of pan de muerto by adding guayaba blended with evaporated milk into the dough before it is baked. Pan de muerto can be flavored with a variety of ingredients such as almond extract, raisins and cinnamon. Others make the dough with whole wheat flour and flavor it with orange juice.

For a finishing touch, the baked bread can be brushed with melted butter and granulated sugar. Often, the sugar is colored. It is also common to use sesame seeds instead of sugar for the topping. Variations to the finished topping can include a flavorful glaze that is prepared by combining sugar, orange juice and orange zest and boiling the mixture to a glaze.