There's a trio of cartoon skeletons dancing on the window of a bakery on Brooklyn's 4th Avenue. Just inside the door, you find an elaborate altar decorated with sugar skulls, comic skeleton figures, bottles of tequila, photographs of deceased relatives, candles, crosses, and round loaves of sweet bread decorated with bone designs. This is how the family that owns Don Paco Lopez, maybe the city's oldest and certainly its best known Mexican bakery, celebrates the lives of its ancestors.
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There are so many beautiful aspects to Day of the Dead, but for me this holiday means one thing: Pan de Muerto, a special bread available during autumn weeks surrounding El Día de Muertos. Growing up on Mexico's Pacific coast, I didn't see much pan de muerto. In fact, I wasn't exposed to many traditional Mexican breads other than bolillo, birotes and conchas. My first taste of pan de muerto didn't come until much later when, as a university exchange student in Mexico City, my host family, teachers and friends fed me the stuff until I was nearly muerto myself from overeating. I quickly fell in love with the seasonal treat.
Pan de muerto is a key component of any Day of the Dead altar worth its salt. But beyond that, it's just plain tasty. This recipe, from one of the most respected figures working in traditional Mexican cuisine, should keep...
An occasion steeped in tradition, Day of the Dead feasts were offered to the spirit of the departed. According to chef Lucio Palazzo at Xochitl in Philadelphia, an altar was built bearing favorite foods and refreshments of the departed "to quench the spirit's thirst and relieve the soul's hunger after the long journey from the afterworld." We've compiled a menu to start your Day of the Dead celebration in spicy style.