Japan may have babies who look like bread, but Mexico takes a more practical approach with bread that looks like babies. Or something like that. I’m speaking, of course, about Pan de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead bread, which apparently is an annual tradition to help celebrate the Day of the Dead every November 1st and 2nd.
I don’t really know the science behind it all. I just know that every year around this time, local super-awesome bakery coop Arizmendi sells Pan de Los Muertos. And this year, I bought one. The last one, in fact — the only one remaining yesterday afternoon an hour before close.
I don’t know the story or heritage behind Pan de Los Muertos, but for whatever reason it’s shaped like a baby. It’s kind of like a mandragora root made of delicious yeastiness, except for the part about screaming so loud when you pull it from the baker’s rack that you die in agony.
I’m not sure if it’s traditional for one leg to be curled under like this, or if I simply got the Ian Anderson of bread babies. I guess I should have given it a flute to see what would happen, but I didn’t have a chance; as soon as Cat saw this little dude, she bit off his head. I think she eats chocolate Easter bunnies ears-first, too. Not me. I believe in starting from the feet and working up so they can feel pain longer.
Here’s the reverse angle. I’m not sure what the eyes are made of, because again, they were gone before I had a chance to try them. I’m going to just assume they’re strawberry Twizzlers, that most traditional of Mexican foods.
No, really! It’s not an impossible stretch. This bread is made, among other things, with orange peel and anise seed. And anise, of course, tastes like licorice. And if you make licorice not-completely-gross, you end up with Twizzlers. So really, it makes perfect sense. When you’re deranged, the way I am.
As for the bread itself, it’s really good — not too dry or dense, but not excessively moist or airy, either. It has a consistency almost like a King Cake (which does not look like a baby, but has a baby inside of it, so there’s kind of a theme here). Unlike a King Cake, it seems more baked than fried, and it has a much lighter glaze than that puddle of colored goo they put on King Cake. The sugar glaze is incredibly sticky and makes a mess of everything in the same room as the Pan de Los Muertos, but it’s applied much more thinly than on a donut or other sweet pastries. The bread itself isn’t sugary at all, so there’s really just a hint of sweetness about it.
The orange and anise seed give the bread a good flavor. I can’t stand licorice, so I was worried about the presence of anise, but it’s added sparingly — just enough to lend it a touch of flavor without creating an overpowering licorice taste. The orange peel is even more sparing, just enough to detect on the edge of your tongue, with the occasional tiny burst of strong orange when you take a mouthful that has a piece of grated peel in it.
I suppose if this were proper New Foods Journalism I would do some research on the history and heritage of Pan de Los Muertos. For all I know it’s something Arizmendi totally made up to bilk San Francisco’s stupid bleeding heart white people like me. But it’s a very tasty deception if that’s the case. Ignorance is bliss.
I’m sad I have to wait another year to get a taste of those bread baby eyeballs, though.