Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Where to Get Your Pan de Muerto Fix

By Luke Tsai
Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 8:00 AM

By this point I’m sure you’ve got your Halloween plans locked down, but what about the week’s other ghostly holiday, El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), which is coming up on November 1 and 2?

As per usual, here at What the Fork we’re mainly interested in what tasty treats the two-day festival has to offer, and the holiday’s signature food item, pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”), is well worth seeking out — a not-too-sweet respite from your trick-or-treat-fueled sugar rush.

The local versions I’ve had have all been eggy and just a little bit sweet, with a soft interior that’s part way between a bread and a cake — something along the lines of a challah or brioche. Typically each pan de muerto is covered with little knobs of dough that are meant to look like bones, and then the whole thing gets dusted with sugar.

At Berkeley’s Casa Latina Bakery (1805 San Pablo Ave.), each $2.50 loaf of pan de muerto is covered with a lot of crinkly granulated sugar, but the bread slices well and is more fragrant than it is sweet, flecked with caraway seeds which provide its distinctive flavor.

My longtime favorite had been the rich and intensely citrusy version sold down the street in the bakery section of Mi Tierra Foods (2082 San Pablo Ave.), available in two sizes ($1.99 and $2.99, respectively). But the loaf I sampled this year was a slight disappointment — a bit dry. That said, what’s nice for those with less of a sweet tooth is that Mi Tierra offers a version topped with sesame seeds instead of sugar.

Arizmendis adorable pan de muerto (2008 edition)
  • Luke Tsai
  • Arizmendi's adorable pan de muerto (2008 edition)
The most unique pan de muerto I’ve had is sold at the Lakeshore branch of Arizmendi Bakery (3265 Lakeshore Ave.): Each $4.50 loaf is fragrant with anise and orange flavor and is shaped, adorably, like a little man, with chocolate-chip eyes and chocolate-chunk buttons. This year’s run won’t be available until Wednesday, October 31, but in the past I’ve found it to be the least sweet and the most bread-like of the versions available in the East Bay.

All three bakeries should carry freshly-baked pan de muerto at least through Friday, November 2. You can eat yours at the gravesite of a loved one, as is traditional, or — if you’re like me — just bring it home to enjoy for breakfast, sliced thin and spread with jam or honey, for several days running.

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