Sometimes there's a big payoff for reading the whole morning newspaper. Last Saturday morning my companion and I lingered over a last cup of coffee while we enjoyed La Voz de Michoacán, Morelia's excellent daily. "Wow!" jumped out of my mouth. "There's a statewide bread fair going on downtown today. Let's go!" The article, in the financial section, mentioned that the good people of Michoacán consume a million pieces of artisanal bread per day, making the state one of the highest consumers in Mexico.
La Feria Estatal del Pan Tradicional took place in the shadow of colonial Templo San Francisco in Morelia. Spanish Franciscans broke ground for the church in the early 16th Century. The builders finished in 1610.
The festival, located in beautiful Morelia plaza San Francisco, presented more than 60 statewide bakeries and three separate bread-baking contests: one for artistic presentation, one for typical pan de sal (non-sweet breads such as bolillo, virote, and telera), and one for pan de muerto, or bread of the dead.
Traditionally, bread is delivered from the bakery to the store in canastos (large baskets) like these. The center part of the basket (higher than the rest) fits on the deliveryman's head so he can either walk or bicycle along his route. These baskets belong to José Sánchez y Familia of Panadería Sánchez in Queréndaro, Michoacán.
This bread construction is Las Tarascas, one of Morelia's much-visited symbols. The bronze statue, which shows indigenous Pur'hepecha women holding a tray of fruits, is near the aqueduct. It represents Michoacán's fertility.
The Feria del Pan Tradicional de Michoacán takes place near the November dates of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Pan de muerto is an important component of the celebrations and the fair offers delicious and beautiful examples of several types of large and small pan de muerto.
In the first picture, the loaves are crusted with white sugar. In the second picture, the bakers used pink sugar. In the third picture, the loaves have no sugar. In the fourth picture, the loaves are split open and stuffed with pineapple filling, then dusted with confectioners' sugar.
Here's a recipe for traditional pan de muerto (updated a bit with a bread machine), if you'd like to try your hand for this November 1:
Pan de Muerto Tradicional
1 1/4 pounds white flour
1/2 oz yeast
4 oz sugar
4 oz lard (buy it fresh from a butcher or render it yourself)
3 whole eggs
7 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
2 Tbsp orange blossom water
3 Tbsp strong anise tea
1 Tbsp grated orange rind
Set your bread machine to the dough cycle and put in 3 whole eggs and 7 egg yolks.
Make the anise tea. Put 3 Tbsp of anise seeds in 6 Tbsp of water and microwave for 30 seconds. If the seeds soak up all the water, add 3 more Tbsp of water and microwave for another 30 seconds.
Add all the ingredients to the bread machine. Mix according to machine instructions.
Take the dough out of the machine and nip off approximately 1/8th and set aside. Shape the larger amount of dough into two flattened rounds and place on a greased baking sheet.
Using the set-aside dough, shape two long 'femurs' and two small knobs. Arrange the 'femurs' in the shape of an 'X' and place the two small knobs in the center of each loaf. Use beaten egg yolk to glue the bones and knobs to the loaves. Allow to rise for two hours in a warm place.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Bake the loaves for 30 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on metal racks. This is a spectacularly light and flavorful bread. It does stale quickly, so invite some friends for coffee and enjoy your bread just after baking.
In Michoacán, the most typical pan de muerto has the shape of a human figure. Note the arms, crossed at about waist level. José Sánchez and his family of Panadería Sánchez created these breads. Cempasúchiles (a kind of marigold), wild orchids, bananas and breads like this one are often hung on large cemetery ofrendas made to honor the deceased.
Watch here in the weeks to come for another pictorial about the special little sugar figures made for the Day of the Dead.