Pan de muerto symbolizes death.

A jumbo-sized pan de muerto that is about the size of a human head
Pan de muerto, coated in sugar
Pan de muerto, coated in sugar

Not in a macabre, Hannibal Lecter sort of way, but in a life-is-beautiful-so-we-must-honor-our-deceased-loved-ones way. The four strips of bread latticed across the top of the sweet bread roll are meant to symbolize the extremities of a corpse, and the ball of baked dough in the center of the bread resembles a human skull. When dunked in a mug full of cinnamon-spiked coffee or frothy Mexican hot chocolate, it is one of the most delicious breads you will eat in your entire life—and afterlife, for that matter.

Pan de muerto, still warm from the oven
Pan de muerto, still warm from the oven
Rows of sesame seed-topped pan de muerto

In Los Angeles, La Monarca Bakery has been busy keeping up with the insatiable demand. Just between yesterday and today, its eight panaderias scattered throughout LA county will pump out more than 20,000 individual pieces of pan de muerto. At 7 AM sharp on Día de Los Muertos, there is an army of a dozen bakers carefully kneading pieces of dough.

Bakers at La Monarca busy at work on the morning of Dia de Los Muertos
Rolling out the pieces of pan de muerto made to look like human arms and legs
A baker pulls out trays of freshly baked pan de muerto from the oven

It is the official food of Día de Los Muertos, and between yesterday and today, millions of Mexicans and Americans—both alive and dead—will feast on them to celebrate life and death. During this time of the year, you will see piles of pan de muerto atop altars honoring grandparents, great-grandparents, lovers, and friends who have moved on.

The pan de muerto adorned altar at La Monarca in Huntington Park

We’ll pick corpse-shaped, freshly baked bread over candy any day of the year.

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