Miah Garcia, Maria S. Chavez, and Jorge and Eder Garcia...

Miah Garcia, Maria S. Chavez, and Jorge and Eder Garcia serve iconic pan de muerto at their family shop, Mamá Abuelita Bakery in Patchogue. Credit: Newsday/Andi Berlin

Dusted in colorful sugars and shaped like a skull, pan de muerto is the iconic bread served to commemorate the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, Nov. 1 and 2. Also known as "dead bread," the bulbous round loaf symbolizes the circle of life and death. Topped with little nubs of dough that resemble bones, it can be offered up to deceased relatives on a ceremonial altar, alongside sugar skulls, marigold flowers, citrus fruits and drinks like tequila.


Although it carries a morbid symbolism, pan de muerto is a delight to look at and to eat. The loaves are puffy and slightly sweet, with a cinnamon or citrus flavoring added to the dough. You won't find the bread at just any panaderia or Latin bakery, though. Although it's celebrated in other Latin American countries, Dia de los Muertos is a distinctly Mexican holiday that dates back to pre-colonial Aztec times.

Owned by third- and fourth-generation Mexican bakers, Mamá Abuelita Bakery in East Patchogue has one of the largest selections of pan de muerto on the Island. The festive loaves are dusted with bright pink and blue sugars, while plain versions are studded with sesame seeds. Others are shaped into circular doughnuts and even breads that resemble childlike figures to honor young people who have died. Loaves are priced from $3.20 to $5.50. The bakery also takes special orders for pan de muerto filled with nuts and raisins. 

Co-owner Jorge Garcia worked at his family bakery in the Central Mexican state of Hidalgo (just north of Mexico City) for many years until coming to Farmingville in 2002. After working at an Italian bakery in Port Jefferson, he opened his own shop with his family in 2022. Garcia, his wife, Maria S. Chavez, and their son Eder bake a stunning array of Mexican pastries, including an excellent rebanada de mantequilla, a fat slice of sweet bread smeared with butter and sugar.

They prepare the pan de muerto by putting flour, milk, butter, eggs, yeast and cinnamon into a mixer and shaping the dough by hand, rolling out strings of "bones" between their fingers. The rounds then go into a steamer for 20 minutes to rise, and are then baked in a 325-degree oven for 10 minutes. The family can make 20 or 30 loaves in an hour, Eder said, and will be selling them through Friday. The Day of the Dead tradition is fading with younger generations, Elder said, but he remembers celebrating it with his grandmother. "You have a dinner with the dead. You share whatever you put on the table." 

Garcia adds his own twist by preparing sugar skulls (calaveras) that are traditionally placed on the altars in the home, alongside photos and keepsakes of deceased loved ones. But instead of being made with sugar, his skulls are made with chocolate, and are technically edible. 

"In Mexico there are people who go to the cemetery, to see the dead in the night, they are there," Jorge said. "They are eating there with the dead in the cemetery, keeping them company. It's tradition." 

Mamá Abuelita Bakery, 717 Medford Ave., East Patchogue, 631-730-8800, mamaabuelita.com. Open 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Other bakeries where you can find pan de muerto

Casa Ofelia's Bakery, Baldwin

1294 Grand Ave.

This Mexican bakery provides many grocery stores across New York with Mexican pastries. The Baldwin shop carries smaller sesame studded loaves ($1.36 each). More info: 516-705-4310

Pan Pan Mexican Bakery, Ridge

145c Middle Country Rd.

This shop also prepares a small menu of savory Mexican dishes like huaraches and cemitas. The pastry selection includes some great-looking concha buns, chocolate doughnuts and traditional pan de muerto ($3). More info: 631-775-7294

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