La Buena Vida Bakery
By Jade Arroyo
The bakery La Buena Vida is a tradition in town. It was started 25 years ago by a baker trained in France, Melissa Sumner, and was the first bakery in town that offered whole-grain bread. Since then, it has gone through different stages, always staying faithful to its philosophy of making healthy bread in the most natural way possible. Buena Vida’s pan de muerto follows that philosophy: it is delicious and traditional, but healthy; the anise and orange blossom essence used for flavoring are 100 percent natural and give it an incomparable taste and perfume, which would seduce Death itself. The bread dates from pre-Hispanic times, when Aztecs performed human sacrifices (by taking out the beating hearts of maidens then boiling them and biting them as an offering to the gods). After the conquest, this custom was transformed into the bread we know today (which represents the blood and flesh) and is part of the Day of the Dead ofrendas. La Buena Vida bakery is located at Hernández Macías 72 and is open Monday through Friday from 8am–5pm. They also have a stand at the organic market on Saturdays.
Traditional Day of the Dead bread “La Buena Vida”
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk (plus additional for decorating)
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar (plus additional for
1/2 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk (plus additional for decorating)
1 tsp. natural anise extract (or 1 tsp. ground
2 tsp. natural orange blossom water
1 tsp. Freshly grated orange rind
This recipe makes one large loaf for three to four servings and three or four muertitos (skeleton-shaped figures). Heat milk in a pan until it is warm but not boiling. Mix 1/2 cup of flour with dry yeast and sugar and add the warm milk to the mixture. Stir to blend. Add softened butter, salt, anise, orange-blossom water and orange rind to the dough, stirring in another 1/2 cup flour little by little to form an elastic, but soft, dough. Beat the egg and additional egg yolk and add them to the dough. Knead approximately 10 minutes, adding additional flour to keep the dough from sticking to the table. Place dough in previously greased bowl to rise in a warm, draft-free place approximately two hours (until doubled in size). Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Half of the dough is used to make one large, round pan de muerto. Cut off approximately 1/3 cup of dough and divide it into three pieces. Roll out two pieces into strands to represent the “bones” and roll the last piece into a ball (slightly flattened) to represent the skull on top in the middle of the two crossed “bone” strands. The second half of the dough is used to make three or four muertitos. Divide the dough into three or four pieces and roll each piece into a “log” shape about eight to nine inches long.
With a knife, cut slits for arms and fold together and cut the bottom third of each log to open slightly and form the legs of the muertito. Cover the dough and let it rise for 11/2 hours. Preheat oven 350°F (180°C) before baking. When the dough has almost doubled in size, mix two egg yolks with a little bit of milk to glaze the bread and sprinkle with granulated sugar for decoration. Bake the large loaf for 35 minutes and the muertitos for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.