How to Make Sugar Skulls for Day of the Dead

Image courtesy of mexicansugarskulls.com

 

Sugar art has been created in Mexico since colonial times. For the Day of the Dead, sugar skulls represented a departed soul, with the name of the person being honored written on the forehead. The skulls were then placed on home altars (ofrendas) or gravestones in honor of that soul’s return. Today, the skulls are also popular gifts. Like valentines, sugar skulls are exchanged by friends and sweethearts as a token of an affection and love that will transcend death. (If this seems like a strange idea, you may want to ready our post about Day of the Dead imagery.)

The sugar skulls sold in the markets for Day of the Dead are made using a complicated process involving boiled sugar and clay molds. But you can easily make your own skulls at home with just sugar, meringue powder, water, and special plastic molds.

Ingredients for Skulls:

Granulated sugar

Meringue Powder

Water

Quantities vary depending on the number and size of skulls being made. See the table below.

Equipment:

Plastic skull molds*

Cardboard cut into approximately 5” or 6” squares (one for each skull part—front and back—being made)

Measuring cups and spoons

Plastic bin or large mixing bowl for sugar mixture

Hand or counter-top mixer for royal icing

Smaller bowls for mixing icing colors (one per color)

Decorator bags and tips for royal icing

Paper plates or plastic trays (to use as a work surface and to hold your decorating materials)

*Note: The skulls do not have to dry in the molds, so you can make many skulls in a single session using just one mold. Molds are available from CRIZMAC (see below)

For Decorating:

 Royal icing (recipe follows)

Colored foil candy wrappers (holiday versions of Hershey’s Kisses have great colors!)

Sequins, beads, or plastic jewels

White glue

Glitter glue (Note: the water in the glue will dissolve the sugar a bit, but this can create an interesting “incised” effect)

Miscellaneous decorative materials (feathers, ribbons, etc.)

Basic Sugar Skull Recipe:

A general guideline is one teaspoon of meringue powder and one teaspoon of water for every cup of sugar.

For larger quantities:

Mold Size

# of skulls

Pounds of Sugar

Meringue Powder

Water

Large

10

10

½ cup

7 Tablespoons

Medium

40

10

½ cup

7 Tablespoons

Large

5

5

¼ cup

3 Tablespoons

Medium

20

5

¼ cup

3 Tablespoons

Directions:

 Note: Do not attempt to make sugar skulls on a rainy or humid day.

1. Put the sugar and meringue powder in the plastic bin and mix thoroughly.

2. Make sure the meringue powder is completely dispersed through the sugar.  Measure the water into the mixture and mix with your hands. The mixture should feel like damp beach sand, and it should clump when you squeeze it.

3. Hold the mold in your hand (when working with the medium sized molds, they’ll be easier to handle if you cut the two pieces apart). Scoop some of the sugar mixture and press it firmly into the mold. Pack the mold with sugar as tightly as possible. Use one of the cardboard squares to scrape any excess off the back of the mold. If working with large skulls, you can make your sugar go further by hollowing out your skull a little. Just scoop out a small hole in the back, making sure to leave at least a half inch border all around so it won’t be too fragile.

Place a cardboard square over the back of the mold and flip the mold over so the cardboard is on the bottom. Carefully lift the mold up and off the molded sugar. If any part of the skull gets nicked in the process, simply dump it back in the bin and try again. When you are satisfied with your skull, place the cardboard with the molded sugar on a table or other flat surface to dry.

Depending on the humidity, it may take anywhere from an hour to a day for your skull to dry.

Royal Icing Recipe

Royal icing is often used for decorative confections. While technically edible, it dries rock hard, so is rarely consumed. This recipe yields enough icing to decorate 5 large or 20 medium skulls.

Note: If you need more icing, don’t double this recipe unless you have a commercial grade mixer; just make another batch.

Ingredients:

2 lb. bag of powdered sugar

½ cup of meringue powder

2/3 cup of water

Paste food coloring

Zip-top freezer bags, one per color

Directions:

  1. Put the powdered sugar and meringue powder in the bowl of a mixer. Blend with a spoon to distribute the meringue.
  2. Add the water in small increments with the mixer on low speed. After the ingredients are well-blended, turn the mixer on a higher speed and mix for 9 minutes.
  3. Distribute the icing in smaller bowls, one for each color of icing you want to make. If you are working with two-part skulls (front and back) reserve some uncolored icing to use to “glue” the two sections together
  4. Add about 1/8 teaspoon of paste food coloring to each bowl and mix thoroughly. A word of warning: Paste food coloring is extremely concentrated and will stain skin and clothing.
  5. Assemble decorator bags and tips and put one color of icing in each.

Decorating skulls

 If you are working with two part skulls, use the reserved white icing to attach the front and back sections. Allow time for this to dry before continuing.

Select the items you want to use for decorating and put them on your plate or work surface. Many decorative effects can be obtained with different colors of icing and various decorator tips. You can also use the icing to “glue” on items such as sequins and pieces of foil. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy. Skulls should be fanciful and fun!

When you are satisfied with your creation, allow time for it to dry (usually several hours).

 

Resources

At CRIZMAC, we offer lots of Day of the Dead resources, including a variety of sugar skull molds and meringue powder.

For more ideas on how to celebrate the Day of the Dead, you may enjoy our new book:

Order a signed copy directly from us at CRIZMAC or a less expensive (but unsigned) one from Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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