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Sugar Skull Instructions for Teachers

Materials Lists

For Molding:
• Corrugated cardboard, cut into 5-6 inch squares (1 for each skull made)
• Plastic bin (15-20 quart size). A bin with a lid works for mixing and storing unmolded sugar mixture for a few days. A bin is also great for storing your molds and other supplies until the next time you use them.
• Set of measuring cups and measuring spoons
• Plastic spray bottle filled with water
• Hand washing set-up (bowl of water and towels) if you don’t have a sink in the room
• Granulated sugar (see below)
• Meringue powder (see below)
• Plastic sugar skull molds
• Plastic gloves for mixing (optional)
• Plastic wrap (optional for large molds)

For Hollowing large molded skulls:
• Large spoon
• White royal icing (see recipe enclosed) in a large zip top bag

For Decorating:
• Royal icing, prepared ahead of time and colored, in zip top freezer bags (see recipe enclosed)
• Scissors
• Colored foil candy wrappers (holiday versions of Hershey’s Kisses have great colors!)
• Sequins, beads, or plastic jewels
• White glue
• Miscellaneous decorative materials (feathers, ribbon, etc.)
• French-fry trays (optional)

Basic Recipe for the Skulls

One teaspoon of meringue powder and one teaspoon of water to every cup of granulated sugar.

Small skulls:
60 skulls: 5 pounds granulated sugar, 1⁄4 cup meringue powder, 10 teaspoons of water
120 skulls: 10 pounds granulated sugar, 1⁄2 cup meringue powder, 7 tablespoons of water

Medium Skulls:
20 skulls: 5 pounds granulated sugar, 1⁄4 cup meringue powder, 10 teaspoons of water
40 skulls: 10 pounds granulated sugar, 1⁄2 cup meringue powder, 7 tablespoons of water

Large Skulls:
5 skulls: 5 pounds of granulated sugar, 1⁄4 cup meringue powder, 10 teaspoons of water
10 skulls: 10 pounds of granulated sugar, 1⁄2 cup meringue powder, 7 tablespoons of water
NOTE: The recycled scoopings from the hollowed out large skulls will yield 1 medium skull per large skull made.


Directions for Making Sugar Skulls

Molding Skulls:
Make some test skulls before making them with your class. Your test skulls can be used as examples for your students. It is also a good idea to make some extra undecorated skulls to use in case some of the students’ skulls break during the process.

1. Set up station(s) for molding the skulls. Each station should include a large plastic bin or bowl for mixing the ingredients, enough molds (1 mold per five students is a good ratio), cardboard (if you are making large skulls, prepare 2 pieces of cardboard for each skull), measuring cup and spoons, sugar, meringue powder, and water. Molds should be cut from the plastic sheet, leaving at least a half-inch border of plastic around the mold (otherwise it will warp out of shape).

2. Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly. Make sure the meringue powder is completely dispersed through the sugar.

3. Measure the water into the mixture. If you make a small puddle with each tablespoon, you will be able to keep track of how many you put in, even if you get distracted while counting.
Variation: To make colored sugar, add paste food coloring to the water and mix completely, and then follow the same procedure with the colored water. Just a small amount (less than 1/16 teaspoon) will be enough paste food coloring to color a five-pound bag of sugar. You can always add more color later if you need to.

4. Mix together with your hands. If you are using colored sugar, you may want to wear plastic gloves to avoid staining your hands. The mixture should feel like damp beach sand, and it should clump when you squeeze it in your hand.

5. Demonstrate to your students how to mold the skulls. Place a mold firmly in your palm. Scoop some of the sugar mixture with your hand and press firmly into the mold. Pack the mold with sugar as tightly as possible. This will make a stronger skull that is less susceptible to breakage. Scrape the excess sugar back into the bin from the back of the mold with a cardboard piece. Place the cardboard on the back of the mold, carefully centering the skull under it. Flip the mold over so that the cardboard is on the bottom. Carefully lift the mold straight up and off the molded sugar. If any parts get nicked, just dump the sugar back into the bin and try again. When it is just right, place the molded sugar on its cardboard backing in a safe place. If you are making the large skulls, demonstrate the same technique for the second half of the mold.

6. Let the skulls dry. Depending on the humidity, this may take anywhere from a half hour to several hours. Students can write their names on their cardboards if they wish, or just let them pick out one to decorate at random since they are really all alike.

7. NOTE: LARGE SKULLS--Several hours after molding, scoop out enough sugar to make a small hole in the back of each half of the skull (see diagram below). Leave at least a half-inch border around the edge. Be careful not to scoop too deeply or you will make the wall too thin. Dump the scoopings back into your mixing bin and spray lightly with water. There should be enough recycled sugar mixture to make one medium skull for every large skull molded. If you are unable to hollow the skulls because they are not dry enough and you can’t come back in a few hours to scoop them out, cover the skulls with plastic wrap to slow the drying process. These will be ready to scoop out in the morning.

Joining Large Skulls:
Note: Depending on your class time, you may want to join the skulls yourself. If you have your students do it, set up a single station and have an adult help the students with the joining process. This step is fairly simple and would not warrant an entire class period, so plan another activity to occur while the students cycle through the joining station.

1. Prepare icing mixture at home. See recipe in this packet for royal icing. White icing will be used to join the skull halves. Whatever is left over can be colored for decorating the skulls.

2. Dust off the surface of the skull parts by running your hand over the surface. Excess sugar can be dusted into your sugar mixing bin for later use.

3. Snip off a corner of the zip top bag full of white icing and run a thick bead of icing around the back half of a skull. Join the two halves and wipe any excess icing off with your finger. Run a bead of white icing along the base of the skull where it is joined.

4. Let the joined skulls dry for several hours.

Decorating Skulls:

1. If using royal icing, prepare the icing mixture ahead of time. See recipe in this packet for royal icing.

2. Set up decoration stations or place an assortment of decorating materials for each table of students.

3. Demonstrate to your students how to decorate the skulls with either glue or the royal icing. To demonstrate how to use the icing, snip off a small corner of the zip top icing bags and squeeze out the colored icing onto the molded sugar. Sequins and foil pieces can be “glued” to the skulls with a bit of royal icing.

4. When the skulls are decorated, place aside on their cardboard to dry completely. If you have paper French-fry trays (available at restaurant supply stores) each skull can rest protected in its own tray and be carried home to finish drying.

NOTE: If you want, you can make all of the skulls at home or before class-time. Parents may be able to help with this step. This may be a good option for very young students or if class time is not available for the entire process.

Decoration ideas:
Have your students make a design sketch of their skulls before decorating. Large skulls can also be transformed into a diorama if the eyes are hollowed out during the scooping stage. After the skull halves have dried completely, a scene relating to Days of the Dead can be affixed to the inside of the piece that makes the back of the skull. Skulls can also be decorated as a tribute to a deceased family member or a famous artist, with the person’s name written on the forehead with icing.

Royal Icing Recipe

Note: it is strongly recommended that the icing be prepared at home and brought to the classroom in sturdy zip top freezer bags, one per color. Also, the following recipe is best made in the quantity stated. If you need more icing, don’t double the recipe unless you have a commercial grade mixer; just make another batch.

2-pound bag of powdered sugar
1/2 cup meringue powder
2/3 cup of water

Paste food coloring
Zip top freezer bags, one per color

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 while the mixer is on low speed. After the ingredients are well blended, turn the mixer on a higher speed and mix for 9 minutes.

3. Using a toothpick or small spoon, put about an 1/8 teaspoon of paste food coloring in a zip top bag. Add about one cup of icing to the bag and seal the zip top closed. Mix the color through the icing by massaging the bag, until there are no spots of white or pure pigment. Repeat with each color. Word of warning: paste food coloring is extremely concentrated and will stain your hands or clothing very easily.

4. When you are ready to use them, snip off a bottom corner of each bag and show your students how to squeeze out the icing onto the skulls. When not in use, the bags of icing will self-seal due to the fast drying power of the meringue.

One batch will decorate 20 medium skulls or 5 large skulls.
Two batches will decorate 40 medium skulls or 10 large skulls.