Saturday, October 31, 2009

DEMO: Sugar Skulls for Day of the Dead

DEMO: Sugar Skulls

Sugar skulls are one traditional and crafty part of the traditional Mexican celebration, Dias de los Muertos, or Days of the Dead. During this time - usually celebrated from October 31 to November 2nd (depending on the part of Mexico) and adapted from ancient Aztec rituals and the Catholic celebrations of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day - families and communities put up "ofrendas" or altars to honor and celebrate the dearly departed who come and visit. The sugar skulls are decorated, and often inscribed on the forehead with the name of the recipient - who can be either living or dead! They might be placed on the ofrenda, or given as a gift.

I learned how to make sugar skulls last year from Cathy of Bossa Nova Baby - and you can check out my post about it here! She didn't teach it this year, and I've been getting ready for a Sugar Skull Decorating party this weekend, so I thought I'd share the recipes and directions with you! It might be a bit late to prepare for this year, but you can get all the supplies you need for next year on this website, If you're local to Portland, OR, you can get the supplies at The Decorette Shop and at Global Exchange (they carry the molds!). Global Exchange also has stores in San Francisco and Berkeley.


To cast the skulls:

  • Sugar skull molds, like those from Trim the molds so each piece is individual and has a 1" plastic border. Skulls come in small one-part molds, as well as medium and large two-part molds.
  • 5 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder (available from cake decorating stores)
  • 10 teaspoons water
  • Cardboard squares slightly larger than the size of the trimmed molds you're using
To decorate the skulls:

Royal Icing
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup meringue powder
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Concentrated food coloring paste (like that found at cake decorating shops)
Additional Decorating Materials
  • Sequins, Tiny Paper Flowers, Metallic Leaves, Googly Eyes, Acrylic Gems, Thin Paper Foil, other small sparkly bits - again, many available at craft supply stores or cake decorating stores
  • Cake decorating tips and icing bags


1. Mix the ingredients together for the sugar skulls - water, granulated sugar, meringue powder as listed above. Use your hands to evenly distribute the water throughout
the sugar. The sugar should feel like beach sand, and if you press your fingers into it, it should leave a clear impression. It won't feel wet.

2. Press the sugar into the trimmed mold. Press firmly. Fill it over the top.

3. Scrape off the excess - leave the back flat.

4. Lay the cardboard over the back of the mold, and flip it over. Gently lift the mold off.
If it cracks, you may not have enough water - dump it back in and lightly mist the sugar mixture.
If it sticks to the mold, you have too much water in the sugar. Try mixing it more.

5. Let the skull dry on the cardboard for 5-12 hours, or until it's hard to the touch.
Drying time will vary depending on the size of the mold and the ambient humidity.

6. Even after 12 hours, medium and large skulls will not be dry all the way
through. You will want to hollow them out, but leave at least a 1/2 inch wall thickness
and don't scoop into the neck area. Scoop out the moist sugar - it can be reused.
Now let them finish drying - another 5-12 hours.

7. Once both parts of the two-part skulls are dry, they will need to be "glued" together. Now it's time to mix up your Royal Icing! Blend the ingredients together and use an electric mixer at high speed to mix them together thoroughly. You will want to mix the icing until the icing holds firm peaks - 5 to 10 minutes.

8. Put a 1/2 cup or so of royal icing in a pastry tube and squeeze a bead of icing onto
both halves of the two-part skull. Put the rest in an airtight container, but do not refrigerate it.

9. Squeeze both halves of the skull together. Wipe away any excess
icing that oozes out. Let it dry another few hours. This kind of icing dries like cement -
it's the same kind that is used to put together gingerbread houses.

10. Now, you're ready to decorate! You can mix icing together
with concentrated food coloring to color it. Put each color in its own icing bag. I like to use #2 round tips to get a clean precise line for decorating. Again, this stuff will dry really hard!

11. And you can use the icing almost like glue to attach googly eyes, sequins,
foil, or little paper flowers as part of your decoration.

You can save these from year to year - though they last better in dry climates than in humid ones. And, if you stick to using only edible ornaments - just icing and cake decorating gems - they are edible! Enjoy!

Edited to add: You can also use this same process to make and decorate things like easter eggs or holiday trees! All you need is the right 3-D candy mold! Locally, check out the Decorette Shop for molds you like or just google "candy molds 3D" and you'll get more results - and ideas - than you'll know what to do with!


Diane Gilleland said...

WOW. Now I'm imagining the amount of prep you did for your party today! How fun - I'm so sad I'm missing it. Have a lovely time!

Alea Bone said...

Thanks for the demo, I will definitely be making sugar skulls next year! I love the way yours came out!!

Sven Bonnichsen said...

AWESOME. Very clear tutorial, very inspiring!

(Hoping some of the photos of folks' masterpieces make it to the blog -- regret not being able to stay to the end!)

Leah said...

awesome tutorial - great photos!!!