2015 was the first time we started making our own sugar skulls. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to do it again this year, except this time we invited some of our relatives over for a sugar skull decorating party. Today I’m sharing how to make sugar skulls for Day of Dead from start to finish. I hope you enjoy this post. It’s one of my favorites.
Every year that passes since my first Day of The Dead post, I fall in love with this Mexican holiday tradition more and more. That first year was tough because I wasn’t sure how my relatives would react since they don’t celebrate it, or how my husband and his family would feel about it since we were including my Mother-in-Law in our altar. My daughter was four years old and had already begun to ask questions about her Grandmother. We talked about her as often as she wanted and showed her pictures of her Grandmother, but the Mother in me couldn’t let that be all that we did to honor her. She deserved more.
I never got the chance to meet my maternal Grandmother, and I barely knew my paternal Grandmother, so there has always been a part of my heart that wished I knew them on a personal level. Every child wants to be loved and spoiled by her Grandparents the same way she wants to be loved by her own parents, and it makes me sad that my children never got to meet their father’s mother. She would have been a wonderful Grandmother.
This is our way of honoring her and all our relatives we want our children to remember. Dia de los Muertos allows us the opportunity to honor and celebrate their lives by inviting their spirits into our homes by building an ofrenda altar. This one is from 2017.
Sugar skulls are included in the ofrenda as a representation of our friends and family being honored in the altar as well as for decoration. Today I’m sharing what I’ve learned about how to make sugar skulls for Day of the Dead in hopes that it will help you have a smooth and enjoyable experience if you are making them for the first time.
Let’s start with a list of what you will need for the sugar skulls:
Sugar skull molds
Most of my molds are from MexicanSugarSkulls.com. I highly recommend you visit their website after you read through mine to get more tips. I learned a lot through my own trials and errors, but ultimately they started me off in the right direction and saved me a ton of time. Also, you can purchase everything you need right from there if you want to. Delivery time was fairly quick.
- Large bowl
- Measuring cup
- Large spoon or whisk to combine (or you can use your hands)
- 1 teaspoon measuring spoon
- White sugar (I would start with a 10 pound bag)
- Meringue powder
- Cardboard squares (that are at least 5″ x 6″ in size)
The amount of sugar you are going to need will depend on the size and amount of the sugar skulls you make so it’s difficult to know exactly how much sugar you are going to need in the beginning. My advice is to get a 10 pound bag and start there.
For every 1 cup of sugar you use, add 1 teaspoon meringue powder + 1 teaspoon water. Combine the sugar and meringue powder well before adding the water.
Mix all three together until the sugar feels almost like damp sand and can be shaped in the palm of your hand when squeezed.
Begin packing the molds by making sure all the small details are tightly packed first – such as the eyes, nose, and mouth. Then finish packing more sugar into the mold until completely full.
Place a cardboard on top and flip the whole thing over. Gently lift off the mold and let the sugar skull dry at least three hours.
After three or four hours, scoop out some of the sugar from the center of each skull half, leaving a thick border around. Do not skip this step! It’s important because the sugar is so thick that it will take longer to dry and can trap moisture inside.
Once you’ve removed the extra sugar, allow them to dry hollow-side-up overnight.
If the sugar feels a little dry, sprinkle a little bit of water onto the sugar with your hand and mix it again.
The next step is to make the icing that will hold the two skull halves together, which I got from Wilton.com.
For this you will need:
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
- 3 tabelspooons meringue powder
- 5 tablespoons water
- An electric mixer with paddle or whisk attachment
- 12 inch disposable decorating bag for icing
- Rubber band or an icing bag tie (optional)
If you’re having a sugar skull decorating party and want to make larger batches of royal icing, use the following ratios:
One 2-pound bag of confectioners’ sugar + 1/2 cup meringue powder + 2/3 cup water.
Combine the confectioners’ sugar with meringue powder on low speed for a minute, then add the water. Keep mixing it on low until it starts to look like icing, then increase the mixing speed to medium (a 2 on the Kitchen Aid mixer I think). Mix for 5-7 minutes with a whisk, or paddle until the icing begins to form stiff peaks. If you feel like it’s too stiff, mix in one teaspoon of water at a time until it’s soft enough to pipe, but can still hold its peaks.
Fill a disposable icing bag with the icing, but not too close to the top or it will be a bit more difficult to manage when squeezing. I made that mistake and ended up having to remove the tie and squeeze it back in.
Cut off the tip to make a hole if you are not using a decorating tip and coupler.
Those icing bag ties are super helpful by the way. They may seem like a waste of money, and you might be thinking why not just use a rubber band, but they were much easier to use than a rubber band believe it or not. For a few bucks it made everyone’s life much easier when decorating their sugar skulls. Especially for the kids.
Ok, moving on…
If you are using a coupler, insert the plastic coupler tip into the bag first, push it down gently as far as it goes, then cut off the excess bag tip.
Next, place the decorating tip over the bag and coupler, preferably a wide one when you glue the two halves together, then close it with the coupler ring.
Squeeze a thick ribbon of icing onto the back half of the sugar skull, then quickly align and press the two together. If none of the icing came out after pressing them together, add a thin line of icing along the line where they meet, then wipe it off with your finger to help create a smoother seal.
When you’re ready to decorate them, use the same recipe for royal icing that I shared above. Add a few drops of concentrated food coloring, such as Wilton’s coloring gels, to about half a cup of plain white royal icing in separate small bowls for each color. Mix well, add a few more drops of coloring if needed.
A little tip for filling the icing bags if you have a difficult time with this part: Use a large tall cup to hold the bag for you.
A 2-pound bag of confectioners sugar should get you about 7 or 8 colors, depending on how much white icing you reserve for gluing the two skull halves together.
Tie the ends, and have fun!
Wet paintbrushes were very helpful also. We had a few small bowls around the table with a small amount of water to dip the paintbrushes in in order to clean and dampen them a little to help paint larger areas. Just make sure you remove any excess water by wiping the brush lightly on a napkin so that it’s not dripping water onto the sugar molds.
These were just a few of the ones made by the kids and another adult. I didn’t get a good picture of the rest.
Brown sugar was the hardest to work with. If you make them, use golden brown sugar instead of white, and follow the same recipe above for the sugar skulls. Let them dry 3-4 hours, then bake them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 200 degrees for an hour. Let them cool off completely before decorating.
And whatever you do, don’t make them on a humid day. The brown sugar soaks up that humidity like a sponge and won’t let them harden right. I had to redo my entire first batch because of the high humidity that we had that week.
And that is how to make sugar skulls for Day of the Dead.
At last, we are done!
I still need to finish my Virgen.
Isn’t she purdy? 🙂
Looking for another activity to do with your children? You might like this paper table craft project for school-age children.
We always have fun making these. My daughter even made one for her miniature dollhouse altar this year.
OH! And if you prefer to buy sugar skulls already made, I sell those too!
Check them out here>> https://www.etsy.com/shop/SugarSkullCompany
Ok, bye for real now. 🙂