Mexican sugar skulls are folk art nirvana! They are a disappearing ephemeral folk art that are made by master candy makers who learned the technique from their grandparents. Sugar skulls are made with boiled sugar that is poured into moist clay break away molds. They are always hollow. Sounds easy? One year after filming a sugar skull making family in Oaxaca, I pranced home with some sixty year old molds (a rare find as sugar skull makers hide their mold sources and frequently travel to other states to have famous mold makers with special combinations of exotic clay, make their molds) and set up my sugar pots and stove and started melting & stirring sugar in big pots in what I thought would be an easy day of sugar skull making.
Three weeks and thirty-two attempts later, I still did not stumble upon the correct way to reduce the temperature of the sugar to give the beautiful opaque & translucent bone color of the Mexican skulls. A real Mexican sugar skull is made the same way they were made in the 17th century – in small batches, with care and patience. It is an important job to make the sugar skulls that represent the souls of the departed… that will sit vigilant on beautiful home ofrendas, with the names of the returning spirits written in icing across the foreheads. Sugar skull makers frequently will work for four to six months to accumulate enough sugar skulls for the season where they will set up a temporary stall in the outdoor market the two weeks before Day of the Dead.
Now, back to the question. I love real sugar skulls and tried for years to bring back enough to sell at my gallery. They are fragile and expensive to ship. So, I got this crazy idea to create my own line of sugar skull molds using a modified panoramic Easter egg recipe. As fortune had it, I met Carolyn Potter at the local meeting of the California Gourd Society and found out she was a famous fimo and sculpture artist… AND she loved Day of the Dead. It didn’t take much arm twisting to get her to to turn my designs into the most perfect of sugar skull molds. The attention to detail is spectacular (note the Chantilly lace on the Novio Bar and the ostrich feathers on the Catrina mold). The sombrero hat packs were her most ingenious! Real sugar skulls with sombreros (cardinals, cowboys, campesinos, policemen etc) are scarce as they are elaborate designs which disappeared from most markets in the 1970’s. Let’s just say a sugar skull with a hat is a great idea and Carolyn created an ingenious design to use one piece of molded sugar as either a campesino straw sombrero, or turn it over and it becomes a classic catrina hat for a female sugar skull.
The skulls that are made from my recipe & molds are fast and easy to make. The meringue powder eliminates the need to boil the sugar. Even second graders can help mix the sugar mix and cast a skull. Since skulls are turned out to air dry on cardboard squares, it’s easy to make a ten pound bag of sugar in about an hour with one or two molds. That’s 40 Original medium skulls! If you decorate your sugar skulls with the classic colored tin foil and put a name on the forehead with black icing, it will look very much like the authentic Mexican sugar skulls and last approximately 5 years. These are not exactly true Mexican sugar skulls but they are intended to be a respectful copy to be enjoyed by those of us who appreciate the art of the sugar skull masters of Mexico.
We hope you enjoy making these sugar skulls and chocolates for your family, friends, school and Day of the Dead parties!