DIA DE LOS MUERTOS - DAY OF THE DEAD - AMERICA'S NEWEST HOLIDAY

Sugar Skull Making Instructions

Celebrate Day of the Dead with your own sugar skulls!

Watch a video about Festive Mexican Sugar Skulls on The Food Network

Making Sugar SkullsSugar Skulls are a traditional folk art from Southern Mexico used to celebrate Day of the Dead. Mounds of colorful sugar skulls are sold by Indian vendors in open air village markets during the week preceding the holiday. Spirits of the dead are welcomed back to their homes with beautifully decorated altars made by their loved ones. Sugar skulls, marigolds, candles, incense and special foods adorn home altars.

Families take the flowers and sugar skulls to the cemetery to decorate the tombs on November 2. Sugar skulls are colorfully decorated with icing, pieces of bright foil, colored sugars and usually bear the name of the deceased loved one being honored. They are easy to make by children and adults, and if kept dry, they can last a year.

MexicanSugarSkull.com’s Angela Villalba is the creator of the original sugar skull mold. We now have wonderful high quality molds – and all the right supplies that you need to create your own fabulous skulls. Check out our kits for large groups.

Make sugar skulls as part of your family tradition to remember your dear, departed loved ones.

Sugar Skull Recipe

CAUTION – Do not make sugar skulls on a rainy or high humidity day. They will not turn out.

Meringue Powder Brand – It matters!

Making Mexican Sugar SkullsDo not use meringue powder from hobby shops or cake supply shops as it’s usually diluted and cut way too much for use with heavy granulated sugar. It’s OK for icing, just it will not hold together sugar skulls! We get calls daily from teachers & folks who’s sugar skulls are “sandy” and not sticking together and have a big mess on their hands and don’t have enough time to get new meringue powder and redo the project. Start right from the beginning! After much testing, we recommend and sell CK Products meringue powder as it is very strong and one can count on it to create a good quality sugar skull. The only reliable meringue powder is from CK Products or the one sold in Sur La Table gourmet kitchen shops/ catalog.Mix together well in large bowl
1 teaspoon Meringue Powder for every cup of granulated sugar used.

Step 1 – Mix dry ingredients well.
Step 2 – 
Sprinkle sugar mixture with 1 teaspoon water per cup of sugar used.

Variation – Colored Skulls
Most people prefer white skulls the first time they make them, but if you’d like colored sugar skulls, add paste food coloring TO THE WATER. For a 5 pound bag of sugar, use 1/4 cup meringue powder and 10 teaspoons of water. Yield 5 large skulls or 20 medium skulls or 100 mini skulls or any combination.

For a 10 pound bag of sugar, use 1/2 cup meringue powder and 7 Tablespoons water. Yield 10 large skulls or 40 medium skulls or 200 mini skulls or any combination.

Sugar Skull Yield Table

Mold Size # of Skulls Sugar(lbs) Meringue Powder Water
Large 10* 10 lbs 1/2 cup 7 Tablespoons
Medium 40 10 lbs 1/2 cup 7 Tablespoons
Mini 200 10 lbs 1/2 cup 7 Tablespoons
Large 5* 5 lbs 1/4 cup 3 Tablespoons
Medium 20 5 lbs 1/4 cup 3 Tablespoons
Mini 100 5 lbs 1/4 cup 3 Tablespoons

5 pounds of sugar = approx.10 cups
10 pounds of sugar = 21 cups
3 teaspoons = 1 Tablespoon

Meringue Powder Conversion Table

Weight Cups (approx.) Tablespoons Teaspoons
4 oz. Jar 1 cup 16 T 48 t.
8 oz. Jar 2 cups 32 T 96 t.
1 lb. Bag 4 cups 64 T 192 t.

 

Meringue Powder is a MUST and cannot be omitted. It is difficult to find, but may be ordered in 4 oz, 8 oz or 1 pound packages on our sugar skull molds and supplies page. Meringue powder is what makes the sugar and the icing hard. Its main ingredient is powdered dry egg whites & starch, but it also includes vegetable gum, cream of tarter, calcium lactate, malic acid & sodium aluminum sulfate. It’s totally edible.

Powdered Sugar for Royal Icing
1 pound box = 3 1/2 cups
2 pound bag = 7 cups (do not sift Powdered Sugar)

Measurement: 3 teaspoons make a Tablespoon: 4 Tablespoons make 1/4 cup. But on this website, 7 Tablespoons (21 teaspoons) of Meringue Powder = 1/2 cup! (Please don’t email me on this!) Sugar Skull making is not an exact science… we like easy measurements! Especially when measuring with kids.

To Mix Sugar for Sugar Skulls

Mix well with hands until every bit of sugar is moistened. If your fingerprints remain when you squeeze the sugar in your hand, it is ready to mold. (Right) It should feel like cool “beach sand.”

If it doesn’t hold together, mixture is too dry.

Remember, water sinks, so keep the sugar mixture mixed up frequently as you make your sugar skulls.

To Mold Sugar Skulls

Pack sugar mixture FIRMLY into mold with special attention to chins & edges. Use a straight edge to scrape the back of the mold flat. Pack down some more until perfectly tight.

Place a stiff cardboard square (approx. 5″ x 6″) over mold and invert immediately. Lift mold off carefully. Throw any “mistakes” back into your bowl, stir up and try again. If mix is too dry, spritz with a water bottle.

Sugar Skull Making Tip – is the sugar mix too wet?

If all the sugar mixture does not fall out of mold easily, it is too wet. Re-mix with a bit more sugar. Hand wash and dry your mold after every 5 skulls to avoid sticking. Most Sugar Skull makers will have a collection of molds to make the molding process more enjoyable.

To Dry Sugar Skulls

All sizes of the molded sugar skulls need to air-dry on their card boards from 8 hours to overnight before they are ready to decorate. Medium and Mini skulls may be decorated after they are completely dry.

How to make sugar skullsLarge skulls require a few more steps. They are a 2-piece mold, and must be “scooped out” after they are partially dry; start checking them in 5-6 hours. When the skulls feel dry enough to handle, hold skulls carefully and hollow both the back and the front out with a spoon, leaving the skull wall 1/2″ thick. Do not scoop out the neck area. It’s very important to scoop out the larger skulls as they are so thick, they trap moisture – AND they are so heavy that they slide apart if not scooped.

Set the hollowed skulls upside down to continue drying until totally dry (approx. 12 hours). When completely dry, dust off and assemble the front and back of the skull with a 1/4″ bead of thick royal icing, either applied with a knife or squeezed from an icing bag (one side only). Align points on the back of the skull with the sides of the neck, and press the two sides together until they are firmly connected. The icing will ooze out a little. Drag your finger over the seam to remove excess icing. Try to do this with just one pass – touching the skull too much will make the icing look bad. Drag your finger across the base of the neck crack to remove excess icing. Lay skull aside to dry. When seam is dry, about 2 hours minimum, it is ready to decorate. Sugar skull blanks may be made up to a year ahead of time awaiting decorating. Just store in “breathable” boxes like cardboard. Not plastic lidded boxes.

Meringue Powder is a MUST and cannot be omitted. It is difficult to find, but may be ordered in 4 oz, 8 oz or 1 pound packages on our sugar skull molds and supplies page. Meringue powder is what makes the sugar and the icing hard. Its main ingredient is powdered dry egg whites & starch, but it also includes vegetable gum, cream of tarter, calcium lactate, malic acid & sodium aluminum sulfate. It’s totally edible.

Powdered Sugar for Royal Icing
1 pound box = 3 1/2 cups
2 pound bag = 7 cups (do not sift Powdered Sugar)

Measurement: 3 teaspoons make a Tablespoon: 4 Tablespoons make 1/4 cup. But on this website, 7 Tablespoons (21 teaspoons) of Meringue Powder = 1/2 cup! (Please don’t email me on this!) Sugar Skull making is not an exact science… we like easy measurements! Especially when measuring with kids.

Sugar Skull Making Tip – Large Skulls

The sugar “scoopings” from Large skulls will net about 50%. Sugar will be soft and moist and may be made into smaller skulls.

This moist sugar may be stored in plastic tightly-topped box for a day or two. When you’re ready to use sugar, give it the hand-squeeze test. If too dry, spritz with the water bottle until it holds together again.

Royal Icing Recipe

sugar skull icingMix 2/3 cup water, 1/2 cup meringue powder and 2 pounds powdered sugar with an electric/stand mixer until icing peaks (about 9 minutes!) Don’t mix up more than 2 pounds at a time. Keep in a tightly covered container. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.

Royal icing is a cement type icing used for gingerbread house construction. It isn’t very tasty, but it is strong, dries pretty and lasts. Use ONLY concentrated paste food colorings (NOT liquid food coloring from the grocery store!) Yes, we have 12 great colors on our sugar skull molds and supplies page. And a NEW Electric paste color kit!

Mix icing & paste colors in disposable cups. Use pastry bags and metal decorating tips if you are a pro or into cake decorating. Yes, we have great disposable pastry bags on the Molds and Supplies page!

Add 2-3 ounces of Royal Icing (no more than 1/4 full). Squeeze to decorate.

Calculate each 5 pounds of sugar skulls will need 2 pounds of powdered sugar Royal Icing. Most skull makers prefer 5-6 paste colors to decorate with and at least one pack of colored tin foil. Yes, we have tin foil in deep Purple, Magenta, Orange, Gold and Red, see sugar skull molds and supplies page.

Sugar Skull Making Tip – Royal Icing

When assembling our Large Sugar Skull, if the two pieces of the skull are sliding around, your royal icing is too wet.

Add a Tablespoon of powdered sugar to your icing, to stiffen it up a bit.

Decorating your Sugar Skulls

Decorating sugar skullsHave fun decorating your skulls with colored Royal Icing, sequins, feathers, beads, even earrings made from soda pop tops. Colored foil and icing are how Mexican sugar skulls are decorated. Foil is pasted down with icing, and is great for making crowns, crosses, hearts, shiny eyes or even pipes. Labels, wrappers, trinkets and shells can personalize a skull in memory of your dear, departed loved one. Be creative! Have fun! Kids down to kindergarten have fun decorating sugar skulls. If youngsters don’t have the coordination to use a pastry bag, let them “Finger-paint” with the colorful icing.

Can you eat the Sugar Skulls???

There is nothing that will make you sick in Sugar Skulls except for the tin foil and other decorations. However, after all the handling that is done to make them, they aren’t very clean! So, NO, you shouldn’t eat a sugar skull. They are for decorative purposes only.

What’s needed to make Sugar Skulls?

  • Sugar skull molds
  • Granulated sugar
  • Powdered sugar
  • Meringue powder
  • Decorations, colored tin foils, paper flowers, sequins, etc.
  • Corrugated cardboard squares, (one for each skull made) 6″ x 6″ for large skulls. 3″ x 4″ for medium and mini skulls
  • Large metal bowl
  • Measuring spoons
  • 1 cup liquid measuring cup
  • 1/4 cup dry measuring cup
  • Plastic spray bottle for water
  • Electric / stand mixer
  • 16 oz. red Solo plastic cups
  • Butter knives or tongue depressors for mixing color into icing
  • Pastry bags
  • Paper towels
  • Hose to wash down sugar encrusted children!

Sugar Skull Tradition

The traditional Mexican sugar skull is placed on the home altar or the tomb to honor a deceased loved one. It decorates the altar and make it a happy place for the spirit to visit. The name of the loved one is usually written on the skull with icing in the market by the sugar skull maker. You can customize your skulls with characteristics that you remember –– like a tin foil pipe for Grandpa Joe who smoked a pipe on the porch after dinner. Read more Day of the Dead history….

Sugar Skull Decorating Party

If you’re having a party, make up your skulls ahead of time. Prepare your icing and have it ready in bags… Cover your tables, lay out all the icings and decoration supplies, and play Mexican music! Margaritas??? No, not on our order page! Here are some party ideas!

INSPIRATION about sugar skull making


In honor of El Dia de los Muertos, Kitchen Sisters intern, Lauren Benichou made this short documentary film (her very first) about making, assemblying and decorating sugar skulls.