Making sugar skulls is just part of the Dias de Los Muertos (Days of the Dead) celebration. November 2nd is the day that loved ones return from the dead and are greeted with alters covered with foods, sugar skulls and other offerings. In Mexico, death is not the end but in fact the beginning of life.
In Mexico (and in some Mexican markets in the U.S.) you can purchase pre-made sugar skulls. They vary in size from 1" to almost life-size. For home skull making we prefer the 3 or 4 inch size mold. The smaller molds are better for little hands and the larger molds can be used for older children.
The skulls are very easy to make. Just follow these simple instructions.
Preparation And Materials
Assemble your ingredients. You will need about 1 pound of sugar per large skull. Make sure to have the following materials ready:
The skulls need about 8 hours to dry before decorating
Make a test skull (optional)
Sugar Skull Directions
Place the meringue powder and the sugar in a bowl large enough to allow you to mix the ingredients by hand and stir until well blended.
Add the water and mix with your fingers until all the sugar mixture is moistened. Once the mixture is about the texture of "moist beach sand" it is ready to mold. You may need a bit of extra water if so just add a few drops at a time.
Once the sugar is moist pack it into the molds. Our large mold has 2 pieces so pack sugar into both sides. Make sure to pack the mold firmly, scrape the mold with a straight edge (use a ruler or the back of a straight kitchen spatula or knife), then pack again. Check the mold to make sure all the indentations are smoothly filled.
Lay your cardboard on top of the skull mold and invert onto the platform as you would a cake layer on a plate.
Gently lift the mold away from the sugar skull. **Note: Hand wash the mold after every 5 skulls to prevent sticking.
Your skulls should now be placed aside to partially harden -- about 4 hours. They need to be hard enough to hold in your hand without falling apart but firm enough to scoop. You may have to sacrifice one for testing. Now, if you are impatient like we were and you try to move the skull before it dries, it will fall apart. If this happens just place the sugar mixture back in the bowl, add additional moisture if needed and remold the skull.
Once the skulls are dry enough to handle (around 4 hours) then they can be hollowed out. This time will vary depending on room temperature and humidity. If they over-dry they will be very hard to scoop. Hold the skull carefully in your hand and scoop the insides out with a spoon until it is about 1/2" thick. Don't scoop around the neck area which is too narrow and may break. **Use the "scoopings" for making more skulls.
Allow the hollowed skulls to dry upside down on their platforms at least a full 12 hours.
When the skulls are completely dry dust them off and assemble. Make a batch of Royal Icing (recipe below).
Use an icing bag and pipe a 1/4" bead of icing around the back of one half of the skull then press the two sides of the skull together to fuse. Use your finger to smooth the icing over the seam. Set the skull aside to dry.