A couple weeks preceding Dia de Muertos, we begin creating and preparing the decorations for our altar. One very important element and colloquial symbol incorporated in the altar is the sugar skull (calaverita de azucar).
Sugar skulls represent and honor a departed soul. Customarily, the name of the person the altar is dedicated to is written across the skull’s forehead. If you do not have an altar to display them on, sugar skulls can also be given to loved ones as fun gifts.
This vibrant and folkloric art is a great way to include the entire family in a fun and creative project. Making sugar skulls involves practice, patience and yes, clean-up.
Since there is a lot of handling involved, consuming these sugar skulls is not recommended. They are better at being admired than eaten.
A very important note: Sugar skulls must be made on a day with absolutely no humidity (no rain or fog) at all. The humidity will impede the sugar and meringue powder mixture from drying and your sugar skulls will not set.
This project takes a couple of days to complete. Be very patient. Practice as much as you can and make sure you have a large, clean work area.
Most importantly, have fun, remember your honored loved one and create a lasting family tradition by creating sugar art.
Feliz Dia de Muertos a todos!
YOU WILL NEED:
Sugar Skull Mold (found at arts & crafts stores or online)
Meringue Powder (found at baking stores or arts & crafts stores)
6”x6” Corrugated Cardboard squares
Large metal bowl for mixing
1 Cup liquid measuring cup
¼ cup dry measuring cup
Decorations: Concentrated paste food coloring (found at baking stores), colored tin foils
(you can also use sequins, feathers, beads, glitter etc… let your imagination go wild!)
RECIPE FOR SUGAR SKULL:
5 lb. bag (or 10 cups of granulated sugar)
¼ cup meringue powder
10 teaspoons of sugar
1. Mix dry ingredients by hand in a large bowl then sprinkle in water to mix completely. Ingredients should be completely moistened and must take on a “beach sand” feel. You will know it is ready when you squeeze an amount of sugar mixture on the palm of your hand and your fingers leave an imprint and mixture keeps its shape.
2. Pack mixture firmly in mold. Make sure all crevices are filled completely (pay special attention to skull’s chin and nose). Use a sharp edge to level off the back of the skull flat. Place a corrugated cardboard square over the mold and invert immediately. Lift mold carefully and let skull dry 6 hours. (If the skull crumbles when removing from the mold, start over, return sugar mix back in the bowl and spritz some water into the mixture).
3. When skull feels dry enough to handle, and you are assembling a two-piece (front and back) skull, you must scoop out with a spoon the inside of both pieces, leaving a ½” skull wall. Do not scoop out the neck area. Set the skull front and back pieces back on the cardboard squares and let dry for 12 more hours.
4. Prepare Royal Icing (see recipe below). Royal icing is used to “glue” both pieces together. It will also be used to decorate.
When skull pieces are completely dry, place a ¼” bead of thick royal icing on one side of the back of the skull, either applied with a knife or squeezed from an icing bag. Affix the front and back skull pieces together making sure they are aligned. If icing oozes out, immediately wipe off excess with finger. Let dry for 3 hours. If your sides do not line up straight, use fine sandpaper to even them out.
RECIPE FOR ROYAL ICING:
2/3 Cup water
1/2 cup meringue powder
2 pounds powdered sugar
Mix ingredients with an electric/stand mixer until icing peaks (about 9 minutes). Don’t mix up more than two pounds at a time. Keep in a tightly covered container. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.
TO DECORATE YOUR SKULLS WITH ROYAL ICING:
Use ONLY concentrated paste food colorings (NOT liquid food coloring from the grocery store). Mix icing & paste colors in disposable cups to your desired depth of color. Use pastry bags and metal tips or strong disposable bags and snip the tips to make fun and colorful designs. After decorating, remember to let dry one last time for 3+ hours.
Foil eyes and beads can be adhered to your sugar skulls by carefully applying royal icing and gently pressing them against the skull.
Yields: Four, 4” sugar skulls
Now a wife and a mom to a 2-year old toddler, Ericka launched her bilingual blog Nibbles & Feasts in 2010 as a guide to satiating food cravings through recipes and to share her restaurant recommendations and food events in Los Angeles. You can read all of Ericka´s recipes here.