How to Make a Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls

One of the most iconic symbols of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the sugar skull. Also known as calaveras, they are a delightful and meaningful aspect of the tradition.

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Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a 3,000-year-old tradition in Mexico where people honor those who have passed away. The colorful celebration of the cycle of life takes place on Nov. 1-2. The Aztecs believed to live was to dream and to die was to awaken, and jovial skeletons are used to represent the acknowledgment of death as part of our life journey.

Sugar skull

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Traditional sugar skull used at mexican offerings or "ofrendas" for Day of the Dead celebration with marigold or "cempasuchil" flowers. high contrast image

Photo by: Fer Gregory

Fer Gregory

One of the most iconic symbols of Día de Muertos is the sugar skull, also known as calaveras. To make sugar skulls, granulated sugar is mixed with water and meringue powder and pressed into skull-shaped molds. The sugar relays the sweetness of life. Once hardened, they are adorned with iced frosting, glitter, foil, gems, shiny sequins and glitter. Names of loved ones are written across the forehead and placed at the ofrenda (altar) to bond the living with the dead. You’ll never see a scary calavera for Día de Muertos.

Sugar skulls

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High contrast image of sugar skulls used for "dia de los muertos" celebration in a purple background with cempasuchil flowers

Photo by: Fer Gregory

Fer Gregory

Making sugar skulls at home is easy. All you need are a few ingredients and supplies.

For the Skulls, You'll Need:

  • 2 teaspoons of meringue powder
  • 2 teaspoons of water
  • pieces of cardboard that fits over the size of the skull

Mix the dry ingredients together in the bowl. Sprinkle in the water and continue to mix until the sugar is completely moistened and becomes the consistency of moist sand.

Fill the mold with the mixture, and pack it evenly and firmly. Cover with piece of cardboard and quickly flip it over so the sugar skull pops out onto the cardboard.

Cover your skulls with plastic wrap (to keep ants away) and store them on a flat surface in a cool, dry place to fully harden for about 24 hours.

Sugar skulls

Once the sugar skulls are hard, they are ready to decorate. Work on a clean, flat surface. The meringue powder solidifies the Royal Icing mixture into a rock-like surface. It goes on like icing but will dry to a very hard finish.

For the Royal Icing, You'll Need:

  • 2/3 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup meringue powder

  • 2 pounds of powdered sugar
  • electric mixer

  • food coloring
  • 1 icing bag for each color
  • icing nozzle and tips (optional)
  • plastic bowls
  • spoon

Use different nozzle tips for different effects and incorporate gems, sequins, ribbons, silk flowers or whatever you’d like. You can also use a fine-point frosting tip to write the name of a loved one across the forehead of the sugar skull.

Icing

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Piping bag with different color of royal icing.

Photo by: Arina P Habich

Arina P Habich

Sugar skulls

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Sweet Mexican Sugar Skull

Photo by: PAOLA GOMORA

PAOLA GOMORA

If adding crystals or gems, apply them while the icing is wet, so they will dry in place.

Go wild with your decorations! Mix two colors in one icing bag for a blended look, add lace, even little hats, as shown here. It is a big event for the spirits to come back to visit for a day of Dia de Muertos, so make it as lively as possible for them.

Sugar skulls

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Candy skulls for the day of the dead in Mexico

Photo by: Manuel Vazquez Lopez

Manuel Vazquez Lopez

In addition to creating traditional sugar skulls, you can create other treats like sugar skull cookies. Just like the sugar skulls, you can have fun decorating them with edible glitter and bright frosting.

Sugar skull cookies

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Step by step. Decorating sugar skull cookies with different color royal icing.

Photo by: Arina P Habich

Arina P Habich

Chocolate skulls are also a treat to make for Dia de Muertos. Simply use melting chocolate in a silicone baking mold, let cool and then carefully remove them. Decorate with royal icing. But remember, these will melt so don’t place them in direct sunlight.

Day of the Dead celebration

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Day of the dead celebration

Photo by: Suriel Ramzal

Suriel Ramzal

No matter which method you choose, they will all look and bring happiness to your Dia de Muertos ofrenda!

Day of the Dead celebration

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Mexican Day of the dead altar created entirely for this image session. Carefully arranged all the pieces, candles and flowers. Front View

Photo by: Nathalie Speliers Ufermann

Nathalie Speliers Ufermann

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