Back to our Day of the Dead Pages Making Chocolate skulls with Molds
Sugar Skull Making Classes Samples of Decorated Sugar Skulls
Making Sweet & Sour Gummy Skulls
HOW TO MAKE SUGAR SKULLS
Simple Instructions on Making Sugar Skulls
for altars & the Mexican days of the dead (dias de los Muertos)
You can purchase these & other sugar skull molds and supplies at our retail gallery in Sacramento or online at: www.zanzibar-trading.com
WE HAVE VERY DETAILED STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS WITH LOTS OF HINTS AND SUGGESTIONS IF YOU SCROLL DOWN
TEACHERS and GROUPS: helpful hints at the very bottom!
If you'd like a QUICK and easy PRINT OUT of simplified instructions in a PDF format, you can click:
Simple Sugar Skull making directions in PDF printable format
HOW TO MAKE
Zanzibar will be offering classes on how to make and decorate Mexican Sugar Skulls
EACH YEAR WE OFFER CLASSES DURING THE MONTHS OF SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER.
Making Sugar skulls is easy and fun for the whole family! All you need is a few basic items, a clean table and a little bit of imagination.
MAKING SUGAR SKULLS IS NOT DIFFICULT. IT IS ACTUALLY VERY EASY. We have simple instructions, however we HIGHLY recommend you read this entire page for LOTS of hints, suggestions and time saving ideas...
The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos, Día de los Difuntos or Día de Muertos in Spanish) is a traditional holiday in Mexico and many South American countries. Based on ancient Aztec mingled with Christian beliefs, this celebration of the memory of deceased ancestors is celebrated beginning at dusk on October 31st through November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls' Day). While the dates overlap, it is not connected with Halloween, although it shares some historical origins. This holiday is quickly gaining popularity in America and could be considered "the new American Holiday".
These days and those leading up to them are marked by festive celebrations to honor the dead. Cemeteries are cleaned and decorated, special food and candies cooked, and home altars are designed in homage to one's ancestors. Colorful sugar skulls, often with the names of family members or friends are decorated and placed on the altar. It is a day of joyous remembrance, not of sadness. The foods, toys, figures, decorations, poems, songs and other items created for El Dia de Los Muertos reflect this outlook.
You can also use our sugar skull and chocolate molds to make sugar skulls, skully chocolates, gummy skull candies, hard skull candies, skull and skeleton lolly-pops, skull soaps, ceramics (using plaster, clay or femo) and even skull ice cubes!
Wanting to make Sugar Skulls?
Looking for an idea of what to expect? Check out some of our SAMPLE DECORATED SUGAR SKULLS
Sugar Skull Making
Celebrate the Day(s) of the Dead
WANT SIMPLE DIRECTIONS?
These instructions are also available in a printable PDF format, just click here SIMPLE SUGAR SKULL MAKING DOCUMENT IN PDF
Sugar Skulls are a traditional folk art
from Southern Mexico used to celebrate the Day(s) 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. While made of edible ingredients, they usually don't taste very good and we don't recommend you eat them.
Make sugar skulls a part of your family tradition to remember your dear, departed loved ones.
Here are the molds we carry in our store and online: Click on each one to view more details
What Supplies You Will Need (Mandatory)
1. A Sugar Skull Mold - There are several sizes of molds - some work better with sugar, while smaller ones are meant to be for chocolate, however you can use them for sugar skulls, too! Available at our retail gallery or online at Zanzibar Trading Company's website: sugar skull molds
2. Meringue Power - A MUST! You cannot make sugar skulls without this. Some sights recommend using a mixture of eggs and food starch. Its messy and in our experience it JUST DOESN'T WORK. You cannot substitute eggs.
Without Meringue powder, your sugar skulls will not stick together and they will just crumble. You can buy it in our retail gallery, online at Merinque powder for Making Sugar Skulls or from specialty cake and baking stores (you usually won't find it in the grocery store).
Michael's Craft stores and SOME Walmarts (not that we support Walmart... but they do carry it) carry a brand by the name of Wilton's. Frankly, and personally, I prefer the brand we sell: CK PRODUCTS MERINGUE POWDER. It smells better! While I'm not sure Wilton's would appreciate it, I think their Meringue powder smells like dirty old gym socks! and frankly, it tends to yellow the skulls and they just don't stick together as well as the CK Products Mirangue powder :) ...and I think our prices online are CHEAPER than anywhere else you'll find it.
3. Super Fine Granulated Sugar (Bakers Sugar) - You can use any brand, and you can use regular white granulated sugar or fine granulated but we recommend Super Fine (sometimes called Bakers Sugar or ultrafine) because it shows more details in the molds. If you're making a lot of sugar skulls or working with kids, then regular granulated or fine is better (it doesn't show the detail, but it pops out of the mold easier...).
4. Powdered or Confectioners Sugar - This will be used to make the royal icing you will use to glue two part sugar skull molds together and to decorate the sugar skulls with colored icing. You can also use it to "dust" the inside of fine molds to get more details.
5. Measuring Spoons - You will need to accurately measure teaspoons and tablespoons.
6. Measuring / Mixing Bowl & Mixing Spoon - to mix your ingredients in. We recommend metal bowls and get the largest bowl you can - the wider the better!
7. Measuring Cup - Use a 1 cup measuring cup to measure dry ingredients. A 1/4 cup measuring cup is also handy if you're making larger batches.
9. Paper Towels - to clean up messes and to dry the sugar skulls molds after the wash them out (which you must do every 3-6 skulls).
10. Cardboard squares - use these to place the sugar skulls on to dry - they should be thick cardboard such as that from a carton of mild, frozen pizza boxes, etc. Cut them into size to cover the size of the skull or parts you are molding. For smaller skulls, some people use an old deck of cards.
11. Plastic knives or popsicle sticks - used to mix the royal icing colors.
12. Newspapers - put them everywhere! making sugar skulls is messy... and putting down newspapers helps keep the clean up to a minimum.
13. Lots of FLAT space to let the sugar skulls dry undisturbed (away from kids and pets).
14. An apron - Working with moist sugar is messy and if you want to avoid getting it on your clothes, use an apron. You may also want to use disposable plastic gloves but we find it is easier to work with your clean bare hands.
15. A hose to wash off the children! - Yes, making sugar skulls is FUN but it is also messy! :)
14. Putty Knife (optional) - you can use this to flatten the backs of the sugar skulls while they are in the molds. A spatula or large wooden spoon also works. Some people use an old playing card or stiff piece of cardboard.
15. Cookie Sheet (optional) - used to provide a flat surface for your skulls to dry or can be used to "bake" your skulls in the oven to shorten dry times.
16. Pastry Bags for icing - (you can also use ziplock bags - just cut a tiny hole in one corner). We recommend the inexpensive disposable plastic bags not the fancy material ones professional cake decorators use.
17. Plastic Spray Bottle (optional) - handy to use to add just a little bit of water to dry mix.
18. Gel or paste food coloring (optional) - the regular liquid food coloring you can buy in the grocery store won't work - it's too watery and won't make bright colors. You can buy the paste colors from us online at www.zanzibar-trading.com or at specialty cake or baking stores. Michael's Crafts and Walmart carry some - but you'll find our prices are usually cheaper. Gel or powdered food coloring also works but we like the paste the best.
19. Colored Foil (optional) - Traditionally in Mexico, brightly colored foil is used to decorate the sugar skulls - remember this isn't edible!
20. Cake Decorating Sprinkles (optional) - You can find many different items in your grocery stores' cake decorating isle - I like to use small sugar sprinkles, stars and other shapes to decorated the skulls. Sugar candies, licorice and other goodies also make good decorations. Of course some people will also use other items - straws, glitter, feathers, beads and all kinds of other funky things to decorate their skulls with! Plastic spiders, gummy worms, plastic jewels, dried flowers - you name it!
21. Sandpaper (optional) - Okay, I know it sounds weird - but you can use course sandpaper to refine the shape of skulls and to get rid of extra icing that has dried. You can also use the handy sanding sponges available at hardware stores.
22. Hand or Stand Electric Mixer (optional) - for making the Royal icing. You CAN mix it by hand but its sooo much easier with an electric mixer. To make royal icing you need to whip it for 7-10 minutes. Not for use in mixing the ingredients for the sugar skulls - just the icing! We STRONGLY RECOMMEND a stand mixer - as mixing Royal Icing is like mixing cement - and often cheaper hand mixers will burn out before it's even done. Stand mixers are built to last forever.
Before you get started...
1. Making sugar skulls is really a 2 or 3 part (two-three day) process
THIS IS NOT A ONE DAY ACTIVITY!
LET ME REPEAT THAT - MAKING AND DECORATING
SUGAR SKULLS IS A MULTIPLE DAY ACTIVITY.
There are multiple steps in making a sugar skull. You'll need one day to actually MAKE the sugar skulls and allow plenty of time to let them dry (you can also cheat and "bake them" to quicken the drying time...more on that later) and another day to decorate your sugar skulls. Large skulls or two part skulls may take 2-3 days to make - one day to make them, 8-14 hours to dry so you can scoop them out, let them dry another day (or two) and then assembling them. Making a large two part skull and decorating it the same day just isn't possible.
Yes, you CAN do small or 1 part skulls all in one day (if you "bake" them) but better to spread it out over a couple of days. Practice! When you first are learning to make sugar skulls it takes a few practice times before you get it right.
2. Don't make sugar skulls on a rainy or high humidity day - they simply won't turn out!
There's a couple of reasons for this - firstly, sugar will actually absorb water from the humidity in the air and secondly, they won't dry properly and will tend to crumble. On high humidity days (such as when it rains), the chemical reaction that binds the sugar together is hampered. And even if you're handling sugar skulls on high humidity days, they can simply crumble or break very easily. SERIOUSLY, if it is an overcast or really humid day - don't do it! If you HAVE NO CHOICE - do it indoors and put your heater on high, close all your doors and windows, put the oven on high and open the door..and dry out your house for a few hours... but there's no guarantee!
3. Follow our directions, but remember this isn't an exact science.
Everyone has a different formula and depending on the ingredients you use, your humidity level and other factors, you may have to adjust the ingredients. There aren't any right or wrong ways to make sugar skulls. Having fun is the most important part. We've given you hints along the way in case you make a wrong step... usually you can just add more water or sugar or meringue powder and keep going!
4. Use Meringue Powder and paste food colorings.
Some recipes call for using egg whites and corn starch, but in our experience, meringue powder is a must! We find that using eggs and corn starch is messy and doesn't give as good as results as Meringue powder. There are two basic brands of Meringue powder: Wilton and CK products. They work the same, however we carry and I personally prefer CK PRODUCTS Meringue powder (it smells better!). You WON'T usually find Meringue powder in the grocery store - only at specialty cake and baking stores, Michael's Crafts and some Walmarts. Don't try and make them without it.
Not all Meringue powers are the same. There are two main brands - CK Products that we sell (smells delicious and works great) and Wilton's. Wal Mart and Michael's sell Wilton's. Personally I prefer CK Products. Wilton's will work almost as good as CK Products - but to me it (Wilton's) yellow's the sugar and smells BAD (like old gym socks). But that's just MY personal experience.
As to the food colorings: the liquid food colors you get in the grocery store will probably disappoint you (the colors will be too light). Spend a few dollars and buy the paste, gel or powdered food colors (these will give you vibrant colors!). These are available from us, or the above places you'll find the meringue powder. Certain colors - esp. black and red take a LOT of food coloring to make an intense color - so buy accordingly. The more intense/dark the color you want, the more coloring you will have to use.
5. Practice before you make a fool of yourself!
Making sugar skulls is pretty easy, even young kids can do it. But it does take a little practice to get it right and not forget any steps. So if you're a teacher, den mother or someone else planning on having a sugar skull making party, do it at least once by yourself in advance so you can get the kinks out.
6. Make extras. Backups are a must!
Sounds simple enough, huh? Just remember, accidents do happen, so plan on making a few extra skulls so you'll have backups! Plus it helps to have a few test ones to get the hang of decorating before you create your masterpiece.
7. Don't get frustrated.
The first time you make sugar skulls, you'll be experimenting, and it is a learning curve. Not everything will work perfectly. When you think you're getting frustrated, remember to relax and breathe, before continuing. It will take several attempts to get the moisture level correct in the sugar you'll be using so that it pops out of the mold and doesn't stick. Sugar skulls will stick in the molds, some will fall apart, you'll drop a few. Remember, just take it slow. Practice helps! If you're planning on making a LOT of sugar skulls, allow plenty of days to spread it out. Don't try and do a marathon day making 100 skulls.
8. Don't expect perfection.
Making sugar skulls takes a little practice. The reality is that life isn't perfect, and real skulls are varied by nature. Don't expect your skulls to be perfect. A little imperfection makes them more realistic! The important thing is to HAVE FUN! Kids usually don't mind an imperfection or two - if they see a crack or a gouge out of the skull they'll explain "cool - mine has a scar!" ... adults are more picky and tend to search for the "perfect" skull - even though most of it will be covered with colored icing. While they usually line up well, sometimes the two part molds will have a visible seam. Just remember - our skulls aren't perfect under our hair and skin - they're bumpy and have imperfections, too! :)
9. All sugars are not the same!
There are four basic types of sugar:
1. granulated sugar (this is the stuff you put on your cereal) WE DO NOT RECOMMEND USING THIS SUGAR TO MAKE SKULLS - it is far too grainy. However it will work (and for kids, it might be a good choice, because the sugar actually pops out of the mold easier, however it will be at the expense of giving up fine details).
2. Fine granulated sugar (this is usually box-packaged and says "good for baking" - it is a finer texture than the regular granulated sugar). This works well for making sugar skulls, although it is a little grainy and won't give you the finest details - sugar skulls will pop out of the molds more easily than those made with super fine sugar.
3. Super fine granulated sugar (sometimes called baking sugar or extra fine sugar or ultra fine sugar). This is the very best sugar to use - you'll get great detail, however it tends to bind a little tighter and will sometimes be tougher to get out of the mold. It is more expensive than regular granular or fine grained sugar, but WELL WORTH THE INVESTMENT unless you're doing a LOT of skulls. You'll find it is easier to work with. Our directions are written for the use of this super fine sugar. You may have to add slightly more water if you use the regular or fine sugars.
4. Powdered sugar (a flour-like consistency). Powdered sugar is used for making the Royal icing that you'll use to stick multiple-part sugar skulls together and to decorate the skulls with when you add colored gel or paste food colors. This is the same stuff you make ginger bread houses out of. Its ROCK HARD and not very tasty but it works great!
10. Use the recommended ingredients.
We've put suggestions on here for a reason - they work. Trust, us, we've made THOUSANDS of sugar skulls! Use meringue powder and gel or paste food colorings. If you don't you'll probably be sorry you didn't.
11. Buy more sugar than you think you'll need. If you're making more than a few sugar skulls, you'll go through a LOT of sugar!
See the charts below to determine how much sugar you'll need - and buy some extra! For example, our large two part three dimensional sugar skull (our most popular style) takes approximately one pound of sugar PER SKULL.
Most grocery stores sell 5 and sometimes even 10 pound bags of baker's sugar (super fine or extra fine, however if you can't find it, it is also okay to use regular sugar). If you're planning to make a LOT of sugar skulls - you should find a wholesale open to the public restaurant supply store (such as Cash N Carry) that sells 50lb bags of bakers sugar.
12. Making sugar skulls is messy!
Wear an apron if you have one. Sugar will get everywhere no matter how careful you are - so consider making them outside on tables if you're making a lot, or if kids will be helping. Put newspaper or wax paper or cardboard down everywhere - counters, floors, tables, etc. If you're doing it outdoors, you'll have to do it during the day - as at night it is too humid. If ants are a problem outside, put the table lets into bowls of water - the ants won't be able to crawl up the table legs then! If you have a choice - do this activity outside!
13. Have plenty of room for the skulls to dry.
You'll need a lot of space for the skulls to dry on flat surfaces. If you're making a lot of skulls, consider having tables outside in the sun (protected from pets). You'll quickly cover all your counter space, dining room table, coffee tables and even the top of the refrigerator so think ahead! Consider putting down wax paper or cardboard to keep sugar off of the drying areas.
14. Put sugar skulls somewhere to dry where pets can't ruin them
inquisitive pets (cats and dogs) can quickly destroy hours of work by crushing wet sugar skulls before they dry. Keep fluffy and fido away from sugar skulls!
15. Making Sugar Skulls is really TWO activities:
First you MAKE the skulls, then you must make the Royal Icing to decorate your skulls and decorate them! Alternately, you can use markers, glue and other items to decorate your skulls, but royal icing, foil, candies, glitter, and other items are traditional.
16. If you're planning on making a LOT of sugar skulls for a party or for a school - be realistic as to which ones you can make
Everyone LOVES making the large traditional, two-part softball sized sugar skull. But it take a long time to make - figure 30-40 minutes PER SKULL from start to finish (without decorating - that's just making the sugar skull!!). You have to mold each side, let em dry, scoop em out and then glue them (with icing) together.. a lot of work. Easy for a few - a ton of work if you're planning on doing 50.
If you're making a lot - consider the ONE PIECE medium mold (or the 2 piece Oaxacan medium - and just use the front half) - in an hour you can easily make 40-60+. This is a great size for kids, too! If you try and make 50 of the large two part ones - you better say goodbye to the better part of three days! From someone who makes THOUSANDS of these skulls a year... trust me!
Adding Meringue powder to your sugar
Mixing the dry ingredients (sugar and meringue powder by hand) Mix the dry ingredients VERY WELL or your skulls won't stick together
adding the water - carefully measureing ONE TEASPOON per cup of sugar - try and sprinkle the water over the surface of the sugar. Once you've added the water - wait two minutes before mixing the sugar to give the water time to be absorbed.
MAKING SUGAR SKULLS:
REMEMBER: Do not make sugar skulls on a rainy or high humidity day. They will not turn out. Wash your hands before starting! While we could recommend you wear gloves, the fact is, they'll get in the way.
SCROLL DOWN FOR REQUIRED MATERIALS AND YIELD TABLES (how much sugar and supplies it takes to make a certain number of skulls)
BASIC RECIPE: For each one (1) cup of sugar, use 1 teaspoon meringue powder (mix dry ingredients well) and 1 teaspoon or water (approx.).
For a 5 pound bag of sugar, use 1/4 cup meringue powder and 10 teaspoons of water (1 teaspoon per cup). Yields approx. 5 large skulls or 20 medium skulls or 100 mini skulls. You'll want to break this up into smaller batches (see below).
For a 10 pound bag of sugar, use 1/2 cup meringue powder and 7 tablespoons water. Yields approx. 10 large skulls or 40 medium skulls or 200 mini skulls.
Mix dry ingredients together well in large bowl: It is VERY IMPORTANT to pre-mix the dry ingredients (sugar and meringue powder) before adding the water. If you don't your skulls will be lumpy and fall apart. MIX VERY THOROUGHLY
1 teaspoon meringue powder for every cup of granulated sugar used. Granulated sugar will produce crude results. Using fine granulated sugar (baking) or super fine (baking) sugar will get you better results - but the finer the sugar (and the more detail) the more difficult it is to extract sugar skull from the mold. If you're making a lot or working with kids - use granulated sugar. If you're out for detail, use the finest sugar you can buy (not powdered).
HOW MUCH? I like to start with a large mixing bowl and put in six (6) to twelve (12) cups of sugar. This is a good size to work with. If you try and work with more than six-twelve cups of sugar it may dry out before you can make all the molds. Of course your bowl size will determine how much you make at a time. Even with a large bowl, don't mix more than 12 cups of sugar as it will be just too much to mix.
Step 1: Mix dry ingredients well. Sure, use your hands - you're not going to eat the sugar skulls anyway (are you - ick!) VERY THOROUGHLY MIX the meringue powder and sugar.
Step 2: Sprinkle sugar mixture with 1 teaspoon water per cup of sugar used. Don't guess - use a teaspoon measuring spoon (not just a teaspoon from your service). Try to evenly sprinkle the water over the surface of the sugar. You'll think this is way too little water - but it's just about right although exact amounts will vary depending on the type of sugar you use, the relative humidity and even temperature. Most people use WAY too much water the fist time because they think that one teaspoon per cup of sugar isn't enough - trust us - it is!!!
Once you've added the water - WAIT two minutes to allow the sugar to absorb the water. If you start mixing right away your hands will get all sticky.
HINT: Just use ONE TEASPOON OF WATER PER CUP OF SUGAR to start!
If using granulated or fine sugar, you may have to add a little extra. Don't use more water - you can always sprinkle a little more if the mix is too dry. You'll have to thoroughly mix the dry sugar in the bowl with the with the gooey sugar where the water is added. Use your hands to mix and knead the sugar. This will take a few minutes. You are essentially CRUSHING the sugar between your hands - kneading it. This takes a lot of effort and can take up to ten minutes. You want all the little globs of water and meringue powder and sugar to be completely broken up.
As you mix the mixture, the sugar will feel colder. This is due to the water evaporating off the sugar granules. You are looking for a crumbly, almost dry sand-like texture that has a hint of moisture.
It takes a few minutes of hand mixing for the water and sugar to mix together.. so there's a bit of a time delay - add water, mix and wait a few minutes. If you get too hasty you'll add too much water and it will be too wet.
You are NOT looking for dough! Use too much water and the mix will be too sticky and won't come out of the mold. Take five to ten minutes to mix the sugar and water together. You'll notice a change in texture and temperature (it will feel colder) when its mixed correctly.
HINT: If your mixture is too dry - you can MIST the surface with a spray water bottle - but be careful... it is easy to add too much water! This will result in more consistent sugar. If you use water droplets it is hard to break them up.
HINT: If your mixture is too wet, gooey or doughy and doesn't crumble easily, you can add more sugar to dry it out! Again, go easy, just adding a few pinches and mix thoroughly for a few minutes before adding more.
It takes a little practice to get it right! Scroll down for more detailed instructions!
SEE DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS BELOW...WITH PICTURES!
Step 3: Using your hands, pack the sugar into the mold, pushing firmly, but not completely packing it really tight. Pay extra attention to the chin, nose and eye areas.
Have a piece of cardboard ready, and turn the mold over. Count to three, and carefully lift the mold. When you turn the mold over the sugar skull should drop out easily... or with just a little coaxing. If you have to pry it out.. your sugar is too wet.. add more dry sugar and mix well!
Keep a spray bottle of water around to add moisture. Moisture will sink to the bottom so keep your mixture churned.
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. Do not use liquid food coloring as it won't work (unless you want a very faint color)!
For chocolate molds & recipe, visit our chocolate mold information page.
*YIELDS ARE APPROXIMATE ONLY
5 pounds of sugar = approx.10 cups
Meringue powder is a "must" and cannot be omitted. It is difficult to find, but may be purchased in 4 oz, 8 oz or 1 pound packages in our gallery or online. Meringue powder is what makes the sugar and the icing hard. Its main ingredients are powdered dry egg whites and starch, but it also includes vegetable gum, cream of tartar, calcium lactate, malic acid and sodium aluminum sulfate. It's totally edible. Just using eggs won't work! NOT ALL MERINGUE POWDER IS THE SAME!! We highly recommend CK Products brand as it works great, however we CANNOT recommend Wilton Brand - it doesn't work as well.
Mix well with hands until every bit of sugar is moistened. This make take up to five or more minutes of kneading and squezing the sugar in your hand (not just mixing). You need to get rid of all the "lumps" of wet sugar and make sure it is consistent.
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. (Left) Remedy: add a LITTLE bit of water! The beach sand analogy works well, because just like making a sand castle, the sugar has to stick together and be firmly packed into the mold. You're not looking for dough.. you want the mixture to slightly crumbe when you cup it in your hand...
Remember, water sinks, so keep the sugar mixture mixed up frequently as you make your sugar skulls.
This skull shows meringue powder that wasn't thoroughly mixed with the sugar before the water was added - creating these little lumps - mix your dry ingredients well before adding water!
Skull on left is a PERFECT MOLD - Skull on right has gaps because the sugar wasn't pressed into the mold firmly enough!
To Mold: Pack sugar mixture FIRMLY
into mold with special attention to chins & edges. Use a straight edge to scrape
the back of the mold flat (I like using a plastic or metal putty knife from the
hardware store) or simply use your hand in a back and forth motion.
Pack down some more until perfectly tight. Place a stiff cardboard square (approx. 5" x 6") (some people use laminated playing cards for smaller skulls, others use wax paper taped over cardboard- personally I like to cut up frozen pizza boxes to the right size) over mold and invert immediately.
NOW - WAIT THREE SECONDS! Patience. Allow the sugar to pull away from the mold and then Lift the mold off carefully. By waiting just a few seconds, you will get a cleaner skull. Don't force it.
Sugar skull should pop out easily. If it doesn't your sugar mixture may be too wet...
Throw any "mistakes" back into your bowl (you'll get the hang of it, but you'll make a few blunders), stir up and try again. If mix is too dry, spritz with a water bottle. If your mix gets too wet, simply add a little more sugar and meringue powder!
Tip: 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 4-5 skulls to avoid sticking. Don't use soap and be sure to dry it very carefully! Try using a paper towel and then drying using a hair dryer on low or no heat. Most Sugar Skull makers will have a collection of molds to make the molding process more enjoyable. To get finer details when using small molds, dust the inside of the mold with powdered sugar before pressing in the wet sugar mixture.
2 Part Molds: Large skulls & two-part molds require a few more steps. They are a 2-piece mold, and must be "scooped out" after they dry for between 1 hour (on a hot day outdoors to up to four - six hours indoors.
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.
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.
Some people remove the excess icing right away. To do this, 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.
Alternately, I prefer to sit the skulls aside for 15 - 30 minutes - then break off the icing before it hardens completely. This is a lot less messy.
Lay skull aside to dry. When seam is dry, about three to six hours minimum, it is ready to decorate.
|To Dry: All sizes of the molded
sugar skulls need to air-dry on their card boards from 8 hours to overnight.
If you make them outdoors on a hot day, they MAY dry in as few as a 45 min. to
an hour to dry, but give em 8 hours to be safe, if you can.
Medium and Mini skulls may be decorated after they are completely dry. Alternately, you can place your sugar skulls (not on cardboard backs!) onto a tinfoil lined cookie sheet and "bake" them. The idea is not to actually "bake" them, just to dry them out (technically called candling them). To do this, set the cookie sheet on your middle rack of your oven, set the oven to its lowest setting (usually around 100-120 degrees (not higher!). Leave the oven door open slightly (prop open about 1"). "baking" time will vary, aim for 10-40 minutes depending on temp. and size of the skulls.
Tip: When assembling the Large 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. Alternately, if the skulls aren't sticking together - your royal icing may be too dry - add a bit of water and mix well.
Tip: The sugar "scoopings" from Large Skulls will net about 30%. (the scoopings from 3 skulls should give you enough sugar to make another one). 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. I recommend adding a little of the powdered mirange powder to help hold these "scoopings" together better. You can also mix these "scoopings" into a new mix of other sugar. If you let it dry out too much, there can be little sugar clumps. Best to use it right away.
Tip: When assembling the Large 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.
USE A STAND MIXER VS. A HAND HELD MIXER
Hand held mixers often BURN OUT with the cement-like consistency of royal icing.
You can make a rainbow of colors of Royal icing to decorate your sugar skulls!
HINT: Use disposable icing bags and TIE THEM CLOSED using zip ties (these plastic pull ties are often used to hold cables together and are available at any hardware store. You can also use twist ties. Do this so that they won't come open and ooze icing everywhere!
Simply cut the tip of your decorating bag or a corner of your ziplock bag - a small opening will do fine lines - larger opening will allow larger amounts of icing through.
You don't have to use fancy cake decorating tips to decorate your skulls - simply snip a small opening in the end of a decorating bag or the corner of a ziplock bag.
Let out your creative side and decorate a sugar skull!
ROYAL ICING TO DECORATE YOUR SUGAR SKULLS:
POWDERED SUGAR FOR ROYAL ICING 1 Pound Box - 3 1/2 cups: 2 pound bag - approx. 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! Here's where the differences start! Sugar Skull making is not an exact science... we like easy measurements! Especially when measuring with kids.
ROYAL ICING RECIPE
HINT: Royal icing is the same consistency as cement - and it turns ROCK HARD (it is the same stuff used to glue together Ginger Bread Houses). If you have or can borrow a STAND MIXER use that to mix the royal icing. Unfortunately, many inexpensive hand mixers will simply burn up while making your royal icing...do not attempt to mix by hand.
MIX: 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# 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 10 great colors on the Order Page of our website. You can order in packs of 4, 8 (1/2 oz containers) or 10 colors in 1oz size.
Mix icing & paste colors in disposable cups. Use small PAPER (not plastic) dixie cups or larger PAPER coffee cups.. You can use popsicle sticks or plastic utensils to mix the frosting. Once your colors are mixed, squeeze the frosting into the bags from the bottom of the cup to the top.
Use pastry bags and plastic decorating tips if you are a pro or into cake decorating. Don't use metail professional cake decorating tips - the royal icing (which is very much the consistency of cement) will bend them and they dry up too quickly. Plastic will not distort and are easier to clean up.
HINT: Place your plastic decorating tip into a disposable plastic decorating bag - then you can simply drop in another icing bag with a colored icing. When you want to change colors but use the same tip ... you can simply remove the colored icing second bag and quickly rinse out the bag with the tip and insert another color!
To easily fill your pastry bags - place them into a large tumbler glass and pull at least 3-4" of the bag down over the edges/sides of the glass. Push out any air and have a space for the icing to be spooned or spatula-ed in. Experiment with different height and size of glasses to fit the needs of your pastry bags or ziplock bags.
Or, substitute a Ziploc freezer bag for a pastry bag and make a very small snip in the corner of the bag. 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 a variety pack. You can buy it in our store on on our website here.
HINT: You can mix TWO COLORS of icing into one bag (use small dixie cups to mix colors then squeeze each on onto different sides of the pastry bag and then squeeze them together!).
OPTION - want to "paint" your sugar skull? You can make your sugar skull more glossy or flat surfaced (this is how they look in Mexico when they are made in ceramic molds) to paint by spritzing it lightly with water after it has dried for a couple of hours. Repeat after 3-4 hours and allow 1 day extra for complete drying. Now you have a flatter, less grainy surface to paint with! Experiment with edible marking pens, paint using the food color gels or pastes or using regular paints (if you're not going to eat it!)
|ALL SKULL SIZES: Have fun decorating your skulls with colored Royal Icing, sequins, feathers, beads, even earrings made from soda pop tops. I also like using "sprinkles" and candy shapes from the grocery store cake decorating isle. 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 non edible decorations. Children in Mexico DO usually eat sugar skulls... but they don't have access to snickers bars and other treats! 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. If keep cool and dry (and away from Ants) your sugar skull can last a year. In Mexico, however, they would never consider saving a skull from one year to the next (however Americans are notorious for this!) We think its fun to make new ones every year! You've got the mold and sugar is cheap, so why not?|
Sugar Skull Molds
Use a blow dryer to help dry your icing faster!
Have a sugar skull decorating party!
Decorating Your Sugar Skulls
Have 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. If you'd like to see some samples of both traditional as well as sugar skulls decorated using the molds we sell, click on Samples of Decorated Sugar Skulls
Can you eat your Sugar Skulls?
There is nothing that will make you sick in Sugar Skulls except for the non-food tin foil, glitter or other non edible decorations you've added.
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. In Mexico, children often eat both home made and commercially purchased sugar skulls (it is often the only "candy" a rural child will get all year and they eagerly await them), however here conveniently Day of the dead falls just after Halloween and we have LOTS of tasty candy to indulge in. Often sugar skulls and the royal icing don't taste very good, either.
How long will my sugar skull last?
In Mexico, new sugar skulls are made or purchased every year. Traditional peoples would NEVER consider keeping a sugar skull from year to year.
Americans are obsessed with keeping sugar skulls! Well, they are a work of art! Sugar skulls are pretty durable (the royal icing is hard as a rock!!) and if kept away from humidity, water and ants, will essentially last forever! Remember that the decorations and the skull itself may be somewhat fragile and so pack them away carefully. So, yes, you can keep them.
Remember - ants and some other bugs will eat them!
Sugar skulls can easily be made a month or more in advance and can be decorated any time. You should make the royal icing on the day you actually decorate or only a few days earlier at the most!)
Traditional Uses: 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. Names 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.
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!
SAMPLES OF NON-EDIBLE ITEMS YOU CAN USE TO DECORATE YOUR SUGAR SKULLS
There are a wide range of non-edible decorative items that you can purchase - everything from glitter, foil and confetti, to googly-eyes and fake jems. You can also purchase food safe markers (pens) or use regular finger paints and craft paints (non edible).
I like Michael's Craft Store - you can find thousands of items to customize your sugar skull or to provide for decorating sugar skulls at a party.
Below is just a sampling, that in addition to candy and frosting, we offer our clients when we do decorating classes.
TEACHER TIPS: What Size should my class make?
We recommend the medium skull for K-3, if you want the students to actually make the skulls. 3rd grade to adult can make the 2 piece, Large skull. All ages prefer to decorate the large skull to the smaller sizes. We do not recommend the mini skull for classroom use. The advantage to the medium skull is that you can make it today, and it's dry and ready to decorate tomorrow. The large skull requires scooping, assembly and more time for drying... which generally takes one extra day. Large skulls require more sugar than mediums, so consider this if cost is an issue. The charts below will help you determine the product necessary for your classroom project. Or, Email me with the details, and I will be happy to figure it up for you.
WANT TO HAVE A SIMPLE, 1/2 PAGE HANDOUT FOR YOUR CLASSROOM? This simple sheet explains what sugar skulls are and gives a link to our website for further information for parents or guardians. Click on the image to the left to see a full size version or you can download a PDF of it and print it on your printer or copier: WHAT ARE SUGAR SKULLS PDF
Alternately, you can review the information here and create your own!
*DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MAKE SUGAR SKULLS ON A HUMID DAY. That means Rain, Rain tomorrow, or yesterday. Sugar freaks out around damp air and the skulls won't dry right, stick right, or hold the icing on. Check your weather forecast.
If you were to have an unexpected rain storm in mid-project, the only tip I can give you is to pray. Then, see if you can "candle" the skulls in a low oven (150 or less degrees) for 15 minutes. Keep the door to the oven open slightly. Lay them on cookie sheets covered with thick newspapers (being careful that the newspapers don't come close to the flames/heating element) to wick the moisture from the skulls. If they don't scorch, you may have fooled Mother Nature. Turn the oven off, and let the skulls sit in the oven over night.
Tip #1 Make a batch of Sugar Skulls at home before trying it in the classroom
Tip#2 Kindergarten - 3rd graders generally cannot mold the sugar skulls without lots of one-on-one assistance from teacher/parents/aides. But it can be done successfully! Teachers may prefer to make the skull blanks at home (a great job for a teacher's aide or overzealous parent volunteer!) Then bring them into the classroom ready to decorate. If dexterity is an issue with the icing bags, the project can be lots of fun to decorate the skulls with the frosting "finger paint style" or with no frosting just using white glue, feathers, sequins, foil, beads, glitter and other "found" objects.
Tip#3 3rd grade and above are able to do the entire sugar skull project... but the molding can get messy. If weather permits, take tables out to the grass and mix and mold the sugar outside. Take a large lined trash can, and plenty of paper towels.
Tip#4 A bucket of water serves as a nice hand washing set up if a sink is not available in the classroom.
Tip #5 Always make a few extra sugar skulls to cover for any accidents that might occur. Kids DROP sugar skulls... and you know crying will happen.. so have some extras!
Tip#6 If making the Royal Icing in the classroom, use a stand Kitchen Aid type mixer for safely. Remember to beat the icing a full 9 minutes. Icing for Assembly of the skulls needs to be a little thicker than the colored icing for the pastry bags... DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE A HAND MIXER - it will burn out (royal icing is the same consistency as cement!)
Tip#7 For younger kids who might have trouble handling the "squeeze" of the icing bags, they can get beautiful, colorful results by finger-painting the icing on with their fingers. Cut tin foil can be patted down on tip of wet icing.
Tip#8 Make sugar skulls as part of a Classroom Altar. Focus on the Multicultural aspects of the holiday.
Tip#9 Have a contest for the best decorated Sugar Skull.
Tip#10 Left over supplies can be used for making gingerbread houses or just decorated cookies during the Christmas holiday. Excess colored tin foils can be used for origami making!
Tip #11 Fundraisers: Students & clubs can make decorated sugar skulls and sell them for a Halloween fundraiser. Great project for Latin / Spanish / Chicano clubs on campus.
Tip#12 Sugar skull making is a good activity to do in conjunction with stories or readings about the holiday. Compare the Mexican tradition and feelings about their deceased with the American tradition. Explore the differences between Halloween and Day of the Dead. Let students research Day of the Dead on the Internet.
Tip#13 Make a classroom altar, and have each student explain why they chose their contribution. Writing exercises in English as well as Spanish can explore students feelings of death, or their thoughts about tradition and ritual.
Don't forget the traditional Mexican music and food!
Medium and Mini skulls can be mixed and molded today, air-dried tonight, ready for icing tomorrow. 2 days, approx. 50 minute sessions for 1-2 skulls per student.
Large Skulls: Generally, takes 3 days, unless creatively choreographed with after school helpers.
Day 1: Mix the sugar and mold the skulls early in the morning. Late in the day, if the skulls have hardened a little, scoop them out. Save the scoopings to mold smaller skulls. If you get a late start, the skulls may be scooped out early the next morning. If it is warm or very dry, cover with plastic wrap so skulls dry out slower. Let the skull halves dry, upside down, overnight.
12-14 hours is usually OK between molding and scooping.
Day Two: Large skulls are ready to be assembled. You need some white icing today for assembly. Let skulls dry until late in the day, or preferably, tomorrow. Have a small group mold medium and mini skulls from the saved "scoopings" from yesterday.
Day Three: Today, the large skulls and the smaller skulls made from scoopings will be well dried, and ready for Icing. This is the real fun day ... Make it a Friday... and hose the kids down with a hose before they go home!
Tip: Let the skulls dry at least 1 day in the classroom before the student tries to take it home. Skulls will be very hard and set up in about 24 hours . If kept dry, skulls will look good for up to 2 years or more!
Problems With Concerned Parents: Some schools have had parents who object to sugar skull making in the classroom for religious reasons. If you are in a school where you anticipate this type of problem, you may want to send home a Day of the Dead information sheet explaining the multicultural nature of the project. Assure the parents that this is not Satanic in any way. Invite the parents to the decoration day. Feel free to Email me if you want to discuss this further.... I've heard just about everything!!!
Getting them home in one piece!
Sugar skulls by nature are fragile. There are steps you can do to hopefully assure that they make it home in one piece. We recommend letting the royal icing dry for a full day. You can also speed up the process by using a hair dryer to "blow" the warm air across the icing.. which will harden it in only a couple of minutes!
When you send them home, you can cut 4x4" boxes in half (see pic) and place the skull in the 1/2 of the box. As long as the child/person is careful - they'll probably make it home. Alternately you can go to a restaurant supply store and buy small "to go boxes" out of cardboard. Write the child's name on the box(es).
To craft the box: Simply buy some 4x4" boxes, either tape the flaps closed or just fold them over.. then using a pair of scissors cut the box in half! Easy! Or go to a restaurant supply store and buy small "to go" cardboard boxes. These are usually very inexpensive.
Skull how to making classes during the months of September and October in their Sacramento, California
HERE for the schedule.
For website front page
Dia de los Muertos
Mexico's Day(s) of the Dead
Zanzibar offers a wide range of merchandise and classes for this ever-growing holiday.
Zanzibar sells sugar skull plastic molds to make Mexican Sugar Skulls for your Day of the Dead Altars (available online or at our retail gallery) plus Mirange powder, paste food colorings, and decorating kits.
SUGAR SKULL SUGAR COOKIE CUTTERS!