Learn how to make Sugar Skulls (Calavera) for the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) using a plastic skull mold then see how to decorate the skulls using colorful royal icing. Watch my Sugar Skull Video Tutorial.
Have you seen elaborately a decorated Sugar Skull and wanted to make one? I have put together a video tutorial to show you how to make sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead but before we get to that let me tell you a little bit about the tradition of making sugar skulls.
What is the Day of the Dead?
- The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a celebration of life, not death.
- It is believed that the gates of heaven open at midnight on October 31st and the spirits of the dead can be reunited with their families. The deceased children come on November 1st and the adults on November 2nd.
- This holiday is celebrated in Mexico and parts of South America but has also become increasingly popular among Latino communities in the United States. We even hosted a Day of the Dead themed party back in 2013.
- Sugar skulls are a traditional craft that are made to be placed on beautifully decorated altars (ofrendas) by the family of a deceased relative during the Day of the Dead celebration.
What is placed on the alter for Dia de los Muertos?
- Every altar (ofrenda) should include the four elements:
- Water - is often placed in pitchers on the alter so the spirits can quench their thirst.
- Wind - is represented by traditional paper banners, known as Papel picados, that blow in the wind.
- Earth - is represented by food and flowers because the cycle of death and life is often associated with new crops growing up in fields where crops died the season before.
- Fire - Candles help the spirits find their way.
Ideas for food to be placed on your Ofrenda:
- Cheesecake Mousse Skulls
- Burrito Skulls or Enchilada Skulls
- Pan de Muerto
- Calavera Cookies
How to make Sugar Skulls
Supplies needed to make a sugar skull:
- meringue powder
- Meringue powder is composed of cornstarch, dried egg whites, sugar, citric acid and some stabilizers.
- Some sugar skull recipes call for raw egg whites, which are fine to use being sugar skulls are meant to be decorations and are not usually eaten.
- granulated sugar
- plastic skull mold
- the recipe below will make 4 sugar skulls that are approximately 4 inches long and 3 ½ inches deep
- I used a mold that I've had on hand for many years. I'll link below to some skull molds that are available on amazon.
- royal icing and food coloring
You can find supplies needed to make these homemade sugar skulls from amazon (commission earned for sales).
Sugar Skull Video Tutorial
Sugar Skull Recipe
- Stir together the sugar and meringue powder then add the water and stir until all the sugar is wet.
- I used a food processor to make sure the sugar gets evenly mixed with the water.
- Squeeze together some of the sugar and if it holds together, it's ready.
- If it's too dry, add some more water, a teaspoon at a time, until you get the right consistency.
How to create sugar skulls using a plastic skull mold:
- Spoon some of the wet sugar into a 3-D skull mold.
- Press the sugar into the mold, compacting it tightly.
- Continue to fill the mold then scrape off any excess sugar so that you have a flat surface on top.
- Fill both the front half and back half of the mold.
- Place a piece of parchment paper and cardboard over the top of the mold.
- Carefully flip the mold and board upside down.
- Set the cardboard on the counter.
- Lift the mold of the sugar skull.
- If the sugar skull sticks it is too wet. You will need to pour the sugar back into the bowl and add a bit more dry sugar to the mixture.
- If the skull breaks apart, it's too dry. Pour the sugar mixture back into the bowl and add a bit more water.
- Allow the skull to dry for at least 6 hours. Then turn it over and allow the other side to dry for at least 6 hours.
- Spread a thin layer of royal icing in between the two halves of the skull.
- Press them together, remove any icing that has oozed out from in between the two pieces, then let dry for at least an hour before decorating.
NOTE: Sugar skulls need to dry hard so it is best not to make them on humid days when there is too much moisture in the air.
You can decorate your sugar skulls using paint, foils, colored glue, glitter, or royal icing.
There is no limit to the designs you can make. Be creative and have fun adding your decorations. I used brightly colored royal icing to decorate mine.
Sugar Skull (Calvera) Recipe
Sugar skulls made using granulated sugar, meringue powder, and water are hardened then decorated with colorful royal icing to be placed on an altar for the Day of the Dead.
- ¼ cup meringue powder
- 6 cups granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- 7 ½ teaspoon meringue powder
- 6 teaspoons water
- 1 pound powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
- food coloring
Mix the sugar, meringue powder, and water together until the sugar holds together when squeezed. If the sugar is too loose add a bit more water.
Fill both the front and back of the skull mold with the wet sugar compacting it tightly so that there are no air holes. Scrape off the excess so that the tops are flat.
Cut some parchment paper and cardboard so that they are a bit bigger than the skull mold. Set the parchment paper over the top of the mold then set the cardboard on top of the parchment paper. Grab onto the mold and cardboard, and carefully flip them upside down and set on the counter. Carefully lift the mold up off the sugar skulls. The mold should come right off. If the sugar sticks, it's too wet. Scrape it out of the mold, clean the mold, and add some more dry sugar to the mixture and try molding it again. If your sugar skulls do not hold together you will need to add a bit more water.
Allow your sugar skulls to dry for at least 6 hours before flipping them over so that the other side can dry as well. Let them dry a minimum of 12 hours.
Make royal icing by whisking the water and meringue powder then adding the powdered sugar and almond extract and beating until it begins to lose its shine.
Spread a thin layer of royal icing on the flat part of the backside of each skull. Press the front and back sides together. Use your finger to wipe off the icing that oozes out from between the two pieces. Allow the icing to dry for at least an hour before decorating your skulls.
Color the royal icing using food coloring then spoon into pastry bags fitted with small round tips.
Pipe royal icing onto the skulls creating any designs you like.
Allow the icing to dry for several hours before using them to decorate your Day of the Dead altar.
- The entire process from start to finish will take approximately 24 hours due to all the drying time.
- These skulls can be eaten but they are really supposed to be used as decoration, not as a dessert.
This tutorial was originally posted on October 29, 2018.