Updated for 2021
Every year that my boys were in elementary school, we would make sugar skulls for Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) for both of their classes. It’s a pretty simple process to make the skulls and the frosting. We made about 60 of them because we wanted to have enough in case some of them broke, and for our family to decorate as well.
It was time consuming, but worth it. The classes had a great time decorating the skulls with royal icing and learning the history of Día de Los Muertos.
This recipe makes about 60 small skulls, but you can adapt it for any number.
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Día de los Muertos begins the day after Halloween and ends on November 2nd. It’s a time for people to celebrate their loved ones who have passed away by creating elaborate altars and visiting the cemetery. The altars include offerings of bread, wine, marigolds, and anything the person loved while they were living.
The holiday is celebrated in Mexico and other parts of Latin America and keeps getting more popular every year in the United States. You can find Day of the Dead decorations at Target and Cost Plus or see the wonderful animated films, Coco or Book of Life.
My boys and I will be making dozens of skulls again this year for their classes, and I wanted to share with you how we made them. The video below demonstrates how to make a couple of skulls. Below that I explain how to make enough for a class (or two).
How to make Sugar Skulls for Día de los Muertos
(all supplies can be purchased from our Amazon Shop.)
10 lbs. sugar
1/2 cup meringue
7 Tablespoons water
Medium size sugar skull mold
40 small pieces of cardboard (for display)
2 lbs. powdered sugar
1/2 cup meringue
2/3 cup water
gel food coloring for decoration
Makes 40 sugar skulls
(The video has step-by-step instructions, too.)
Like I said in the video, the first thing you’ll need is a medium size skull mold (which we’ve linked to in our Amazon Shop), or you can check local craft stores or Mexican markets to see if they sell the molds. You will also need pieces of cardboard cut to be 3 1/2 inches wide by 4 1/2 inches long.* You’ll need one for each sugar skull. Once you have the mold and you’ve cut the cardboard, you can make your sugar base.
You need sugar, high-quality meringue, and water. I bought Wilton meringue at Michael’s and the cheapest sugar I could find. (You don’t eat the sugar skulls! So the quality of the sugar doesn’t matter.) To make 40 medium skulls, you’ll need 10 lbs. of sugar, a 1/2 cup of meringue, and 7 tablespoons of water.
Mix the sugar in a large bowl with your hands until if feels like sand.
Then you put the sugar in the mold and pack it. Using an extra piece of cardboard, scrape the back until it’s smooth (see video at 1 minute 10 seconds). Then place cardboard over the back and turn over.
Repeat until you have as many as you need (make a few extra in case a few break) and let dry for 24 hours. You can let them dry out overnight for 8 or more hours, but I think 24 is safer. Make sure they are left in a dry place. If there’s moisture in the air they won’t dry properly.
Once they’re done, it’s time to make the Royal Icing to decorate. Remember, you don’t eat the skulls or the icing. The icing is more like a paste. For enough icing to decorate 40 skulls, mix 2 lbs. of powdered sugar, 1/2 cup of merengue, and 2/3 cup water in a standing mixer and beat until stiff peaks form – about 10 minutes.
Separate the icing into bowls and use food coloring to make any colors you want. We made black, yellow, red, blue, and green. Place frosting in pastry bags to decorate.
With the help of parent volunteers, we separated the kids into groups so only about 5 kids were doing the skulls at a time. You can have the other kids listen to the story, decorate cookies, or make papel picado.
Once it’s done, you can have the kids loosely wrap the skulls and cardboard in old newspaper so they can take their craft home.
Making Sugar Skulls for Día de los Muertos is a fun craft that allows kids to be creative while also teaching them a little bit about Mexican culture.
This post was written by Yvonne Condes, co-Founder of MomsLA. She writes at YvonneInLA.com.
*You can use cereal boxes, used shipping boxes, or shoe boxes.