Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated on November 1 and 2 in Mexico and many parts of the United Statesl. Sugar skulls are part of the traditional altar, or ofrenda, and are very simple to make. You need only sugar (both granulated and powdered), meringue powder, skull-shaped molds and some icing coloring. You'll also need a couple of days to make them, as there is drying time involved.
I want to credit this website, which not only sells all variety of skull molds, but also has detailed instructions on making and decorating sugar skulls. All recipes are theirs.
Step 1: Ingredients for the Skulls
This will make 10 large skulls:
10 lbs. granulated sugar
1/2 c. meringue powder
7 Tbs. water
Add the meringue powder to the sugar and blend thoroughly. Sprinkle the water over the top of this, and blend until it has the texture of soft beach sand.
Step 2: Molding
Pack the molds firmly so there are no air spaces which could cause the skull to collapse. A butter knife helps tamp the sugar mixture into corners.
When the mold is full, use the same knife to level the surface, place a square of cardboard over the top, flip and gently remove the mold.
Step 3: Drying and Assembling
These particular large molds had two parts: a face and an occiput. Let all the parts dry overnight, then carefully nestle them in your palm and scoop out the center on each side to facilitate drying. Place the pieces hollowed side up and let dry overnight again.
Step 4: Royal Icing
Royal icing is both your mortar for putting the skull halves together and the decoration. It is made thus:
2/3 c. water
1/2 c. meringue powder
2 c. powdered sugar
food or icing colors
Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until icing turns glossy and retains stiff peaks. It must be used as soon as possible, as it hardens in air.
Use a cake decorating bag or a baggie with the corner cut out to squirt the icing out in controllable lines. The skulls need to be assembled first. Icing can be spread or squirted onto one of the halves, then press the two parts gently together. If there is a noticeable gap, add more icing and smooth it out with your finger.
Step 5: Decorating
At this point, all you have left is the decorating. More royal icing can be colored and put in icing bags (or baggies). Icing gels give deeper color than regular food coloring and will likely be found in the same place you find your meringue powder. (see photo below)
The skulls can be decorated with a single color, or with as many vibrant tones as you desire. These skulls are meant to be more festive than frightening and thus, this is a project kids of all ages seem to enjoy. There are no rules in how you embellish, except for one:
Traditionally, the name of the deceased loved one you are remembering would be written across the forehead. You can also write it on a piece of colored foil and attach that with the icing.
Place your finished sugar skull in an ofrenda or anywhere else it will be visible and help you to remember your loved one.