Introduction: How to Make Sugar Skulls for Day of the Dead

Picture of How to Make Sugar Skulls for Day of the Dead

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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.


urtlesquirt (author)2012-10-28

Try out my recipie. It has no meringue powder, so it is completely safe to eat. It is also easier than having to go to the store and buy some meringue powder

turbobug (author)urtlesquirt2017-10-23

meringue powder is just dried egg whits and is safe to et unless you have an egg allergy.

nealjol (author)2015-07-19

Do these taste good, or are they mostly just for decoration?

SmashleyImpson (author)2011-10-09

Royal Icing made with egg whites (as per Modern Cake Decorating circa 1966)

3 egg whites (room temperature)
1 lb. confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Place ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat for 7 to 10 minutes.
It is used in the same was as the Royal icing with meringue powder, but it will not give as much volume and will not beat up as well for use at a later date.

Hope that helps! Of all my cake decorating books, this one is definitely my favorite.

And for the sugar mold itself:

2.5 lbs. granulated sugar
1 egg white

Mix until the egg white is evenly distributed.

what's the weight of the egg? since 1 egg white could be from a large or medium sized egg

Emiliano Valencia (author)2010-10-15

and its Dia de muertos, not dia de LOS muertos!

Dia de los Muertos is eeeeverywhere dude .. like . You wanna correct them? :)

I'm also confused as to why you say REAL Mexican sugar skulls are not like that, but that you don't know how to make them .. I don't see how the basis for the skulls in this 'ible is any different to the tutorials written by the pro's either (like the website the poster already credited) *shrugs*.

hey men, im mexican and I know how sugar skull are, although i dont know how to make them. Also, I know better than u the name of my tradition.

Any other quenstion?

Dont know what part of Mexico your from but its dia d los muertos jaja. *distrito federal*

I'm not questioning your knowledge of the subject, but I would like to point out that It's not just your tradition, it is many people's tradition, and many of those people call it Día de los Muertos.

You can tell all those people that they're wrong if you like, or you can just enjoy it with them.

it is dia de los muertos


aliencatx (author)2011-08-16

Is there an alternative to using meringue powder for the skulls and the flosting?

sylrig (author)aliencatx2011-08-16

I don't know of one. Technically, meringue powder is itself used as a substitute for egg white, but I can't see how you'd blend the beaten egg white into the sugar and still get the right consistency.

If anyone else knows of how to do this, I'd love to hear, as well.

carlpogi_11 (author)2011-02-28

were did you got that piece of plastic that you use to shape the skull?

sylrig (author)carlpogi_112011-02-28

I got it from our local food co-op, but they can also be ordered online here (more sizes, too!).

spickyboy (author)2010-10-31

pretty nice man
congratulations (:

Emiliano Valencia (author)2010-10-15

Hey, im mexican and REAL sugar skulls aren't like that. they are made up of an evenly thick layer of about 1/4"

sylrig (author)Emiliano Valencia2010-10-15

Hm, maybe you can put up an instructable of your authentic sugar skulls. I'd like to learn.

Emiliano Valencia (author)sylrig2010-10-16

I dont really know how to make them and dont have the molds. But, since this is happening soon, I can upload some pics of them.

sylrig (author)Emiliano Valencia2010-10-17

That would be great--I'll look for your instructables! And please let us know where to view your photos of the sugar skulls, too.

Emiliano Valencia (author)sylrig2010-10-18


Emiliano Valencia (author)sylrig2010-10-16

ill also upload an 'ible on how to make a real mexican "ofrenda" for "dia de muertos" just as we do it here. It'll be on the halloween contest.

debzam (author)2010-10-14

This looks GREAT.
I can't wait to make edible Christmas ornaments for my grandsons using different molds (of course), colored sugar and filling the inside with a suprise.... maybe a detective ring or plastic bug. Hey, they're boys!
This is a good instructable because it inspires other projects. And I've been holding on to that cotton candy sugar since the cheesy machine broke for just such an experiment.

malkie13 (author)debzam2010-10-14

Just a quick heads up on the edibility. First, because of all the drying time, if you want anything made this way to be SAFE to eat, you'll need to take extra care in keeping things food safe. Second, the sugar is ROCK HARD. Unless the pieces are quite small or made very thin, you'll break teeth before chomping in. Third, generally speaking, this mixture does not taste good, at all. Lastly, it's essentially a brick of sugar.

you're supposed to LEAK it not to BITE it.

sylrig (author)malkie132010-10-14

It's true, these harden into something like concrete! They are great for decorating, but would be very hard to eat. There are smaller molds, though, and I believe that the smaller skulls are intended as sweets. Maybe the mixture is different?

malkie13 (author)sylrig2010-10-14

My molds came from the site sourced in the 'able. I actually got to meet the folks that run the site and pick up the molds in person. I have several sizes of molds, and with the mixture as intended for making these, you're going to bust teeth (or have to try and dissolve the corner you're gnawing on).

I've made chocolates with the small molds, so they're great for that. You could probably try tweaking the recipe, but yer still feeding the kids solid sugar.

debzam (author)malkie132010-10-15

I was thinking they'd be more like sugar cubes. Maybe really really thin would be where to start tweaking. Don't want skulls. Not for Christmas, I'm thinking angels or snow flakes. Maybe very thin would look better on the tree and allow light to come through. So far as the pure sugar goes.... #1 I'm the Grandma ;) #2 They will get it anyway at Christmas, #3 Maybe making it myself will instill the love of creating and building in them.
Thanks for the heads up, I take your comments under advisements and will start early so as to have a good softer version by the Holidays.

sylrig (author)debzam2010-10-15

I'd love to see what you come up with--I hope you'll consider posting it to Instructables. :)

illuminatis (author)2010-10-14

GOOD idea on the meringue powder, my kids and i made some of these last year for my youngest's class halloween party, but only used sugar, with a little cornstarch mixed in. Also you can use powdered drink mix (kool-aid, unsweetened of course) to color the skulls, just add BARELY enough water to make the drink mix into a paste( use an eyedropper, 5-7 drops per packet) then paint it on. use a different brush for each color, as the rinsing of 1 brush to change colors will add more water to your "paint" than you want. The the plastic type water color brushes work great, are cheap, and can usually be found in bags containing 10-20. the colors sink in are bold and also flavor the skulls nicely. BTW, the "black cherry" flavor makes a deep blood red color, and if your kids are anything like my boys, they'll love their "bloody" skulls

sylrig (author)illuminatis2010-10-14

I love these ideas, thanks! Will definitely be trying them when we decorate this year.

illuminatis (author)sylrig2010-10-15

You're very welcome. Just remember, that due to the nature of this "paint", it will creep depending on how much water is present in the sugar skull, so fine detailing isn't good(but a combo of "paint" and using icing for details would be better)

pdub77 (author)2010-10-14

Thank you for the new word. Occiput will definitely be in my lexicon now. = )

sylrig (author)pdub772010-10-14

It does come in handy every now and then. :)

angelabchua (author)2010-10-14

Oooh I love anything and everything revolving around day of the dead! These will be great for a party....

AlpineButterfly (author)2010-10-14

Awesome!! I've been wanting to try this for a while, I think you just gave the the guts to do so... Looks like fun!

elimasmx (author)2010-10-13

Great! Thank you (:
I always wondered how the skulls where made.
Now I just need some Pan de Muerto :D

sylrig (author)elimasmx2010-10-13

That sounds like an Instructable waiting to be written. :)

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