Sugar skulls are by far the most popular symbol of Mexico's most famous holiday, Dia de los Muertos (known as "Day of the Dead" in English).
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Called "calaveras de azúcar" in Spanish, these sugary sweets are sold everywhere on the days and weeks leading up to Day of the Dead. Market stalls are lined with rows and rows of colorful skulls, created from sugar and decorated with multi-colored icing, shiny foil, sequins and glitter.
These festive treats are also made at home. Sugar skulls are given as gifts to both the living and the dead, often with the name of the recipient written on the skull's forehead in icing.
Keeping with the true spirit of Day of the Dead, sugar skulls are not creepy or morbid. Instead, they are happy, vibrant candies that are often smiling or laughing. The bright colors and sparkly decorations on the sugar skulls are cheerful enough to clear away any fear or concern about what they stand for.
There is a lot of room for creativity when it comes to making and decorating sugar skulls. To start with, designs and patterns are added with icing made of eye-popping colors like bright yellow, hot pink, neon blue, vivid orange and glowing green in various combinations. They can be decorated with glitter, beads, rhinestones, feathers, and anything else that can stick to the icing.
Female skulls can be adorned with paper or plastic hats, similar to Posada's famous Catrina. Male skulls can wear sailor hats or cowboy hats. When plastic googly eyes are added, the skulls really seem alive!
I'll show you several different ways to make and decorate sugar skulls just like the ones you see on this page, almost all of which were made by me!
My detailed step-by-step tutorials walk you through the process of making sugar skulls, with heaps of photos and ideas to help you along and get your creativity flowing.
Table of Contents
- How to make medium to large sugar skulls like the ones you see above
- How to make life-size sugar skulls like the ones on the right
- How to decorate sugar skulls
- How to mix royal icing to decorate sugar skulls
Sugar skulls can be easily made at home, using 3 main ingredients:
- granulated sugar
- meringue powder (which is important for hardening the sugar)
To decorate the sugar skulls, you can use things like:
- colored icing — the most common way to decorate sugar skulls
- fake feathers
- fake flowers
- wrappers, labels or stickers
- doll clothes or miniature accessories
- small quirky items from a dollar store
…and anything else you can think of to personalize your skulls.
Look at the sugar skull photos on this page and see all the different designs you can make with icing — squiggles, waves, swirls, dots, hearts, crosses, stars, flowers, etc. You can also use colored icing to inscribe someone's name on the skull! Click here for more decorating ideas and techniques.
Can you eat sugar skulls?
Although the main elements used to create sugar skulls are edible (sugar, icing, and meringue powder), it is generally not a good idea to eat sugar skulls because of all the handling that goes into making them. Plus, eating one would be pure sugar overload. Instead, they make great decorations, and they can last up to a year or more!
Return to the main Day of the Dead page.