DIY calaveras de azúcar: Making your own sugar skulls

Calaveras de azúcar—literal sugar skulls—are beautiful pieces of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition. Names of deceased loved ones are written in royal icing on the foreheads, and they’re placed on altars created to celebrate their lives and loves. As part of Hallmark’s #my5days creative renewal program, members of our creative team learned how to make and decorate sugar skulls. 

Sugar skulls decorated by Hallmark Artists

How to make your own sugar skulls

DIY sugar skull supplies

  • Sugar skull molds (find them here, along with the exact recipe)
  • Sugar
  • Meringue powder
  • Water
  • Bowl
  • Oven-safe board for baking
  • Sheet pan
  • Royal icing
  • Food coloring paste
  • Pastry bags and tips (we used round 3 and 4, star 17 and 18, and basketweave 46)
  • Color fondant
  • Sprinkles, jimmies, and pearls
  • Decorative color foil
  • And (while we’re at it with the non-edible decorations) feathers, beads, and other baubles (because otherwise sure, you could eat your sugar skull, but you probably don’t want to)
  • Offset spatula
  • Spoon
  • Craft knife
  • Scissors
  • Tiny cookie cutters
  • Tweezers

Filling a sugar skull mold

Make the sugar skulls

Follow the directions that come with your mold to mix the sugar, meringue powder, and water to the consistency of beach sand. It should clump when you grab a handful.

Pack it into each side of the mold, and scrape off the excess with the offset spatula.

Cover the open side of the mold with a board, flip it, and pull the mold away. The skull should hold its shape.

Unmolded sugar skulls

Dry sugar skulls on a sheet pan

Let it dry one of two ways:

  1. Leave it out overnight, or
  2. Put it in the oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees.

Scooping the insides out of a sugar skull so it dries faster

When it’s mostly dry, hollow out the skulls so they’re not too heavy: Use a spoon to scoop sugar out of the flat side, leaving about a 1/2″ thick wall.

Use white royal icing to “glue” the front and back half of the mold together. The basketweave 46 tip is great for covering the seam with decorative icing.

Gluing the front and back of a sugar skull together with royal icing

Decorating the sugar skulls

Mix royal icing in as many bright colors as you’d like, and drop it into pastry bags.

Colorful royal icing in pastry bags

To apply the foil to the forehead for the name and in the eye sockets, use more royal icing.

Color fondant cut into flowers, leaves, and butterflies

We used tiny cookie cutters to make decorations out of fondant. And we had plenty of sprinkles and pearls on hand.

Decorative pearls and sprinkles

A sugar skull being decorated to look like Elvis

Pro tips

  • Decorate the back of the skull first and let it set—then you can set it down and focus on the face.
  • Using a rotating cake stand is handy for rotating the skull as you decorate.
  • Resident royal icing artiste Bernard S. used a mug to hold his sugar skull.

A sugar skull being decorated by a Hallmark Artist

If you can’t grab the skull and hold it without it breaking or denting, it’s not dry enough.

A sugar skull being decorated by a Hallmark Artist

Some people in our workshop had great plans and research, and others improvised. Go online to find get ideas for traditional Calaveras de azúcar designs—or just let your ingredients speak to you.

A sugar skull being decorated by a Hallmark Artist

A sugar skull being decorated by a Hallmark Artist

Because molds aren’t super-detailed, you’ve got plenty of room to play with the facial expressions. Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, after all—so these skulls shouldn’t look sullen.

A sugar skull being decorated by a Hallmark Artist

In fact, you can also make sugar calaveras for the living—yourself, your children, friends. Just add their names and give them as gifts. According to Hallmark Vida Editorial Director Christy M., that means you are “holding a place for them in the underworld.”

A sugar skull decorated by a Hallmark Artist

A sugar skull decorated by a Hallmark Artist

A sugar skull decorated by a Hallmark Artist

If these beautiful, festive sugar skulls have you curious about Día de los Muertos, find out more about its history, building an ofrenda (altar), making papel picados (paper banners), and how one artist celebrates.

Hallmark Artist Sharon V. partnered with Bernard S. for this workshop.

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  1. 10.31.18 | Reply
    Beth wrote:

    Sharon! I LOVE your skulls! BB