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.
How to make your own sugar skulls
DIY sugar skull supplies
Sugar skull molds (find them here, along with the exact recipe)
Oven-safe board for baking
Food coloring paste
Pastry bags and tips (we used round 3 and 4, star 17 and 18, and basketweave 46)
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)
Tiny cookie cutters
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.
Let it dry one of two ways:
- Leave it out overnight, or
- Put it in the oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees.
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.
Decorating the sugar skulls
Mix royal icing in as many bright colors as you’d like, and drop it into pastry bags.
To apply the foil to the forehead for the name and in the eye sockets, use more royal icing.
We used tiny cookie cutters to make decorations out of fondant. And we had plenty of sprinkles and pearls on hand.
- 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.
If you can’t grab the skull and hold it without it breaking or denting, it’s not dry enough.
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.
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.
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.”
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.