This year was different. But only by the skin of my teeth. And I have to credit Zulka Sugar for that. When they asked me if I'd like to partner with them to do a tutorial on how to make sugar skulls, I knew that this was the year that my declaration would be met!
First, I want to mention how much I adore Zulka. THIS MUCH. Zulka Morena Pure Cane Sugar is produced in family owned sugar mills, from sugar cane grown on family owned farms that are located in tropic regions. Since it is unrefined, it has a beautiful, light golden brown color, a slight crunch, and the lovely molasses-like flavor that I LOVE in a sugar. You can use it in any application in equal amounts that you would regular refined, granulated sugar. Plus, it's non-GMO project verified.
On to the tutorial...let's make sugar skulls! This is a great basic sugar skull recipe - perfect if you've never made them before; also perfect for a classroom or party project.
Basic Sugar Skulls w/ Royal Icing
Prep Time: varies
Cook Time: 10 minutes, optional
Keywords: sugar Dia de los Muertos Day of the Dead Mexican
Ingredients (4 medium (half-) sugar skulls)
- 2 cups Zulka Morena Pure Cane Sugar
- 4 teaspoons water
- 8 ounces powdered sugar
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/2 tablespoon cream of tartar
- food coloring (preferably paste)
- other decorations (see notes)
Instructionsmaking the sugar skulls:
Place sugar in a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Add the water to the well, then mix the whole thing together using your fingers for about a minute, until it feels like wet sand. Use your hands to "knead" the mass a little longer, until it is fairly smooth and no lumps are left in it. Pack the sugar tightly into the mold, and scrape off the excess using a flat edge.
Carefully turn out onto a tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat until all of the sugar is used up.
Let sit at room temperature in a dry place for 5 hours, or until hard and completely dry. Or, go the quick route and place them into a 200° F oven for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely before decorating.
Use an electric mixer to beat together the egg whites and the cream of tartar until no lumps remain. Add the powdered sugar to the bowl; beat on low speed for 10 minutes; it should be very thick and shiny.
To color the royal icing, line at least 5 plastic cups with disposable pastry bags (or baggies). Divide the royal icing evenly among the bags. Stir in enough food coloring (preferably paste, as liquid waters the icing down) to get your desired colors.decorating the sugar skulls:
Decorate your skulls with different colors of royal icing in any shape or pattern that you desire. Use little candies or colored sugars to add texture and shape. Use colored foil, sequins, old jewelry, small flowers, feathers, or anything else that you like to add interest. Add the name of a deceased loved one with icing, and customize to remind you of them.notes:
I call this a "basic" sugar skull tutorial because...well...it is. There are many sizes and varieties (whole/half) of sugar skull molds available. Many sugar skulls are made with the addition of meringue powder. Royal Icing can also be made with meringue powder instead of egg whites. Since meringue powder can be difficult to locate, I wanted to share something that pretty much anybody could make using what's already in their kitchen.
You'll notice that the decorations on the sugar skulls in this post are minimal. This is because I only used things that I already had in my kitchen: the egg white royal icing (slightly runnier than ideal because I only had liquid food coloring), red hots, colored sanding sugars, and heart "sprinkles". Also, I used baggies with the end snipped off to pipe the icing - it definitely does not look as pretty or precise as icing made with paste food coloring and piped with thin metal tips...but it works for a fun, inexpensive project. In the end, the icing did harden up nicely, though.
If you are making a large batch, or using larger molds, both recipes are easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, etc. If you are making more than 4x the recipe, limit a single batch of royal icing to no larger than 2 lbs of sugar at a time (make multiple batches).
While you are decorating, tell happy stories of your deceased loved ones. Use colored foil, icing, or anything that you can find to make something to personalize the skulls (a baseball cap for someone who loved baseball, glasses, kitchen utensils, pipe, etc.). Write the name of your loved one on the skull with icing.
Place the decorated sugar skulls alongside other items that help you celebrate the memory of your deceased loved ones. Add photos of them, pan de muerto or other sweet breads, mugs of cafe de olla, a bottle of tequila, richly colored flowers, candles, trinkets, milagros, saints, crucifixes, fruit and candies, and more of their favorite foods - anything to remember and honor the memory of those you've lost. Make it as simple or as elaborate as you like, just make it personal.