Sugar Skulls

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Updated on Sep 25, 2014

In Mexico, it is customary to honor relatives that have passed away by constructing an altar for them on Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. These altars, or ofrendas, are usually large tables covered in colorful cloths, where relatives place pictures of their loved ones, light candles for them, and leave offerings of favorite foods. They also decorate these altars with flowers and uniquely-decorated sugar skulls. Get started on your own ofrenda with this easy sugar skull project.

What You Need:

  • ¼ lbs. meringue powder
  • 5 lbs. granulated sugar
  • 3.5 tbs. water
  • Sugar skull mold (optional)
  • Toothpick
  • 1/3 c. water
  • ¼ c. meringue powder
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • Food coloring
  • Sandwich-sized zip-closure bag
  • Scissors
  • Powdered drink mix (optional)
  • A few drops of water (optional)
  • Paintbrushes (optional)

What You Do:

  1. Mix the ¼ pounds of meringue powder, 3.5 tablespoons of water, and granulated sugar in a large bowl. Have your child knead the dough with his hands until it has a soft, malleable texture.
  2. Have your child form a few handfuls of the dough into the shape of a skull, or pack the mixture into a mold (can be bought online). Your child can roll the dough into a ball to make a head, then press a fingertip firmly into the front of the skull to make eyes. He can also use a toothpick to draw teeth or make “nostrils” in the center. Make sure the mixture is packed tight; any air bubbles could cause your skull to “deflate”.
  3. Gently lay the skulls out on a wire rack and let them dry overnight.
  4. The next day (or whenever your skulls have completely dried), make royal icing to decorate your skulls. Beat the 1/3 cup of water, ¼ cup of meringue powder, powdered sugar and food coloring with an electric mixer, until the color is blended and the icing “peaks”. You can make multiple batches of different colors if you wish.
  5. Turn the sandwich bag inside out. Have your child place his hand inside of it so that his hand is touching the outside of the bag – like an inside-out glove.
  6. Have your child scoop up a big handful of the icing. Pull the open end of the bag up, over and off of his hand, so that the bag is now “right-side out” and the icing is now on the inside.
  7. Let your child carefully snip off a tiny corner of the bag.
  8. He's just made his very own pastry bag! Your child can use his new pastry bag to decorate his sugar skull. Help him carefully squeeze the royal icing out of the small hole in the corner and draw dots, squiggles, and other festive designs. Tell him to work fast, because royal icing dries quickly!
  9. You can also use the royal icing as a “glue” to attach decorations like feathers, sequins, or beads.
  10. If you don't want to invest in the time and effort it takes to make the royal icing, you can also combine powdered drink mix with a few drops of water to make a colorful (and yummy-smelling!) paste. Just mix the drink mix with just enough water so that it becomes thick and frosting-like, but not runny. Dip a skinny paintbrush into the paste and apply it to the skull.
  11. Let the decoration dry for a few hours.
  12. When the icing has dried, your child can place them around the house to decorate them, or create an altar to honor loved ones in your family.

Sugar skulls are made of food ingredients, so they are safe to eat. However, they are traditionally used as decoration only. To make edible sugar skulls, melt white chocolate chips in the microwave and pour the melted chocolate into a skull mold. Place the filled mold in the freezer for about 30 minutes and decorate with the royal icing once chocolate has set.

Jody Amable is an Assistant Editor at She has previously worked as a camp counselor, and spent her college years hosting birthday parties for kids at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. She has a degree in Journalism from San Francisco State University and writes for local blogs, magazines and weeklies in her spare time.