I adore all things Halloween - the costumes, the candy, the spooky decor - so each year I try to post something special here to celebrate. The past two years I've created movie-inspired cakes (see here and here), but this year I'm doing something a little different. Recently my best friend created the most beautiful ofrenda skull, and it inspired me to make one of my own!
If you're not familiar with sugar skulls and their meanings, then here's the gist of it: Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday that takes place October 31, November 1st and 2nd. During this time, spirits are welcomed back to their homes with decorated altars made by their loved ones. Sugar skulls are an important part of this decor and they commonly bear metallic embellishments, brightly colored icings and the name of the deceased loved one being honored.
I'd never made sugar skulls before, so I thought it'd be fun to document my first attempt with a video (you can find that a little later in this post). It was a fun process, and reading all the history and tradition behind the holiday really made it meaningful.
It wasn't too hard to choose a subject for my sugar skull. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is one of my favorite artists of all time. Her work is beautiful, tragic, ugly, and honest. It's full of pain but also the love of life. Much of her life was spent in physical pain due to a bus accident that shattered her spinal column, and she also suffered emotional pain because of the man she chose to love (the marriage of a dove to an elephant, some called it - you can guess which is which). But from all this pain and loss and love grew beautiful works of art from her hands, most of them self-portraiture.
Speaking of hands - I bet you saw the above picture and wondered why my sugar skull is wearing a hand as an earring. You can see Frida wearing these in "Self Portrait Dedicated to Dr Eloesser". The earrings (called milagros) are wax pieces shaped in the form of the body part that a person wants to be healed. The earrings were a gift from Pablo Picasso, during the time she was recovering from a hand injury.
But enough backstory for now - on to the creative deets! To get started, you'll need a sugar skull mold. I love the look of the larger 3D skulls (more room to decorate!) and I found a nice mold here. According to this site, good meringue powder is also a must! I followed their advice and used CK products meringue powder, and the blanks turned out beautifully. You can see the results of my very first attempts in the video embedded below.
You'll need to whip up a batch of royal icing to assemble the skulls, which shouldn't be a problem since you'll already have the meringue powder on hand. Before putting the two halves together, the middles of the skulls need to be scooped out to about 1/2 inch thickness. This lightens the weight of the skull so they can stand upright. Only scoop out the skull portion - leave the chin portion as-is.