How Do You Get Día De Los Muertos Sugar Skulls To Keep Their Shape?

Sugar skulls, unlike many traditional foods consumed during Día de los Muertos, are not meant to be eaten. They are handcrafted with love and placed on graves and altars to celebrate loved ones and welcome their spirits back among the living. Although this celebration takes place right after Halloween, Mexico's Day of the Dead is far from dark and spooky, and is instead brimming with color and love. That's why sugar skulls are decorated so ornately, often adorned with someone's name on the forehead to honor them, piped with eye-catching patterns and swirls, and bedazzled with glittering rhinestones. Making sugar skulls, known as calaveras de azúcar, is a simple process. All you need is sugar, water, and a binding agent: The trick is in getting them to keep their shape, so you don't have a skull-shaped pile of loose sugar. The secret ingredient is meringue powder.

If you're able to get a sugar skull mold, it becomes even easier and can give you a more satisfying end result, but sugar skulls can also be molded by hand if you've got the patience. Mix a few cups of granulated sugar with meringue powder as the binder, sprinkle with water, and stir until it feels like wet sand. Meringue powder substitutes like egg whites can be used instead, which will also hold the sugar skulls together nicely. The proteins found in both of these ingredients are necessary for the sugar skulls to stay intact.

Egg whites bind the sugar skull, icing seals it together

Once the right texture is achieved and you've tightly pressed it into the mold, your sugar skull will dry completely overnight or when heated for 20 minutes in the oven at 200° Fahrenheit. The meringue powder you've mixed in acts as an edible fixative to hold the sugar together and pull out the moisture during this stage. This is the same principle as a royal icing recipe, which dries to become hard and shiny, and also why egg washes work so well in attaching pastry edges and keeping toppings like sesame seeds stuck to baked goods. One helpful trick for keeping your sugar skulls together is to carefully scoop some sugar from the skull's center until it's about ½ inch thick. If you've created a back of the head for your skull, the aforementioned royal icing can be used to keep both halves of your lightweight skull together.

When it comes to decoration, you could stick with tradition and add colors with specific symbolism. But you can also make their designs as festive as you like. Add food coloring, pipe some patterns in icing or color fondant. It's always a good idea to go a little extra with gems, feathers, sequins, or colored foil, unless you're really into consuming pure sugar and actually plan on eating them.