A Dying Art

After the garish plastic skeletons of Halloween are cleared away, something far more haunting, yet entirely joyous remains in their wake. Sugar skulls, glittering sweet crystals dried into the shape of a human head, shine in the dark of night to honor the dearly departed on Día de los Muertos.

When the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31st, deceased loved ones can return and spend the day with their families, drawn to the calavera made in their likeness. Decorated with colored icing, the most basic are technically ghoulish sugar cubes, super-sized for a couple gallons of coffee, but not exactly something you’d want to consume. Most artists incorporate inedible media like feathers, glitter, sequins, foil, and fabric, treating them more like sculpture than food, since there’s no such thing as too colorful nor too flamboyant to match the most vivacious personalities.

Traditionally, the “glue” that binds these sweet offerings together is either egg white or meringue powder, but for a simple veganization, this is another job for aquafaba. Just because you don’t eat it, doesn’t mean you can’t make it cruelty-free, too.

Contrary to the name itself, Día de Muertos is a truly celebration of life. Why not make it a sweet occasion with these sugary monuments, recalling the spirits of those no longer with us?

Sugar Skulls

Sugar Skulls

Make traditional Mexican calavera for Dia de los Muertos without the egg! This vegan version is just as easy and every bit as festive.

Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

Sugar Skulls:

  • 6 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Aquafaba

Royal Icing:

  • 4 Cups Confectioner's Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Tapioca Flour
  • 1/3 - 1/2 Cup Aquafaba
  • Food Coloring, as Desired

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Mix the sugar and aquafaba together in a large bowl until it's the consistency of wet sand. Resist the temptation to add more liquid of any sort! It won't quite hold together but should be lightly moistened throughout.
  3. Press firmly into skull molds of any size or shape. Place in the preheated even and let "bake" lightly for 30 minutes. Do not touch or try to remove them for another hour. The skulls will still be rather fragile, so handle with care.
  4. To make the icing, simply mix together all of the ingredients, slowly drizzling in the aquafaba until it's thick enough to pour but still hold its shape when piping in a thin line.
  5. Divide into as many small bowls as you'd like for different colors, apply to your desired intensity, and transfer to squeeze bottles or piping bags.
  6. Let your inner artist out and adorn your sugar skulls as brightly and brilliantly as you see fit!
  7. Let the icing dry completely before handling; ideally overnight.

Notes

Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag in a dark, dry place to preserve your art for years to come. Just remember, this is to enjoy with your eyes, not your tongue!

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5 thoughts on “A Dying Art

  1. Dia de Los Muertos is one of my favorite celebration days. I grew up in southern California close the to Mexican border, so I have fond memories from childhood of this holiday. Now living in Arizona, there are deep roots to the Mexican community here as well, with many Dia de Los Muertos celebrations across the city. The sugar skulls are a fun tradition, especially for kids (but as an adult, I enjoy making them too!).
    A fun note for those who like to recycle: Use empty saline solution bottles (contact solution) for the icing. I saved up the sample size bottles throughout the year so my kids could fill them with different colored icing. Not only do we decorate the skulls with the icing, but also haunted houses and then gingerbread houses in December. Happy decorating!!!!

    1. It’s all just a matter of semantics; tapioca starch and flour are really the same thing. :)

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