Friday, November 1, 2013

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Today is the first day of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican celebration of deceased loved ones. Every year, on November 1st and 2nd, many Mexican families take time to remember and honor those that have died.

On November 1st, the spirits of children are allowed to return to earth and visit their families. On November 2nd, the spirits of adults come back. Families spend time at the cemetery cleaning tombstones, singing songs, and telling stories about the ones they have lost. It is not a somber holiday but rather one filled with color, music, whimsy, and celebration.

Some families spend up to two months' salary decorating their homes, building ofrendas (altars), cooking special foods like pan de muertos (bread of the dead), and buying sugar skulls and other foods to offer the spirits.

For the past few years I have done Day of the Dead activities with my students at school. This year I am hosting a Dia de los Muertos party at our house, putting together an ofrenda, and cooking up some Mexican treats.

I'll post some photos along the way, as decorations go up and food is prepared. Earlier this week I made some sugar skulls, a traditional decoration of Day of the Dead. These are not intended to be eaten; instead they are decorated with bright pastry gels and sometimes glitter and sequins.

Here is the process for making Mexican sugar skulls:

First, you need to buy sugar skull molds. I got mine at

Then, make the sugar mixture. I use a recipe of one cup sugar, 1 tsp arrowroot powder, and 1 tsp water. It doesn't seem like much water at first, but trust me, it's perfect.

Once the sugar is well mixed and the consistency of wet sand, you fill the mold, packing the sugar as firmly as you can.

Smooth off the bottom so it will lie flat. With these bigger molds, you need to place a piece of cardboard on top before flipping the mold over. I just cut my cardboard from cereal boxes.

Place the cardboard on a flat surface, and carefully lift the mold off.

The sugar skulls will dry and become hard. It may take a couple days depending on the weather. I made mine on Tuesday, just to be sure they'd be ready for the party on Saturday.

I made three kinds of skulls this year - one is a whimsical skull, one is a realistic skull, and then I made several small realistic skulls for the ofrenda. Each of the large skulls takes about a half cup of sugar. One cup of sugar makes about 10 of the small skulls.

The small skulls are a bit easier because you don't need the cardboard. They hold together well enough that you might even have to tap them out of the mold onto the drying rack.

Tomorrow these skulls will be decorated at the party (I'll do a few beforehand for the ofrenda). Hopefully they'll come out looking something like this!


I'm looking forward to sharing more photos with you tomorrow!