I am surprised I have heard nothing the past few days about Day of the Dead (also known as Dio De Los Muertos in Spanish)! The holiday is celebrated in Mexico on November 1st + 2nd, in connection with All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). Origins are traced back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl (I have no idea how that’s pronounced.)
It is a day to honor the deceased; friends and family go to cemeteries to be with the soul of the departed. They clean and decorate the graves and build private altars. Gifts are offered, such as the departed’s favorite food and beverages, sugar skulls, marigolds, and memorabilia. It is believed that by visiting and being with the souls of the departed, they will hear your prayers and comments that the living have directed to them.
I love what Dio De Los Muertos stands for– what a beautiful holiday of remembrance, to celebrate the lives of loved ones and re-kindle the bond you will always have them.
In honor of this holiday, I am making Day of the Dead sugar cookie skulls! I love the different colors and decorations you can find on sugar skulls and will be attempting to translate them via a sugar cookie canvas.
I hope you like them!
Happy Dio de los Muertos & belated Halloween! (Thank you Bao for inspiring me to dress up for Halloween in the same theme– I think this was one of the fun-est costumes I’ve worn in awhile!)
Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe
This recipe is a veganized version of Alton Brown’s sugar cookie recipe on FoodNetwork.com.
You will need an electric hand mixer for this recipe.
*Please note that you need to chill the dough for at least 2 hours. I recommend making the day before, so you have the whole second day to focus on the fun part– decorating!
– 3 cups AP flour
– 3/4 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup vegan butter, such as Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks , softened (but not liquid)
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 egg substitute, such as Ener-G Brand Egg Replacer
– 1 TBS non-dairy milk (I happened to have almond milk so I used that but any kind will do)
– powdered sugar, for rolling out dough
Place sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg replacer and milk; beat to combine. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add a scoop of flour at a time, along with the baking powder and salt. Beat until the mixture becomes crumbly and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Transfer (I find the easiest way is to use your hands and I kind of mushed the dough together before I placed it down) to plastic wrap or wax paper; wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
If you don’t have a skull shaped cookie cutter, you can easily make a template while the dough is in the fridge. I took a piece of parchment paper and cut a skull out free hand. When I liked the general shape, I folded the piece in half then trimmed the edges and shape so it would be symmetrical. If you don’t feel comfortable free handing it, you can print out a skull clip art you like off the internet, or draw first. If you have some cardboard, you can make it out of that too. The thickness helps when you are cutting out the template with a pizza roller, sharp paring knife, or exacto knife.
After the dough has chilled, take out desired amount and roll on a lightly floured surface until about 1/4″ thick. You can use a wooden rolling pin or I used my fondant roller. If the dough sticks or is too crumbly, knead it a little in your hands until it forms a ball then roll out.
Take your template and cut out the skulls. I used a pizza roller to do it because it was easier to get the curves.
Place skulls about 3/4″ apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 375F for 7-8 minutes. I always time it a minute before it should be done so I can check on it, better to have it under cooked and keep baking instead of burning them!
Once they are done comes the fun part- decorating them!
There’s a ton of ways to do this– by using decorator’s icing, an assortment of sprinkles, fondant– I ended up using fondant and “painting” them with gel food coloring (according to Wilton, they do not use animal products in anything they carry.) It also helps to sketch out some rough ideas, or maybe use sugar skull make up or art as inspiration. You can draw swirls, spiderwebs, flowers, dots– again the possibilities are endless!
Using the same cookie template, I rolled out fondant about 1/8″ thick and cut out skulls. With paint brushes, gel colors, and a spaghetti noodle, I got to work!
Dried spaghetti noodles are great for scooping out food coloring and also to use the ends to create perfect circles. You just gently press the noodle straight into the fondant until it makes a round indentation. Then you can paint in it, or what I did was dip the noodle in watered down food coloring and swirled them in the indentation to get them neatly colored.
Once you are done painting/decorating, set those skulls aside so the fondant and paint can dry a bit. When they are dried, these fondant skulls are “glued” on top of the skull cookies with a bit of frosting.
This is a fun project for kids to get involved in too! To make it easier, you can get the edible markers and they can draw straight on the fondant.
Have fun and enjoy eating these yummy cookies!