November 1st is Dia de los Muertos, a holiday I first became really interested in after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful books Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Lacuna. Celebrated primarily in Mexico and the southwestern United States, The Day of the Dead is a day for remembering and celebrating lost loved ones.
In Mexico, families gather at the graves of their deceased and decorate the tombs. Covering them with flowers, candles, and elaborate sugar skulls, people come together to eat a special meal (often picnic-style at the cemetery) and share memories of those that are gone.
While the sugar skulls are the most iconic element of Dia de los Muertos celebrations, they are also difficult to come by, especially for those of us not in the vicinity of the American Southwest. So I present, Sugar Skull Sugar Cookies!
Using a skull cookie cutter (also useful for Halloween, of course) you can help your kids create colorful, amazing Day of the Dead treats for neighbors, friends or classmates. Tell family history stories of your own while your kids decorate, and start your own yearly tradition.
Basic Sugar Cookie recipe
I have tried many, many recipes over the years in my quest for the perfect sugar cookie. This one still comes out on top. It’s simple and since it doesn’t need to be refrigerated you can be well on your way to decorating (the best part of cookie-making anyway) in less than 15 minutes.
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
2 t vanilla or almond extract (or a combination of both)
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
Cream together butter and sugar till very fluffy. Add egg and flavoring, mix till well combined. In another bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture and mix well. Dough is ready when it does not stick to your fingers when touched.
Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick (I like my cookies a bit thicker, for ease in decorating), dusting with flour as necessary. Cut and bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes (adjust for oven and size of cookies.) Cookies should just barely begin to turn golden on the edges. Makes about 2 dozen large cookies.
For icing, you have several choices. You can use Royal Icing or regular Decorator Icing. If you are a beginner to cookie decorating, I recommend Decorator icing for ease of use. Royal icing gives a shiny, hard finish that is prettier, in my opinion, but it also takes a long time to “cure” and is harder for kids to navigate. My favorite decorator icing recipe is here, and my favorite royal icing recipe (and tutorial) is here.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use Royal Icing, but the method will be the same no matter which icing you choose.
First, frost all the cookies with basic white icing. For decorator icing, just frost them as you normally would, getting the icing as flat and smooth as possible. For royal icing, use the pipe and flood method.
Split remaining icing between four or five freezer ziploc bags (they are thicker and less likely to break). Choose your favorite colors (you’ll definitely want black) and add food coloring to the bag, then let your kids “squish” the bags until the icing is a uniform color. (My kids’ favorite part.)
Cut a tiny corner off each bag (you can always make it bigger) and start to decorate! (If you have icing bags and decorator tips, feel free to use those instead!)
These cookies mimic the look of traditionally decorated candy skulls, using floral and religious motifs, but feel free to let your creativity run wild.
Want more ideas? Check out the Highchair Travelers Pinterest Page.