I have been celebrating this holiday for 4 years now and each year I have constructed my own Dia de los Muertos altar as is tradition. Altars include bright flowers, photos of the dead, objects and foods they loved as well as the traditional pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and brightly painted skulls made of sugar. This year I decided to take the plunge and make the bread and skulls and include them in my altar.
I researched recipes online and found that both the bread and sugar skulls were simple recipes so long as a little bit of artistry was allowed for the shaping of each. The bread is usually baked in the shape of skulls or in rounds with “bones” laying across the top of the bread round. The recipe I used made enough dough for me to make one of each. The flavors are interesting with the use of Anise Seed, sugar and an orange glaze. Here’s the bread start to finish:
Most of the bones fell off of the bread round but I think that is because I made them too short and stubby. Learning curve!
I also made the sugar skulls which consisted of confectioners sugar, vanilla, an egg white and corn starch. They were a lot of fun to decorate. I found these amazing food color pens! The tips are like paint brushes and you can actually paint onto whatever frosted surface you want. They were the perfect tool to decorate my skulls.
Much like kneading bread, I really enjoyed the hands on sculpting aspect of the skulls. What started out was two balls of starchy sugar turned into something that I’m really proud to say I created. Decorating them was really enjoyable as well because there’s really no wrong way to do it. Sugar skulls are just supposed to be bright and beautiful and really, how could I go wrong there?!
After my cooking and confectioning were completed I took my creations up to my kitchen table where I had created my altar. I purchased bright flowers, arranged various “saints” candles along with a photo of my grandparents, a list of other relatives and friends who have died and my roommates also included things from family and friends who have died. It was really special to see both of them latch onto the concept of Dia de los Muertos and I felt honored to be able to fascilitate a place where people they loved could be honored.