Over the past few years, sugar skulls (also known as Calaveras or calaveras de azúcar in Spanish) have become extremely popular - you may have seen them plastered all over the many new burrito restaurants popping up in Dublin. While you may associate them with a Mexican dish that isn’t even that popular in Mexico, their origin is a lot more sweet than savoury.
A Calavera is typically a representation of a human skull, with brightly coloured designs and decorations in the form of sugar. As for its origin, it’s traditional folk art from southern Mexico used to celebrate the “Day of the dead”, or Diá de Los Muertos, and the Roman Catholic holiday All Soul’s Day. The term is most often applied to the edible and decorative skulls made from clay and sugar during the celebration day. Spirits of the dead people are welcomed back to their home with artistically decorated Calaveras made by their families or loved ones.
Day of the Dead holiday is celebrated in southern and central Mexico during the chilly days of November 1 and 2. People with the ancient belief come together to honor their deceased loved one, believing that the gates of heaven are opened at the midnight and the spirits of all the deceased children are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours.
Families take the sugar skulls and flowers to the tomb and graveyard to decorate it. The sugar skulls are decorated colorfully with colored sugar, pieces of bright foil, icing and also bear the name of the deceased member who is being honored. They can last a year if kept dry and safe and are relatively easy to make. Because of their brightly coloured and often psychedelic designs, they’ve become extremely popular in graphic design and logo circles.
If you’re interested in making your own Calavera, here are some instructions:
Things you will need:
• Some flat plates or cardboard panels
• Sugar skull molds
• Meringue powder
• Water as required
• Icing sugar (powdered) for the royal icing
• Fine granulated sugar
If you don’t have meringue powder it’s not a big deal, you can still make a sugar head without it. But since it acts as a binder to harden the sugar, if you don’t use it your sugar skull might easily fall apart. The powder is purely edible and it is made of dried eggs, so you can easily purchase one from most shops.
Mix the ingredients: take the granulated sugar and mix it with meringue powder and water. Don’t add too much water: you don’t want a paste form. Thoroughly mix everything for a few minutes until you get a consistency like sand. Now, take a small amount of mixture and form an indentation with your thumb. If the clump doesn’t fall apart, it means that the mixture is ready and it’s time to go to the next step: molding.
Mold the Mixture: Take the sugar skull mold and pack it tightly with the mixture. Use a sharp metal object like a knife or scraper to remove the excessive mixture. Now, take a cardboard plate or panel over the mold, gently flip it over and place it on a flat surface. Reveal your sugar skull by carefully removing the mold.
Let it dry: Leave the sugar skull in an airy place and let it dry for at least 5 to 6 hours. After getting it dry your sugar skull is ready. You can decorate it with colorful icing according to your own design sensibilities.
Not too hard: Give it a go and let us know how it turns out!
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