I live in Southern California, and every year around Día de los Muertos, you’re likely to spot a pickup truck or two driving down the road with a flatbed loaded with buckets of giant, gorgeous, vibrant marigolds. And I have friends that create the most beautiful altars for their departed family members. When I was still doing custom orders, sugar skull cookies were my most popular design around this time of year, and they are one of my favorite cookies to decorate.
I used my lemon shortbread sugar cookie dough for these, but they would also be amazing with my Mexican hot chocolate shortbread sugar cookies or horchata shortbread sugar cookies. I also have 29 other cookie recipes to chose from.
- Cookie dough
- Royal icing
- Flower nails
- Parchment paper
- Scribe tool or toothpicks
- Skull cookie cutters
- Edible pen (optional)
- Piping bags and couplers
- Wilton piping tips #1M, #102/103/104, #18, #16, #352
- Tipless bags or icing bottles
- Offset spatula, palette knife, or paintbrush
- Small heart/circle/oval/teardrop cookie cutters (optional)
- Gel food coloring. I used chefmaster tulip red, neon brite pink, sunset orange mixed with golden yellow, forest green, and coal black.
- White flooding icing
- Black detail/medium consistency icing
- White detail/medium consistency icing (optional)
- Stiff icing for flowers in colors of your choice
Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I used to teach anatomy & physiology, so I have A LOT of skull cookie cutters. Top row are all from Sweet Designs Shoppe. The two left cutters on the bottom row are Sweet Sugarbelle cutters, the cat is my own design that I 3D printed, and the metal skull was purchased at a Halloween boutique years ago.
Bake cookies, allow to cool, then:
- Using an offset spatula, palette knife or paintbrush, spread black medium/detail icing on cookies and then stamp with small cookie cutters where you would like to place eyes and noses.
- If you don’t have small cookie cutters, you can draw out eye and noses with an edible pen, or free hand them.
I like to add the black icing layer to the cookies because it gives the skulls some added dimension after you flood them.
- Flood cookies with white icing.
- Allow cookies to dry overnight.
- Pipe out ruffle flowers on flower nail with a Wilton petal tip #102, 103, or 104.
- Allow to dry overnight.
- Add details to flooded cookies using medium/detail black and/or white icing.
There are a ton of examples online of sugar skulls if you are looking for inspiration. Just search for “sugar skulls.”
How to Make Stiff Icing for Flowers
- Add flower crowns to cookies using a stiff icing.
Royal Icing Recipe
- 2 lbs powdered sugar
- 7 tablespoons meringue powder
- ¾ cup warm water
- Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Be sure that bowl and attachment are free of any oil or butter residue.
- Dissolve meringue powder in ¾ cup of warm water.
- Place powdered sugar into mixing bowl, turn on lowest setting and slowly drizzle in water/meringue mixture.
- Add food colouring and mix for 8 minutes on lowest speed.
- Add water as needed for a flood consistency (10-20 second icing) or powdered sugar as needed for medium or stiff consistency.
- Immediately cover icing in an airtight container or transfer to piping bags/bottles.
- The icing will keep for up to 3 days at room temp and for 2 months in the freezer.
- Do not get any oil/grease in royal icing or it will not dry properly. You can wipe your bowl, spatula and paddle attachment down with vinegar or some lemon juice to remove any oil residue.
- Do not use any oil-based extracts if you want to flavor the icing, use only water-based extracts.