Dia de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated in central and southern Mexico during the chilly days of November 1 & 2. But the colorful cultural tradition is slowly being celebrated in the United States. In fact, you’ll see many items from fashion to culinary treats being sold in nearby stores. I even seen Day of the Dead cookies at Starbucks recently.
What is Dia De Los Muertos?
So for those who aren’t aware of the holiday, Dia de los Muertos celebrates death. They believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.
In most places in Mexico, beautiful altars are made in each home. They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil) tons of fruit, nuts, plates of mole, stacks of tortillas, sugar skulls and of course, a Day-of-the-Dead bread called pan de muerto. The altar also includes lots of food, bottles of soda, hot chocolate and water for their traveling spirits. Toys and sweets are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, shots of tequila are offered to the adult spirits.
On the afternoon of Nov. 2, the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones. So why is Day of the Dead becoming so popular in the U.S.? Maybe it’s because of our fascination with it’s mysticism or the fact that there are so many U.S. Hispanics that are learning to embrace their beautiful culture and traditions.
About Sugar Skulls
Automatically when you think of sugar skulls, Dia de los Muertos comes to mind. But what’s the story behind them? Mexico produces large amounts of sugar, and majority of its population are too poor to buy fancy imported European church decorations. So they learned quickly from the friars how to make sugar art for their religious festivals. Clay molded sugar figures of angels, sheep and sugar skulls go back to the Colonial Period 18th century. Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead and was placed on their ofrenda’s or gravestone to honor the return of a spirit. Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments. Sugar skulls are labor intensive and made in very small batches in the homes of sugar skull makers. These wonderful artisans are disappearing as fabricated and imported candy skulls take their place.
Let’s Have a Day of The Dead Cake Decorating Party!
There is nothing as beautiful as a sparkling and colorful sugar skull. But they’re not easy to make. So instead, I thought it would be fun to make mini skull cakes! But once I baked a batch and decorated one, I realized that it was going to be a lot of work decorating them all! That’s when I got the idea of hosting a Day of the Dead Mini Cake Decorating Party!
Although it is a holiday from far away in Mexico, it’s a holiday we can personalize and integrate into our own religious and cultural beliefs. Dia de Los Muertos is more of a cultural holiday than a religious one and it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the memories of our loved ones who are gone now through art, baking, cooking, music, and doing activities with our friends and family. Day of the Dead is about sharing countless stories, great times and lessons learned and not how the person died, but how they lived.
Host A Day of The Dead Mini Cake Decorating Party
Now that you have an idea of who you would like to invite or just add this experience to a dinner gathering, here’s what you’ll need to be ready for.
First, bake your favorite bread or cake recipe for the skull. I used a Nordic Ware Haunted Skull Cakelet Pan from Amazon. It was on sale last year and I’ve been dying to use it. It worked great! No stick and the cake popped right out. Plus I really like the bronze color.
The next thing you want to do is prepare your fondant. You can use whichever fondant you’re use to working with, but I went with Renshaw Fondant. It has great reviews and as a first time fondant user, I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any problems working with it.
Roll out the fondant either with a pin roller or a pasta maker to create a thin sheet. I used a pasta maker, it made the process so much quicker. Make sure to use powdered sugar to avoid any sticking.
Once you’ve completed a sheet, start preparing everyone’s stations. Make sure to have enough elbow room so they can really get into it. I used cutting boards, but I’m sure you can lay out wax paper for their stations. You would also need to provide everyone with sugar decorations, gels and toothpicks. As you can see, I have a pretty good collection by Wilton.
Pass out everyone’s skull, along with their fondant layer and have them add it over the skull carefully. You want to avoid any ripping and still be able to adjust along the bone features.
Once you have the perfect layer over the skull, remove any excess of the fondant with a sharp knife.
Now you’re ready to decorate and get creative with your skull. Use a toothpick to help with lines. You can also pipe your favorite colors and use a #1 tip for decorating. I used the Wilton decorating gels, they worked fine. For inspiration, I also did a search on Google images for designs and went from there.
As everyone completes their skulls, lay them all out on a platter and have a voting contest among the guests. Once everyone knows there’s a contest, you’ll see how creative they get!
There you have it! Having a Dia de los Muertos decorating cake party would be like 3D coloring for adults or children. Your guests will have a wonderful time and at the end…everyone can also eat their cake.
If you end up trying this at your next dinner party, make sure to share your decorating skills with me! Tag me on Instagram: @sparklinglala Have fun!