In high school, I was fluent in Spanish. I had taken Spanish classes since the seventh grade and by the time I was 17, I could write full essays in the language. I even dreamt in Spanish a few times.
And then, time passed. And I forgot most of it. These days, I can barely understand a quarter of what they’re saying on Telemundo (which I don’t actually watch, for the record, but sometimes stumble upon in random bouts of channel surfing, JUST FYI).
What I do remember, however, was everything there is to know about Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Why that, of all things? Because of the sugar skulls, obviously.
Dia de los Muertos is a big holiday in Mexico, celebrated on November 1 and 2 every year to pray for and remember loved ones who have passed away and to support their passage through the spirit world. People will build huge altars with food, drinks, flowers, pictures and decorations like those sugar skulls I mentioned, elaborately decorated in bright colors and intricate designs. It’s actually really stunning to see these altars in person — I remember seeing a full replica of one on a Spanish museum field trip in Chicago in high school.
On that same museum trip, I came home with a sugar skull (as a… souvenir?). I remember how pretty it was, how the designs were so beautiful and colorful and delicate. And how sad it was that it was made of sugar and yet was completely inedible.
While I do love me some pan de muerto (this lady has some great recipes for it!), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make sugar skulls in cookie form when I came across the idea in my Martha mag. Thin, chewy chocolate cinnamon cookies topped with royal icing and candies decorated to look like sugar skulls, but you can actually eat them? LET’S DO THIS, I said to myself.
One batch of cookies, a bowl of icing and a boatload of candy and sprinkles later, here we are.
I obviously love the look of these colorful, playful cookies — they are just begging to use any of that lingering Halloween candy (I’m looking at you, giant impulse-buy bag of candy corn) or to serve as an excuse to buy more Halloween candy (I’m looking at you, mixed bag of M&Ms and Reese’s peanut butter cups). But the chocolate cinnamon roll-out cookie base is the real winner here in the taste department. I love how soft and chewy they are, and their flavor reminds me a little bit of Mexican hot cocoa. And here is where I let you in on the secret that I actually made a double batch of the cookies and froze half of them, unfrosted, to save for Christmas. Or for next week, when I run out of this frosted batch and really need more chocolate cinnamon cookies in my life (hey, it happens).
So the moral of this story? You can forget all the Spanish you ever learned, but you should never forget about those sugar skulls. You never know when that memory might come in handy to make some pretty cute and delicious cookies.
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1¼ cups powdered sugar
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons milk
- Skittles candies, sprinkles (jimmies and nonpareils), candy corn, M&Ms candies, cinnamon hearts, candy-coated sunflower seeds, licorice, etc.
- In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt until well combined.
- In large bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar on medium speed 1 minute until pale and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just combined.
- Shape dough into disc, then wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Use oval, egg or skull-shaped cookie cutter to cut dough into shapes. Space cookies 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
- Bake cookies 8 to 10 minutes until crisp and set. Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.
- To make icing: In small bowl, stir powdered sugar and milk until well combined. Transfer to quart-size resealable plastic bag. Snip off one end.
- Outline cookie edges with icing, leaving small border. Fill in center with more icing, using toothpick to spread out icing.
- Decorate cookies with assorted candies, sprinkles, etc.