El Dia De Los Muertos {Day of the Dead Cookies}

*Warning, outrageously long and educational blog post to follow.  READ.  ENJOY.  LEARN SOMETHING.  I’ll make it up to you.*

The Day of the Dead {El Día de los Muertos} is a Mexican holiday celebrated on the 1st and 2nd days of November to honor loved ones that have passed on.  Its a little more complicated than that, but if you want the whole explanation, you’re going to have to check out Wikipedia.  I’m definitely no expert.

As a Texan, my life has always been influenced by Mexican tradition and culture.  It’s all around me.  This is how I came to attend a Day of the Dead celebration.

About ten years ago, in the beginning of November, a friend of mine talked me into going to the cemetery with her family to clean their plot.  I didn’t immediately make the connection.  I’d learned about the Day of the Dead in Spanish class, but besides that, I hadn’t given it a lot of thought.  I just wondered why they’d picked such a chilly day for yard work.

Then she explained.  At first, I was a little creeped out by the whole thing. Visiting cemeteries and hanging out with dead people was kind of a foreign concept to me.  I’d always associated cemeteries with sadness, and sometimes scary things {child of the Thriller era} but when we got there, it was completely different than what I’d expected.

There was nothing sad about the Day of the Dead at all! It was a day filled with happiness, bright colors, beautiful decorations, laughing, memories, and fun.

One my favorite memories about that day were the gifts.  Being a “Gringa” {as my friend affectionately called me} I could not figure out why a majority of the graves were decorated with bottles of BEER!  Turns out it’s traditional to offer gifts of the deceased’s favorite things, whatever it may be, and in that particular family plot the house favorite was Bud Light.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there…

The point I was getting to was, GIFTS.  On the Day of the Dead, it is common to decorate each grave with gifts, which besides beer also includes more traditional offerings like pan de muerto {bread of the dead}, marigolds, and sugar skulls, or calaveras, which brings me *FINALLY* to cookies!

Calavera cookies are one of my favorite cookies to make, and there is no better day than this to make them!

Besides being colorful and beautiful, they are unique to the artist, so there are no rules to follow when decorating them. That said, rather than a black and white how-to, I decided it would be better to show the progression of the cookie as I worked to serve as a foundation to build on while decorating your own unique creations.

The most important things to remember are, be creative and make something that is beautiful to you!

First things first, you’ll need icing.  Perhaps a lot of icing.  I always begin by choosing a palette and mixing both piping AND flood icing in each color.  Of course, you can make it as complicated or simple as you like, but as always, I seem to lean toward complicated.

If you need a little inspiration in the color department, I suggest you check out Photo Card Boutique.  It is one of my favorite go-to inspiration spots when my colorator is not 100%.  I made that word up, by the way…

Oh yes, and if it takes you an hour to mix all that icing, there’s nothing wrong with you.  It’s completely normal.

Now for the cookies.  I have these weird sequences I follow, because they make sense in my head. I usually start with the eyes. The cool thing is, you don’t have to do what I do.  Do what feels right to you.  I do suggest, however, letting the bottom layer dry before adding accents. Otherwise, the colors may bleed.

I work from eyes to nose to mouth, adding detail as I work, usually with a #1.5 PME tip.

After that, it’s just a matter of filling  empty space.  Do what feels right to you, but in case you get stuck,  I shared some of my favorite designs.

In hindsight, I’m thinking that a curlicue is pretty much a swirl, but I didn’t want to redo this picture, so PRETEND they are different.  By the way, did you know curlicue is REALLY a word?  True story.  The dictionary says so!

It is traditional to write the name of the deceased on the forehead of the skull, but since these weren’t going to anyone in particular, dead or alive, I skipped that part and I kept on working until I was satisfied with my work.

Calavera cookies are usually an all-day affair, but aren’t they worth it?!  I made these gals happy, because I really enjoyed decorating them!

I wasn’t fibbing when I said I had a thing for calavera cookies. These were the very first set I worked up the courage to make.  It took me about six hours to decorate them!

Since then I went crazy, making them every chance I had, in whatever colors struck my fancy.

Even pastels, although this guy looks like he has a grill to me!

I’ve even made leopard print calaveras for a fellow Day of the Dead lover.  Since they were for a friend, I included my cookie interpretation of José Guadalupe Posada’s, La Calavera de Catrina, a iconic image typically associated with the holiday. Obviously, she was a good friend.  They  took DOUBLE FOREVER to make!

El Día de los Muertos is a very meaningful holiday rich in history and culture.  I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to experience a real Day of the Dead celebration.  Since that time, the holiday has always had a place in my heart.   Even now, I always make sure to take a few things out to my Nanny when the time comes.  It’s amazing how a simple gesture can bring such a feeling of closeness to someone that’s gone.

If you like Day of the Dead art, be sure to check out my friend Myri’s calavera cookies.  Myri is from Mexico City and the owner of Chapix Cookies.  I recently got to meet her, as in WORK across the table from her, and I can assure you, besides being an amazing decorator, she is a wonderful person and friend.  I LOVE how her culture is reflected in her work along with her training as a graphic designer.  Her calavera cookies are my favorite by far, and the best I have EVER seen.

Even if you don’t celebrate Day of the Dead, I hope you learned something, and will take a minute to remember your loved ones that are gone.

Thanks for visiting me, and even more thanks for hanging on if you made it this far.   Be sure to come back Tuesday.  I promise you’ll like what you see!

For instructions on making the marigold cookies click HERE.

Here’s to a great week!