Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that allows friends and family to celebrate the lives and spiritual journey of loved ones, who have passed away. Dia de Los Muertos is traditionally celebrated by visiting relatives’ gravesites and building altars that often feature a beloved’s favorite foods, pictures, and other offerings.
Now, Dia de Los Muertos has spread in popularity in the U.S. and been absorbed into Halloween celebrations. From colorful papel pecado and flowers to laughing muertos icons and sugar skulls, Dia de Los Muertos is a beautiful holiday. Living in Texas, I see a lot of Dia de Los Muertos memorabilia/celebrations though they resemble Halloween more than the traditional festivities held in Mexican homes. Regardless of how you celebrate Day of the Dead, it is always exciting to explore new cultures and bring new traditions into your own celebrations.
These cookies take a classic shortbread dough and turn it into a sugar skull with piped chocolate (I linked my recipe and listed it below in case you don’t want to back track. For more in depth pics take a gander at the original post). Though these cookies do not come close to the intricacy of real Mexican sugar skulls, they make for an easy homage to the Muertos icons of Day of the Dead. They may not live up to their Mexican origins, but at the very least, they taste good.
- 2 sticks cold butter that has been allowed to warm up just a hair (take it out of the fridge for about 5-10 minutes. It should be cool to the touch but not overly soft)
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup rice flour
- 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
- Chocolate chips and vegetable oil for the piping
- An electric mixer (or your hands and some elbow grease)
- 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper
- 1, nine inch round cake pan
- A rolling pin
- 2 sheets of parchment paper
- a wire rack
- Sugar Skull cookie cutters or a stencil and a sharp paring knife
1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F
2) Using a sharp knife, cube the butter into 1/2″ cubes. Be precise. Its less important that the butter be in 1/2”, but it is important that the butter be cut into symmetrical cubes of relatively similar size.
3) On high, beat the butter until smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
4) Turn your mixer down to medium speed and add the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Beat for a minute or two or until thoroughly combined. Note: I like to sift in my sugar to make sure it is lump free because you want a very smooth dough. Scrape the sides of the bowl.
5) Turn your mixer on its lowest speed. In two separate batches, add the flours scraping the sides of the bowl in between each edition until a smooth dough forms. Turn off the mixer.
6) Split the dough dough into 4 separate balls, press them into circular disks, and cover them in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour (if you let them refrigerate much longer they become to cold and hard to roll out into cookies. Shortbread is finicky my friends).
7) I used a combination of pressing my short bread with a 9” circular cake pan and rolling it out with a rolling pin. Take 1 disk of dough out of the fridge and dust it lightly with flour. Place between two pieces of parchment paper. Press the dough down firmly using the cake pan and applying even pressure. If the dough is too thick or not pressing easily roll it out using a rolling pin. Finish the dough by pressing it firmly with the cake pan to ensure the dough is evenly spread. You want the dough to be 1/4” thick and no thinner or it will burn easily. This may seem overly complicated, but I really prefer forming the dough into a disk and pressing it evenly with a cake pan. It gives you a more uniform result and keeps you from rolling the dough too thin.
8) Cut the dough. I am fortunate enough to have two sets of Muertos cookie cutters. One is a combo cookie cutter/ stamp that makes decorating very easy. The other is just a cookie cutter. The stamp/cookie cutter combo works better with a more makeable dough like a sugar cookie dough. I found that since shortbread can have a tendency to crack that the cookie cutter worked best. You could also draw yourself a stencil on parchment or wax paper and use a sharp pairing knife to cut out the dough as well.
9) When you have finished cutting out your dough, place the dough on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
10) Place in the oven in the center rack. Once the cookies are in the oven, drop the temperature of the oven to 300 degrees and bake until the edges of the cookies are just golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. You’ll have to watch carefully after about 15 minutes to get that perfect golden color. Shortbread is a tricky one and can burn very easily
11) When the cookies are done, let them cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Then move the cookies from the baking sheet to the wire rack until completely cool. It is important when doing any icing/piping work to never do it on a still hot cookie. It just melts all of your hard work right off.
12) Piping the Chocolate: I use Alton Brown’s writing chocolate method. In a glass microwave safe bowl, microwave 1 cup chocolate and 2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I used grape seed oil because it was what I had on hand). Microwave in 30 second intervals until the chocolate has evenly melted being careful not to overzapp it (I did this on my first go around. The chocolate burned and had to be thrown out). Using a ladle or spoon, pour the melted chocolate into a piping bag or gallon-sized Ziploc bag. Snip the tip of the bag and begin piping.
13) I practiced first on parchment to get the hang of things before moving onto a cookie. When you pipe, make sure to clean the tip of your pastry bag off intermittently to keep the bag from clogging and to minimize excess chocolate getting onto the cookies.
14) Let the chocolate piping dry on the cookies for several hours (I put mine on a cutting board) to allow the chocolate to harden. Serve them or store them in a single layer in an airtight container.
I received nothing for writing this post, except the joy of trying something new. And cookies. Of course, cookies