Sugar Skull Cupcakes

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Delicious homemade vanilla cupcakes topped with neon swirl vanilla buttercream and candy sugar skulls make tasty Sugar Skull Cupcakes for The Day of the Dead.

Halloween is almost here and after Halloween comes the Day of the Dead.   Sugar Skulls are often associated with the Day of the Dead but I never knew why until I did a little research.

what is the day of the dead?

The Day of the Dead is also called Día de los Muertos in Spanish.  It is a traditional Mexican holiday that focuses on remembering and celebrating loved ones that have passed away. It is typically observed on November 1st and 2nd which coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. It is a festive and colorful celebration of life and death. It is believed that during this time, the souls of the deceased return to the world of the living to be reunited with their families and friends. 

Five sugar skull cupcakes with words on the photo.

In the 17th century Mexico was abundant in sugar production but they were too poor to buy decorations for their churches.  They quickly learned how to make sugar art to decorate for their religious festivals.  One of the most popular forms of sugar art in Mexico are the sugar skulls.  

what are sugar skulls?

Sugar skulls are decorative and edible skull-shaped candies that are an element of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and other parts of the world. The intricately designed sugar skulls are often used as offerings on altars that are dedicated to deceased loved ones during the holiday.


A platter with sugar skull cupcakes on it and a pumpkin sitting behind them.

Since Sugar Skulls are a big part of the Day of the Dead celebration I thought it would be fun to make Sugar Skull Cupcakes to take to my students at school.   Every year I have a behavioral party around Halloween and bring in all types of treats. 

I thought it would be fun to make these for the students since skulls are part of Halloween but we could also discuss how the Sugar Skulls are part of Mexico’s traditions.  I love introducing the kids to new holidays and celebrations from other countries. 


  • all purpose flour
  • baking powder
  • salt (I just use table salt or sea salt here)
  • unsalted butter
  • granulated sugar
  • brown sugar (you can also use all granulated or all brown sugar)
  • eggs
  • vanilla extract
  • milk (I prefer whole milk but skim milk or plant based milk can be used)
  • powdered sugar (this is for the vanilla buttercream frosting)
  • Neon Food Coloring (I like this neon coloring because it’s super bright and doesn’t leave a bad after taste)
  • Edible Sugar Skulls (I love these ones; they taste good and they look good!)


Five sugar skull cupcakes around a pumpkin.

Most sugar skulls I’ve seen are brightly colored and have a lot of decoration. Since I didn’t have time to actually make the sugar skulls I was lucky enough to find some edible sugar skull decorations at my local craft store.
If you can’t find the actual sugar skulls, PEEPS makes a marshmallow version of a sugar skull that you could use on these cupcakes instead.   They still end up looking pretty cool. 
To make the cupcakes I used my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe.   I first mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another bowl.  Then I combine them and mix until the batter is just combined.

Can I use a box cake mix?

You can use a vanilla cake mix in this recipe if you are in a hurry.  My suggestion to make it taste more homemade is to substitute butter for the oil, use milk in place of the water, and add an additional egg.   Trust me on this, it’ll taste better than a traditional boxed cupcake.

After the cupcake batter is ready fill each of the cupcake liners 3/4 of the way full and put the cupcakes in the oven.  The cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.   Cool them completely before frosting and decorating.

More cupcake recipes:

Once the cupcakes cooled I whipped up a batch of my homemade vanilla buttercream frosting.  Do me a favor and make the homemade frosting even if you use a box cake mix.  It’s easy to do and it’s so much better than canned frosting.

After making the frosting I divided it into four bowls and dyed each one a neon color.  Then I put two colors in each piping bag and piped the frosting on to the cupcakes.

A platter with five day of the dead cupcakes on it and a pumpkin next to the platter.
I finished the cupcakes off with a candy sugar skull.  I loved how bright and colorful these cupcakes turned out to be.  The cupcakes were sweet and buttery while the frosting was fluffy and delicious. Kids and adults alike will love them!

If you’ve tried my Sugar Skull Cupcakes or any other recipe on Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks please take a minute to rate the recipe and leave a comment letting me know how you liked it. I love hearing from you! You can FOLLOW ME on:

Make these fun and colorful Sugar Skull Cupcakes for the Day of the Dead

Sugar Skull Cupcakes for The Day of the Dead

Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

Vanilla cupcakes made with Kerrygold butter then topped with neon colored buttercream frosting and Sugar Skull decorations.


For the Cupcakes:

  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 c. Kerrygold unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 c. milk

For the frosting:

  • 1 c. Kerrygold unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 2-3 T. milk
  • Neon food coloring
  • Sugar Skull Edible decorations


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place cupcake liners in each of 24 muffin cups. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl cream the butter, sugar, and brown sugar. Mix well. Add in the eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Add in the milk and stir until combined. Add the remaining flour and mix until just blended.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling 3/4 of the way full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
  7. To make the frosting beat the butter with a mixer. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until desired consistency is reached. Stir in the vanilla and a few tablespoons of milk.
  8. Divide into 4 bowls and color with neon food coloring. Place two colors in each of two piping bags, being careful to keep one color on one side of the bag and the other on the other side of the bag. This will help the color swirl on the cupcake.
  9. Pipe the frosting on the cupcakes and top with a sugar skull.


A Hezzi-D Original Recipe

A blue plate with five sugar skull cupcakes on it.


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